For the world I live in—the Western world—where life is fast paced, stress-filled and at times overwhelming, tea is most assuredly a balm. Conditions related to stress such as anxiety, low mood (low levels of depression), burn-out, and chronic insomnia plague our communities.
As a licensed helping professional, I have observed that it’s not only clients that suffer from emotional and cognitive ailments as delineated above. These occur in the lives of psychologists, teachers, therapists, social workers and counselors as well.
How do I know this? I’ve supervised and worked with individuals in these professions throughout my career. In fact, graduate studies alone (even in the social sciences) can contribute to overwhelming stress that has debilitating impacts on immune health, emotional and cognitive wellbeing as well as relational health.
If the very people who are tasked with supporting vulnerable and emotionally needy members of our community are struggling, whatever are we to do?
While I have many suggestions for those suffering from anxiety, low mood and burnout, I’d like to suggest an enormously simple strategy. Tea.
That is, the ritual of intelligent tea drinking. Before you roll your eyes, and move on to another page, please read further. You may be surprised how much support, and some evidence, there is about tea drinking in research.
While tea drinking won’t solve all of life’s irritants, problems, negative patterns of thinking and relational challenges, it does have amazing calming, peace-giving and grounding potential.
Take the humble chamomile flower for instance. It can grow almost anywhere, and found wild, may appear more like a weed. The flower looks very close to a daisy, and both German and Roman chamomile are popular for gardeners.
Both German and Roman chamomile can be used for tea, although the German chamomile isn’t quite as bitter as the Roman. These specifics are only relevant if you wish to produce your own chamomile. In my world, I prefer to depend on tea distributers as it saves on time in my admittedly hurried world.
There is one noted clinical trial that supports chamomile as an anti-anxiety aid, particularly for the condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This evidence-based study indicated that individuals diagnosed with GAD experienced a reduction in anxiety symptoms that helped them cope better with life.
While we like to depend on clinical trials, there in also anecdotal evidence that chamomile reduces stress related symptoms as well as insomnia. Going back centuries, natural healers have successfully used chamomile to treat numerous conditions, in addition to sleep disturbances and symptoms of anxiety. Not to mention, that a lovely cup of tea at the end of the day feels comforting in your hands, can bring you into the present, and calm your soul simply because of it’s soothing warmth.
Black Tea (Camellia Sinensis)
I’ve been a tea lover for years. However, I always assumed that black tea contributed to heightened arousal in my nervous system because of its caffeine. While there is caffeine in black tea, it is approximately 30% less than a brewed cup of coffee (depending on how strong you like your coffee).
I’ve recently come across reports about a few studies that indicate black tea contains a unique anxiety reducing amino acid called L-Theanine. This lovely substance assists in creating a calming sensation. L-Theanine has been purported to increase dopamine levels, which support a good mood, while having no known side effects.
The dosing seems to be the tricky bit. I’ve read that anywhere from 1-3 cups per day produces a sense of calm. Another study stated 6 cups reduced moderate levels of anxiety (physiological symptoms) substantially. While it appears more research is in order to determine dosage, I can speak from my own experience.
I began serious black tea drinking a number of months ago following a review of an article that indicated six cups of tea per day would alter an anxious state for the better. I was in a highly stressful place in my life and experienced uncomfortable symptoms such as “butterflies in my tummy”, whirrin
g, worried thoughts, insomnia, increased heart rate and the like. I knew the psychological remedies for anxiety reduction, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and acceptance to name a few, but I really struggled to reduce the aggravating symptoms in my body.
While I never got up to six cups of black tea a day, consistent tea drinking (approximately 2 strong cups a day) significantly improved my mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety in my body. Then, I used the cognitive strategies to assist with the negative ruminating thoughts that were also maintaining anxiety in me.
I know that you science-oriented people out there might still be suspicious. An “n” of one (me), isn’t exactly rock solid evidence. Regardless, what’s the cost of a box of tea to conduct your own “n” of one trial and see how it contributes to a better mood and a calmer manner in which you engage your day?
The Ritual of Tea
The ritual of tea is an imprecise practice of regular tea drinking. Of course, tea rituals have ancient roots, and still occur throughout the globe. India, China, the UK and other continents and countries boast from simple to elaborate tea rituals.
What I’m talking about is an intentional ritual you introduce into your life that is consistent and produces calm through the mindful enjoyment of your brew. My teatime is after lunch. I brew some water, and make a cup. Even if I’m heading out to meet a staff member or chair a meeting, I try to have a cup of tea in the sanctuary of my office prior to departure.
I look forward to it.
I savor it.
I’ve started to treasure it.
The benefits come from the tea itself, because I enjoy the flavour. But it’s also the intentionality of reducing my pace, and focusing on something other than work for a few minutes.
I’d love to tell you I always take five minutes to reflect and breathe deeply. Not always. Regardless, the ritual of tea is an important part of stress-reduction throughout my day. Even as I write today, I have cup of the rich brown brew steaming beside me.
Like many practices, there are accessories attached to tea. Teapots, teacups, teacup saucers, tea strainers, tea balls, and the list goes on. In the end, you can use a pottery mug to brew a cup of tea if you wish. You don’t require anything special, except for good quality tea and water. But for many, the accouterments actually enhance the experience of the tea ritual.
Loose Leaf Tea
The true tea connoisseur will tell you that there is nothing like loose leaf tea, as purportedly, the tea is of better quality. Good quality loose-leaf tea tends to include handpicked whole tealeaves, large pieces of the leaf, handpicked buds or a combination of these. The tea collection method, and in particular the larger pieces, contribute to a fuller flavour.
Loose-leaf tea is typically best when used with a tea ball or tea strainer. If it remains in the cup or pot too long, it can become bitter tasting. Tea balls can be used for cups of tea, although they are most often in pots of tea.
Tea strainers are especially handy to place atop your cup of choice. Spoon in the preferred amount of loose tea and pour in recently boiled filtered water. Let the tea steep for as long as you desire, depending on how strong you enjoy your tea.
Tip: If you have more than one tea strainer, let your tea air dry in the strainer over night and it will easily drop out when turned over. Wet tea is more difficult to remove.
Tea bags are about convenience. While the hard-core, loose-leaf advocates will say they lack in the same degree of antioxidant, calming, and other health promoting advantages, good quality bagged tea is still available and beneficial. Tea from tea bags can promote peace and health.
Finally, why Organic?
Why organic tea? Tea is readily available almost everywhere. You can spend considerable money on a purchase of tea, or less than $3.00 a box. We know that genetic modification, pesticides and other nasty chemical-practices are depleting our soil and water sources, plaguing the earth. Tealeaves and their consumers can be markedly vulnerable to these realities.
As I’ve discussed, tea is necessarily steeped. Chemicals found in tealeaves can leach into the water you’ve brewed it in, resulting in you ingesting chemicals
that are not good for you and may in fact be toxic.
Tea is a lovely, ancient, and life-giving benefit this earth has granted us. While we fight to stay grounded and attuned to the present amidst the chaos of our modern world, don’t forget the benefits of tea. Practice the goodness tea rituals. Tea and its many advantages can enhance your life regardless of where you live, how you live, your particular taste or style.