HERBAL SELF-CARE: 15 Harmonious Rituals to Relax & Awaken

Harmonious Self-Care

Herbal Self-Care © Dani Otteson 05/16

When I was younger, I used to pride myself on an inaccurate picture of who I was and how I reacted to stress. I believed myself to be someone who was unaffected by stress: “I just don’t get stressed out. Stressful situations happen, but they just don’t get to me,” I would say, making full eye contact and believing myself very thoroughly. What I came to realize later was that actually, I was just very good at not letting on to most of the world when I felt overwhelmed. And really, I wasn’t great at even recognizing my own feelings of overwhelm. Sure, I am a generally easygoing, positive, flexible individual. But I’m also someone who loves to push myself, and it can be challenging to know sometimes where the line is. This is where self-care comes in: I think that the most important thing I’ve learned about the way I relate to stress is that I am absolutely capable of taking on as many projects as I want, but taking care of myself in the midst of it all is an absolute requirement.

Being in harmony with my life and who I am is one of the feelings I love most. When I hit my stride and speak my truth, I feel unstoppable. Who doesn’t want to live harmoniously? (I doubt anyone out there is raising their hand). All too often, stress gets in the way of my focus on who I am and how I work best. Stress has many guises – emotional and mental stress of a busy lifestyle, a demanding career, or care of loved ones; physical stress of illness, recovery, inadequate sleep, sub-par nutrition – the list goes on. Yikes.

If you’re still with me, I’ve put together a list of self-care rituals, many of them peppered with herbal helpers. Self-care is more than just physically taking care of yourself to the extent that you are still alive (which is important, don’t get me wrong). Self-care involves nourishing yourself, body, mind, and spirit. It means taking time for yourself, especially when you don’t have time. These rituals are helpful to incorporate on a regular basis, to keep you feeling balanced and harmonious. They are also really helpful for times when you wake up and find yourself mired in stress that you somehow didn’t see swirling around you at any time prior, or that you may have refused to acknowledge. (Not that that has ever happened to me…)

Without further ado:

15 Harmonious Self-care Rituals

1. Make some tea

The act of making tea forces us to slow down and complete a process. It gets us out of our heads and gives us something to do with our hands, and we have no choice but to wait while water boils.
Drinking something warm soothes our nerves and provides comfort during trying times. Skullcap, Lemon Balm, Holy Basil, and Oat Straw are some of my favorite herbs to blend for tea in times of stress. To brew a leafy medicinal tea, use 1 tablespoon of herbs for every cup of water. Steep 15 minutes and strain.

2. Take a bath

Skin is the body’s largest organ of absorption. What we immerse ourselves in externally, we soak up internally – both physically and spiritually. The soothing heat of a bath can be enhanced with the use of herbs, in the form of essential oils or bath tea.
Rose petals, chamomile, and lavender make great calming bath time additions; just add a few drops of essential oil to your bath salt (pro tip: epsom salt is magnesium sulfate; known to relax muscles and ease tension). Alternatively, brew a quart of tea (use 1/4 cup of herbs and steep 15 minutes); strain and add to your bath.

3. Create a personal altar

Gather things that are important to you and give them a space; whether it’s a table, the top of your dresser, or even a special box. Anything goes here – photos, seashells, mementos, candles, flowers, souvenirs, letters, art – you name it. If it’s special to you, if it connects you to something that brings you joy or grounds you, put it here.
The first altar I created for myself followed a major life change, and it’s difficult to overstate how profoundly therapeutic the experience was for me. It helped me recognize who I really was and what mattered most to me. My altar is a space in my home where I come to reflect, heal, sing, cry, and smile.

4. Start a gratitude journal

Whether you’re having a fantastic day or a very challenging 24 hours, taking a few moments to jot down things for which you’re grateful sets a beautiful tone. People who reflect and express gratitude are just plain lovely to be around.

5. Find some nature

Whether you consider yourself a “nature person” or not, nature is where we all come from. Even if it’s just catching some fresh air outside or bringing flowers into your home, being consciously present in whatever nature you can find has deeply nourishing potential. Make it a point to take a walk or watch the sun set. Notice what kinds of weeds grow near you. Even if you don’t know what they’re called, take the time to acknowledge the plants you pass each day.

6. Breathe deeply

Oxygen is important. For example, you literally can’t live without it. Breathing deeply has profound physiological effects, from reducing blood pressure to triggering the brain to release chemicals that are tied to feelings of contentment and wellbeing. My top favorite essential oils to inhale deeply are frankincense, atlas cedar, and neroli.

7. Give something away

Give something away as often as you can. The something you give can be anything from a thoughtful gift to a smile – you never know how much small gestures and actions can mean to someone else. Plug a parking meter for a stranger, buy coffee for the person behind you in line. Compliment people genuinely and often.

