May 21 , 2018
Why 40 million anxious Americans should be sipping
By anyone’s standards I am a calm easy going person. I rarely raise my voice, am slow to lose my temper, have a tolerance level that seems to have no limits (even with difficult people, even if that difficult person is my boss), and I practice unconditional loving kindness. And I do mean UN-conditional. I’m that person – that person who strangers sit next to and share their life story, because they’ll feel listened to, calmed, and totally accepted for who they are after spending just a few minutes with me.
Somewhere around age 20 people started letting me know this. My friends and college classmates said that being around me felt like receiving a warm hug allover. Which I found very surprising. Surprising because I never felt as calm, cool and collected inside as people described me. At any given moment I felt either nervous or excited, was always thinking and overthinking, editing each word that came out of my mouth like it was an essay paper that needed an A- to pass.
And then there's my nervous habit of absent-mindedly picking at the skin around my nails, especially but not always when I'm feeling stressed. Or just thinking. Or talking. Or bored.
Turns out it's not just me
Why was I so jittery, worrisome and self-judgy? Do other people feel this way? As it turns out, yes, 40 million of them (okay, us) experience anxiety disorders from time to time. Not saying this is me, but if it is me, I’m not alone!
Many of us invest precious much of our divine energy in holding on too tightly. We have an easy time giving loving kindness to those we love, those we work with, and even those we don't love too much. Why is it so hard to treat ourselves with this same gentle loving kindness? Sometimes it just takes a minute. Just a quiet minute, looking at yourself from the outside, smiling, and embracing what is. And sometimes that minute comes a little more easily if I'm staring into green liquid in a white cup. It just does.
Meditation in a cup
My functional nutritionist friend Klara Mudge at Mind Body Green likes to call green tea “meditation in a cup!” Just 30 minutes after sipping, green tea crosses that blood-brain barrier and the alpha waves get to producing.
L-theanine is to relaxing what theobromine is to happiness! Of all amino acids, L-theanine is the one known to lower anxiety and increase relaxation (without lulling you to sleep). And guess which tea contains the highest levels of L-theanine? You guessed it - the green variety.
The first thing is the best thing
It’s the first thing I do when I walk into my office at Bastyr at 7:30 AM. I turn on my computer and while she's powering up I brew myself a nice small pot - usually Sencha, on some days Jasmine. Then with a nice warm cup of green by my side, I jump into my most important task of the day. Whether it’s editing the next midwifery flyer or spreading my advertising budget – whatever I do, I do it with ease, with focus, with a smile.
What’s the effect of green tea on cognition, mood and brain function? Hint: The answer won’t surprise you. A systematic review published last year presented evidence that:
green tea [positively] influences psychopathological symptoms (e.g. reduction of anxiety), cognition (e.g. benefits in memory and attention) and brain function (e.g. activation of working memory seen in functional MRI). 
Do I still feel pangs of anxiety when I’m up against a deadline in 30 minutes and our server crashes? You betcha. Do I still forget that student’s name in the hallway – the same student with whom I shared this mind-bending moment last week in the Mosaic Lounge – only to recall her name 15 seconds after I’ve passed her? Ya, that still happens too. But I’ll tell you what, when it does happen, I’m able to pause for long enough to recognize it’s happening, take a deep slow breath (or 2), let it go, and move on.
Is it really just the L-theanine?
I don’t think so, no. So don’t go extracting your L-theanine from the green tea (not that that would even taste good, but some people would rather have anything in pill form), because
the effects of green tea cannot be attributed to a single constituent of the beverage. …the beneficial green tea effects on cognition are observed under the combined influence of both caffeine and L-theanine, whereas separate administration of either substance was found to have a lesser impact.
Good mojo starts with mindfulness
Full disclosure: The mojo I get from my morning green tea ritual starts kicking in well before that first sip has crossed my blood-brain barrier. It starts with the mindfulness of the process itself – selecting which green tea my day wants to start with, taking a deep breath in to inhale the potent aroma, whether grassy or flowery, then scooping 3 spoonfulls of tea leaves into my tea bag, filling my pot with hot water, and taking 3 minutes to clear space on my desk while my tea steeps just for me. Then I pour myself a cup and move into my first task with grace and intelligence.
Everyone should be sipping a cup or 3 of this green elixir every day.
So take a minute to set yourself up with calm smiling and productive energy. Drink more, stress less. Be a snob, steep responsibly.