What can we do to keep our spirits high in a time of fear and uncertainty?
Don’t buy into the fear; fear is one of the greatest control mechanisms there is. Yes, be aware and stay informed, but also listen to your wise guiding voices within, your ancestral wisdom. We can practice the art of waking up each morning and give thanks for another day of living. Even when it seems particularly difficult or challenging, giving thanks and gratitude evokes gratitude.
I believe that keeping our spirits high and our hands and minds busy is another way to build immunity. In fact, science has proven this to be true, but I knew it to be true even before science agreed with me—it just made sense.1Barak Y. (2006). The immune system and happiness. Autoimmunity reviews, 5(8), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autrev.2006.02.010
The following suggestions offer simple but effective ways to feel better and more connected—emotionally, spiritually, physically—during times of great stress, sadness and fear. In fact, it’s wise to create a daily practice of joy and gratitude during times of great happiness as well, so that when you’re in a cycle of stress and uncertainty it is easier for your mind and body to return to a place of gratefulness. Each time we hold onto a negative thought and feed it, it embeds in us and gains power. Give power to those things that you love most in your life, those that nourish the spirit of joy and gratitude.
1. Spend Time In Nature
Spend as much time in nature as you possibly can; talk to the trees and the plants, walk on the sweet Earth. Talk to Her, and listen. It’s amazing what trees, the plants, the waters, and the wind will tell us when we listen.
When we listen with our hearts, the message is often different from what we hear with our minds. Take time to give back to nature. When she offers us a gift, offer one back to her. It can be as simple as words of love and gratitude, a song, a prayer, or cleaning up the garbage on a trail. Nature fills us with life and light and hope and can help us to move through or face whatever challenges are in front of us—and there are a lot right now. Nature heals.
2. Cultivate Moments of Calm
One of my elder teachers who has long since passed—Brycee Buchanan, aka the Wild Weed Woman of the West—used to say to me “in an emergency situation there are three basic rules: 1) Don’t panic; 2) Don’t panic; and 3) Don’t panic.” How do we remain calm and centered when the world seems to be falling apart around us?
Some people find calm through yoga and meditation practices. For others, it’s movement and exercise. There are countless yoga, exercise and movement classes available online, literally something for everyone’s taste. Again, rather than panic or wonder what to do, make it a daily practice—even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes—do something you’ve been longing to do that you know will bring you joy but just haven’t had enough time. Now is the time.
3. Engage with the Plants
Many of us become centered through our herbal work. What a great time to jump into your herbal studies! Make herbal medicine, clean out your herb closet, read some of those herbal books you’ve been meaning to, write your herbal memoir!
What more positive and nourishing thing to do now then to spend time with our healing plants. They are so empowering, ancient and wise, and that healing energy infuses into us as we work with them, be with them, study them, and grow them. Even the simple act of making a cup of healing herb tea can lift and lighten our spirits. It’s these simple daily practices that can change our lives.
4. Practice Self Care
Taking care of our spirit means taking care of our bodies. Nothing can soothe the soul and relax the body quite like a long soak in an herbal bath. If you don’t have a bathtub you can also do foot baths and hand baths, which work remarkably well.
An herbal bath can be relaxing if even enjoyed for 15-20 minutes. But ‘to do it right’, i.e. as a ceremonial healing ritual, plan for 30-45 minutes and try to do it weekly for long term effects.
Herbal Bath Formulas
Stimulating Herbal Blend
- 3 parts Peppermint leaf
- 1 part Sage leaf
- 1 part Rosemary leaf
- 1 part Calendula flowers
Relaxing Herbal Blend
- 1 part Lavender flowers and leaves
- 1 part Rose petals
- 1 part Chamomile flowers
- Place a large handful or two of the herbal mixture (select your herbal blend) in a muslin bag, handkerchief, or large tea ball. Tie the container on the nozzle of the tub and turn the water on HOT. Let the hot water stream through the herbs making a strong, healthy “tea” then adjust water temperature. I like using cloth bags for the herbs so I can use the herbal bag for a wash cloth while bathing.
- For the shower, tie herbal container to the shower nozzle. When soaked through, untie it, and use as your wash cloth.