8. Take your adaptogens

Adaptogens are herbs that help your body adapt to stress. They work well in supporting healthy endurance and stress hormone levels. In general, adaptogens are calming without being sedating, uplifting without being overly stimulating. My personal favorites include holy basil, ashwagandha, devil’s club, eleuthero, and licorice. I take my adaptogens as tinctures, although you can make a tea of them – holy basil is particularly tasty.

9. Make a list

This is a big one for me. When I sit down and make lists related to all of my major commitments, a lot of my stress evaporates. To me, a list is a plan, even if it has things in it I don’t want or know how to do. Lists help to organize thoughts and problem solve, and most importantly THEY GET THE STRESS IN YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR HEAD. I’m a visual person; seeing all of the things at the same time and knowing that I don’t have to worry that I’m juggling it all in my head gives me permission to RELAX.


10. Connect with an animal

I’ve lived with pets for almost my entire life, so I’m a huge advocate of the therapeutic effect that animals have on people. Plus they’re super cute and awesome. If you have a pet, spend time with your pet. If you don’t, borrow one. Literally call a friend and say “Can I come pet your dog, I’m having a stressful day.” Unless they are made of stone, they will absolutely say yes. OR volunteer at an animal shelter. If you have a mortal fear of or allergy to animals, connect in symbols. Think about major themes in your life (change, fear, humor) and see what you can learn about animal symbols. I probably sound like a hippie-witch (am I?), but I find that symbols are a really interesting way to look at life.

11. Stimulate your mind

Read whenever you have an opportunity, even if it’s just 10 minutes before you go to bed every night. Make time. Choose to do a puzzle instead of watching TV, do a word search. Gore Vidal once wrote, “The unfed mind devours itself.” I am in complete agreement.

12. Reroute your vocabulary

It’s a lot harder to feel stressed if you’re using beautiful words to express things that you care about. Even when you feel like you don’t care about anything because you’re so overwhelmed, use intelligent, positive language.
When I was a teenager, I was a cashier at a suburban health food store. The store where I worked was slow, and I often worked by myself and I would get bored. One of my tricks to staying happy and having fun was to think of as many positive adjectives as possible. I would chat with people and smile while I checked out their groceries, and then at the end, I would work in the adjective: “Have a splendid day!” “Enjoy that magnificent rutabaga!” “I hope your night is absolutely superb!” Oh my stars, it’s hard to feel stressed when you wish people such things.

13. Compose your thoughts

Beyond what you say to other people, choose your internal dialogues wisely. A student once told me that when she feels stressed or overwhelmed with life, she asks herself three questions about repetitive thoughts: 1. Are these thoughts true? 2. Are they helpful? 3. Are they kind? Journaling can be a great way to compose your thoughts and release tension and stress. My favorite herb for repetitive thought patterns is Avena sativa – in tincture form it’s wild oat, in tea it’s oat straw. I pair them both with white chestnut flower essence.

14. Let someone know you’re thinking of them

Call someone. Text someone. WRITE SOMEONE A LETTER. They will be so excited to get real mail that another human intentionally sent specifically them, especially if it’s not for any special occasion. Connecting with other humans is how we keep from losing ourselves in ourselves. Plus even if you’re an introvert (reluctantly sort of raises hand because yes, but don’t look at me), connection is the ultimate self-care. Disconnect from the world around us, disconnect from other people, disconnect from our true selves is so much of what causes stress. Maintaining connection (and building new connections) is one of the best ways you can take care of yourself. (Thank you Santi Devi for this lesson).

15. Take care of your body

This is actually a lot of things all masquerading together as one thing. Eat your food groups, stay hydrated, get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, and exercise. Take a stroll, ride your bike, stretch, do the hokey-pokey; whatever you do that involves movement outside of the necessary, do it. Drink high-mineral nutritive tea. It should be in the water supply, pretty much everyone can benefit from it. Some great herbs to include in a nutritive tea blend include red clover, nettles, violet leaves, and oat straw. Throw some mint or licorice root in there for added benefits and flavor – you’ll be set to conquer the world.

I hope you found something useful in this post; many of the herbs and specific situations mentioned will be addressed in their own blog posts in the future, so stay tuned!

By the way, I know that some of these practice don’t fit everyone’s definition of rituals. Foremost, I believe that ritual is contingent on intention. For example, the act of drinking tea has the potential to be much more than just drinking tea. Additionally, from The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary: ritual rit·u·al (rĭch’ōō-əl) n. “A detailed act or series of acts carried out by an individual to relieve anxiety or to forestall the development of anxiety.” I thought ritual would be kind of a perfect word for this post.

xoxo, dani O.