The subject of relaxation is an important part of any good wellness and immunity plan.
You've heard it. Maybe you've recently said it. “I'm so stressed out.”
The great dichotomy of the current events is that while many of us have spent more time at home than ever before, this period has not exactly been of “staycation” status. The stress of staying healthy, caring for loved ones, managing work (or wondering how to find work again), concern about finances, attending to now ever-present children, and even just finding enough toilet paper (!) has burdened us with a myriad of stressors virtually overnight. This, coupled with a general culture that lauds being “busy,” and pushes a hard work ethic above all else, makes one wonder: is it any wonder that we're feeling the heat of stress?
Adding to the problem is our dependence on stimulants like caffeine (to help us work harder/faster), and inflammatory foods like sugar to pacify our cravings (cravings which often stem from—ahem—working too hard), all of which only serve to wear down our biological systems even further.
But for anyone seeking a more balanced path, there are many simple daily techniques to help the body and mind relax. Meditation, breath-work, sleep (including power-napping), and light exercise are a few scientifically-backed methods that can help. Also among these best-of practices is nutrition, which can help prime your body for rest, and in some cases, even help protect you from the effects of stress in the long run.
One incredible way up your relaxation game through food is enjoying a superfood elixir. A small beverage that’s often served warm, elixirs give us the opportunity to pack in a host of functional foods in one condensed shot. Even better, elixirs are very easy to create—basically, if you can make a smoothie or a cup of tea, you can make an elixir!
Here are a few tips on making your own relaxing elixir ... and bring out your inner alchemist.
Base liquid: A good base liquid to use is either water or an unsweetened non-dairy milk, such as almond milk. Avoid juices or anything with sugar. You'll only need about 1/2 cup up to 1 cup of liquid per serving.
Relaxants: Many foods and herbs are natural relaxants! These ingredients can also serve as the key flavor theme of your recipe. For example, cacao is a great relaxant due to its high levels of calming magnesium. Or, try sedative herbs like chamomile and lavender, which can be used in tea form and may help alleviate tension. Reishi mushroom powder—a favorite immunomodulator although not a great flavor carrier—can help boost the inhibitory (aka relaxing) neurotransmitter activity in your mind, as well.
Adaptogens: Aim to add an adaptogen in your mix, which will help support your adrenal glands and balance stress hormones. Great adaptogens include superfoods like maca, holy basil, ashwaganda, and goji berries. You can use either a powder or a tincture form of these—use either a full or partial serving as indicated on the package. While you can use a couple adaptogens at the same time, there is no need to go overboard with including many or all of them: more is not necissarily better. Smart Plants is also an outstanding resource for understanding how adaptogens work in the body … and how to use them in recipes.
Fat: Healthy fats can be extremely healing for the body to help it reset. Coconut oil is an ideal fat to add in terms of flavor, but you can also blend in other fats, especially those rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3s like hemp or chia, in either whole seed or oil form. Add anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.
Anti-inflammatory foods: A stressed body is an inflamed body, and an inflamed body is a body ripe for disease and injury. The importance of including anti-inflammatory nutrients in your elixir cannot be overstated. Many antioxidants offer substantial anti-inflammatory activity, so using superfood powerhouses like turmeric (rich in curcumin), goldenberrries (rich in quercetin), and camu (rich in vitamin C) are a few of the effective tools you can use to help “cool down” internally and heal.
Temperature: Generally speaking, warm elixirs are recommended for the purpose of unwinding. Warm foods and beverages are easier for the body to digest thereby serving as one less energy expenditure for your system to take on. However, a cool elixir is better than no elixir, so don’t let temperature alone stop you from taking advantage of these drinks.
Flavor: Elixirs err on the side of small and action-packed as opposed to large and decadent. If you need to amp up the flavor, use sugar-free natural sweeteners like stevia or monkfruit, warming spices like cinnamon, extracts like vanilla, or a refreshing squeeze of citrus to help appease your taste buds.
Ready to make your elixir? Simply heat the beverage of your choice gently on a stove top, then add the warm liquid to a blender along with your other relaxing ingredients. Blend until smooth and frothy, adjust flavors as needed, and enjoy.
Note: All these “specialty” relaxing ingredients can be ordered online if you can’t make a run to the natural food store. Though some come with a larger price tag, keep in mind they will last for a very long time due to small serving sizes, making their cost-per-serving quite low.