Immerse yourself in this healing ‘tea bath’ and allow the water, the herbs, the scent, to permeate your being. When your thoughts begin to wander or worry, bring them home to your intention and watch the candle light flickering. When you feel your body fully relax into the healing waters, and you’re ready to reemerge into the world, take a few deep breaths. As you release the waters back to the Earth, give thanks and allow any doubts or fears or sorrows to flow out with the water.
The last step in your healing ritual is to anoint your body, ideally with a lotion, cream or herbal oil you’ve made yourself. Do this as an anointing with gratitude and adoration for every part of your body (absolutely no self-criticism allowed!).
5. Nourish Your Sacred Body
One of the greatest challenges during times of stress is remembering to take care of our physical needs. We may know everything there is to know about eating healthily and are equally well-versed on what not to eat, but often during stressful times we are driven to eat those foods that are the least healthy for us. After all, sweet, sugary foods deliver a quick burst of energy, and sweetness does comfort the soul. But a sugar-rich diet causes a quick drop in blood sugar, leaving one more tired and depressed, and too much sugar ‘weakens the will’ and makes us feel less in control.
Instead, during times of stress our bodies need deep physical nourishment. Think high calcium foods that nourish and strengthen the nervous system; protein rich foods that sustain us; vitamins and minerals that replenish life force; and probiotic and biotic rich foods that nourish the garden within. Eat simply with gratitude and practice the art of conscious eating, of paying attention to each bite of food you eat, how you chew it, how it tastes. Nutritious food makes us physically feel better and also helps to buoy the spirit.
Here are a few suggestions of nourishing foods :
- My dear friend, and Director of The Science & Art of Herbalism course, Helen Ward shared this recipe for immune enhancing Kale Wakame Stew with me at a time when I needed nourishment, love, and goodness, and it has quickly become one of my favorites. This soup has it all—and it’s delicious!
- I love ‘green drinks.’ These drinks provide the concentrated nutrition that our bodies need and crave when we’re under stress, whether it’s mental or physical. There are many good ‘green drinks’ on the market, but my very favorite, The Ultimate Green Drink, is made by a dear friend and fellow herbalist Rachel Jean Harper.
There are thousands of great cookbooks available. I chose these three as they focus especially on recipes for health and healing, and also present three very different approaches.
6. Be Creative
The act of creating something can be a healing experience. Returning to your favorite crafts like knitting or painting—or daydreaming about next year’s herb garden—can help restore positive focus, build immunity, and stave off depression.
Whipping up fresh batches of your favorite herbal remedies, or trying a brand-new recipe that you’ve been excited about, is a wonderful way to bring creative energy into your life. Plus, giving away your herbal products to friends and family feels good, too!
You only need a few minutes to make a batch of calming Lavender spritzer. This aromatic spray can help to restore a sense of calm and also makes a great gift!
Lavender Antiseptic and Calming Spritzer
- 7 tbsp. Water
- 1 tbsp. Vodka or Witch Hazel extract
- 5-10 drops Lavender essential oil
- 4 ounce glass or stainless steel spritzer bottle
- Combine the water, vodka, and essential oil in the spritzer bottle; shake well.
7. Look to Books
Need a little inspiration to get your day going? Books by the wise elders Thích Nhất Hạnh, the Dalai Lama, and Pema Chödrön all offer loving, uplifting, inspiring and very simple practices for living a more enlightened life.
Read poetry that speaks to your soul. Anything by Mary Oliver or the great Irish poet David Whyte will usually take us right through the core of suffering to the light of life. Ah, the list is long, but here are a few of my current favorite morning reads:
- How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews (Storey Publications)
- The Pema Chödrön Collection (published by One Spirit, NY)
- Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press)
At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic a wise friend, Dr. Robin Dipasquale, said: “The most important thing is to keep your inner state calm and stay present in yourself. Nothing can really inhabit you or take hold of you if you are filling yourself. Fear opens doors. Stay present. Make good choices.”
I know that the best way to get through these challenging times is to keep moving forward. In times like these we often ask ourselves “what should we be doing? What can we do to make a difference?”
The answer that always comes to me is to continue doing what we do best. Do the work we love, be kind to others, love one another as best we can, reach out and help others as best we can, make our herbal medicine and make enough to share, grow our gardens and grow enough to share our bounty. Do the best we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. And most importantly, remember to cultivate a spirit of joyful gratitude by practicing the simple art of gratitude and joy every day. Hopefully some of the practices mentioned above will help guide you in the direction you wish to go.