In this last post about stress relief and plants, I’d like to spotlight a couple plants that are easy care yet powerful. They’re kinda the only two herbs you really need to lower stress. Many gardeners across America, at least living down to zone 5, can grow them. Both will thrive in full sun and light soil, like sand mixed with potting soil. Think Mediterranean conditions. And speaking of sun, they’re both drought tolerant. You can grow them in a container or the ground and snip off a few stems when needed.
Lavender (lavandula) lowers stress through its oils. One study, in Phytomedicine, showed it was as effective as the drug lorazepam in treating anxiety. What’s more, breathing in the oil vapor through a diffuser has shown to decrease postnatal depression. And it’s helped those with dementia. It’s really worth growing, if for nothing else, rubbing your hands on it and inhaling the scent everyday. It’s like a shot of destresser.
The Rosemary plant (rosmarinus) is also impressive. In addition to improving memory, digestion, hair health, and other amazing stuff, rosemary’s scent reduces stress. Studies have shown that a daily dose of its oil can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is what our brains make when we’re stressed. So again, if you have a diffuser, you can put some essential oil in that or grow rosemary in a pot outside your front door. Breathing in the scent for a moment might help you relax after a bad day at work.
One More Herb to Lower Stress: Chamomile
I wanted to give a brief shout out for chamomile (chamaemelum). If you grow it, you can make tea from it. Drinking the tea lowers stress. But it doesn’t grow in the same conditions as lavender and rosemary though it’s very easy to grow and sometimes sprouts on its own in gardens. It likes cooler air and some shade. Check out this article for more on the benefits of chamomile.
And if you’d like more information on herbs for your health overall, check out the book, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. It covers the basics of growing and harvesting herbs along with their medicinal applications.
Photos by Gemma Evans and Fiona Bossle
European researchers recently conducted a survey of 323 Bulgarian students to learn whether seeing greenery in or near their home helped them avoid sadness and depression during Covid. Though it was a study where subjects self-reported symptoms, they found some interesting answers about greenery and depression.
One Dose of a Leafy View
They discovered that when subjects could see an abundance of greenery, either from their home or in their neighborhood, they reported lower depression and anxiety rates. Also, to a lesser extent, subjects who tended houseplants indoors or cared for a garden outside also had lower rates of depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people explained that the greenery made them feel like they were “away” while at home. Perhaps, even like a mini green vacation. Neighborhood greenery also facilitated social support and more frequent engagement with the greenery. And that, in turn, also led to better mental health.
A Vacation in my Backyard
This totally mirrors my own experience during the Covid lockdown. As I’ve told more than one friend, during summer when I went deep into my backyard, like all the way down to my back fence, and worked in the garden, I felt removed from daily life. I felt far away from the pandemic and its limitations. Far away from the pain and sadness. As I focused on the plants, my mind settled. It quieted. By the time I finished, I felt restored and happy, as if I’d gotten away from it all. The effect was like a relaxing mini vacation during one afternoon.
The good news is spring is coming. We’ll be able to get into more outdoor greenery soon. What’s more, vaccinations are on the way. Being vaccinated will give us even more choices in enjoying outdoor greenery: parks, woods, outdoor barbecues, picnics. I hope you’ll make some time to take your own mini green vacation this spring!
Photo by Raychan.
Since I published The Forgetting Flower, I’ve done two video interviews, one for TV, one for a podcast. While I was thrilled to be invited to do the coveted publicity of video promotion, I was plagued by an emotion I felt for days before each interview. A feeling I hadn’t felt in many years and hoped to never feel again: pure anxiety.
Certainly I’d felt anxiety in the past. And I’d actually felt worse than anxiety. I’d felt utterly terrified during my husband’s cancer treatment years ago (he’s doing great by the way, knock on wood). I’d felt super nervous when I’d taught my first horticulture class, literally jittery at my first public reading. My stomach had always knotted up when I’d met famous writers I respected. But nothing resembled the potently vulnerable anxiety I felt at being on camera.
