The holidays are upon us again, and along with all that gift-buying, cooking and decoratingâand maybe as a result of itâyour customers will likely be looking for stress relief. Here's how to point shoppers in the right direction and help them bolster their moods and immune systems.
Let the herbal healing begin
"It is really important to take time out to nourish ourselves and do things that are health enhancing," says Brigitte Mars, an herbalist and author in Boulder, Colo. And while this is true of the whole year, it's especially true during this hectic, pressure-filled time.
Dr. Edward Garbacz, an Atlanta-based, board-certified internist with an integrated medical practice, says the pressures we face during this stressful time are exacerbated by seasonal changes. "Nothing can be more vexing than taking care of oneself during the change of seasons," he says. "From classical Chinese medicine, it is known that such weather changes, and a person's adaptation to and preparation for themâincluding preventive methodsâare essential for keeping well during those changes of seasons."
As a first step, both Garbacz and Mars recommend fighting the all-too-common downhill diet slide. "Foods can be used as medicines, enhancing immune function in preparation for this stressful season," Garbacz says. And when customers need more than food as their medicine, as Hippocrates said, there are a host of recommendations you can make.
"One specific class of herbal remedies, the adaptogensâas their name impliesâare designed in nature to be specifically supporting of stress adaptation and related immune systems," Garbacz says. He mentions popular varieties such as echinacea, astragalus and schizandra, but lists others that can be added, including licorice, hawthorne, alfalfa, milk thistle, turmeric and boswellia. "These herbs support adrenal function, the core response unit of the human body," he says.
Mars points to a few "gentle" herbs as a good starting place for those seeking stress relief. Chamomile is one, as well as oat straw. She says the latter, which is safe for everyone, is one of her favorite calming herbs. For those needing something a little stronger, she recommends valerian and kava kava. But not everything works for everyone, she says, and suggests trying smaller doses of the stronger herbs before going for a regular, full-strength dose. "Of course, I recommend Rescue Remedy," she adds. "You can keep it in your purse and it's good for everything, from those holiday jitters to dealing with your mother-in-law."
Nutrients go to bat against stress
When it comes to nutritionals, Garbacz says essential fatty acids, from both vegetable and marine sources, are an important addition to the defense plan. Also, the bioflavonoids found in dark-skinned fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing qualities that aid the stress response.
He also likes the amino acid-based neurotransmitter support found in 5-HTP and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which both have calming effects. Mars agrees that GABA is great for its ability to minimize the response to excitatory messages, but wouldn't recommend it to everybody. "It's just that it's more high tech rather than the herbs that have been used for hundreds and thousands of years," she says. "So I'm a little more careful."
A calcium and magnesium supplement is another of Mars' recommendations to help relax muscles and aid in restful sleep. She says a B-vitamin complex also has a calming influence, working on two levels. "It helps you have the energy to do what you need to, which has a beneficial effect," she says. "It's also nerve-nourishing, so you don't feel as stressed or nervous."
Garbacz recommends vitamins A, C and E, as well as selenium and zinc, for their immune-promoting and disease-preventing effects.
Mars recommends an age-old form of stress release after sorting out the correct herbal and supplemental regimenâa bath. "Taking an aromatherapy bath can be a great stress-relieving technique," she says. Adding seven drops of calming essential oil, such as lavender or rosemary, to a warm bath begins the ritual. When you finish, "Let the water go out and visualize your stress going down the drain with the water," she says.
Garbacz recommends another age-old techniqueâplay. "As simple or unusual as it may seem, periods of play and purposeless activity for the sake of relaxation and reawakening the childlike quality within us should not be forgotten," he says. Letting go in this way can help free us from ingrained stress patterns that sabotage our ability to stay healthy and calm.
He also says that while exercising has been shown to help relieve stress, excessive exercise during the holidays might not be appropriate, and might actually contribute to immune-system weakening and, therefore, more stress. "As always, my motto is ?everything in moderation,' " he says.
New twists for old remedies
There might be a bell going off somewhere in your headâ"How can I continue to reinvent my space to keep customers excited about the products that I know can help them?"
Debby Swoboda, president of Debby Swoboda Marketing Solutions, says it's necessary to continually look beyond the usual. "I often hear, ?I don't have any place to put anything,' but you don't always have to be traditional." She suggests marketing can be as easy as adding a display shelf into an endcap where you can showcase a few books with the recommended herbs placed nearby. Or, as you would in the deli, create take-home recipes for stress relievers, adding a map that customers can follow through the store as they track down the ingredients. Both can reduce the "blank-look stare" that often accompanies even the most basic of supplement recommendations, Swoboda says.
Garbacz suggests that taking cross-merchandising a step further can give stressed-out shoppers another boost. "Contemplative and meditative methods are highly recommended [during these stressful times], as they calm the mind and heart, which can only conserve body resources and support immune function," he says. To that end, he recommends pointing customers toward the stock of meditation cushions you have artfully displayed along with the GABA.
Swoboda says making the shopping process easier is a great first step in reducing everyone's stress. "Give quick, easy information, and then your customers can decide if they want to get more," she says. "There's no need to give a bucket of something that they might not be interested in, because that only adds stress."
Most importantly, however, might be a kind word and an invitation to slow down. "We get into driving ourselves like horses," Garbacz says. "But even horses get to rest now and then."
Bryce Edmonds is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p. 38