A Double Whammy Test
I think what was uniquely trying for me was knowing that not only I had to speak well spontaneously but also had to look good while doing so. I mean hey, I’m middle-aged, I’m probably 15 pounds overweight, I have a Chicago accent that comes out when I’m nervous. I even have weird freckles on my face that I didn’t have five years ago. It all added up to me feeling extremely disappointed and critical of myself.
That self-criticism fed my worry. If only I was younger, slimmer, prettier, etc. My brain went nuts during the days leading up to the interview. Especially for the TV spot. I vacillated from obsessing about little things like what to wear or how much make up to put on to big things like what the hell to say that made sense and was useful. It got to the point where, during the day, I consciously compartmentalized my worry, acting like it didn’t exist, so I could interact with my kids and husband and function like a normal person.
Nighttime Was the Worst
But at night, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, the worry would return. Should I buy a new sweater? Should I talk about that one weird plant that was hard to find? Were people actually interested in my book at all? Who was I to be on television? The only solution was writing a long to-do list and taking a half-Advil p.m. Otherwise, I would have gotten no sleep during the weeks leading up to the interviews.
Still, knocking off the items on the to-do list every day helped. For the TV segment, I needed to repot several plants that I would talk about during the segment. I needed to buy a couple of new containers. I had to buy a new blouse to wear. I needed to get a haircut and a make up lesson from my hair stylist. In the podcast case, I had to clean the main floor of my house (where sometimes my old cat peed in odd places). The tasks went on and on.
But every time I crossed off a task, I felt a bit better. More in control. I worked up to feeling fairly prepared. On the day before both interviews, I felt like I knew what I had to do to look good and knew, more or less, what I would say. On the night before each recording, I took a whole Advil and went to bed, knowing I’d done the best I could.
Anxiety Haunts You
But I couldn’t fall asleep. I breathed, I meditated, tried not to think, did everything I could to feel comfortable and relaxed. But sleep didn’t come. Like a cruel master, the drowsiness came on but then subsided. Thoughts returned. Worries about what might go wrong popped in my head one by one. What if I got tongue-tied? What if I forgot a botanical name? What if I got food in my teeth? Or just passed out? Unfortunately, I barely slept.
Like It or Not, the Event Happens
Well, both interviews were what they were. Thankfully, my dear friend (and amazing container designer) Angela cleared her schedule and came with me to the TV segment. I mean thank effing God. She helped me carry plants in and straightened my blouse and offered a reassuring pep talk. I couldn’t have done it without her. Also, I’d published a blog post about the featured plants and I reread that while I was waiting, so I didn’t have to reach too far for my thoughts during the segment.
Before I knew it, I was standing behind a counter staring at two cameras and the whole thing flashed by in eight minutes. I looked like a goofy fool who talked with a hard Chicago accent, but whatever. It was done. Angela and I went to a brewpub afterward and, while coincidentally watching myself on TV (which was bizarre to say the least), I celebrated by eating french fries and drinking Coke.
For the podcast (called Must Read Fiction), the interviewer, the lovely Erin Popelka, was energetic and so supportive. She warmly shared her gratitude at doing the interview in my house and didn’t seem to worry about the smelly cat. Thanks to her, I felt at ease and ready to go. During the interview, I did look old and overweight and babbled, losing my train of thought here and there. Erin didn’t mind any of that. She’s a gem. A gem who loves books and is a forthcoming author herself.
An Unexpected Outcome
So would I do video, this medium, that seems incredibly at odds with my introverted sensitive self, again? Yeah, I would. I felt good that I actually went through with it. I didn’t cancel. I didn’t hide under the bed like I could have — although that might have been a good place to actually fall asleep! I showed up and got it done. There’s value in that. And a lesson.
What I learned is that video wasn’t that difficult. I didn’t die. Yes, there’s now a record of me looking silly and sounding silly. But surprisingly, it gave me more confidence. I could actually do it again. And do it better next time because I know what I’d do differently.
This sounds strange, and probably not what you thought I’d say, but now I’ve proved I can do video. I feel stronger. In fact, I’ve been considering practicing video just for fun. Perhaps, on my own to get comfortable in front of a camera. If I do it enough, maybe I won’t feel so anxious and nervous, or see myself as goofy, and maybe I can even smooth over my Chicago accent!
Have you ever dealt with anxiety before speaking or an interview? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your story.