How The Ritual Of Drinking Tea Can Boost Your Mood—Plus, The 7 Best Stress-Relieving Brews To Try

Sip yourself to a happier state of mind.

January 10, 2018
drinking tea

What’s an easy, no-fail way to bring your stress level way down—and maybe even put a smile on your face? If you answered “Have a cup of tea!” you’re exactly right.

Sure, you can probably find relaxation in a hot bath or a yoga class. But both are sort of time-consuming, and they’re not always easy to do in the middle of the day.

Tea has long been synonymous with enjoyment, mindfulness, and social interaction—three things that are pretty much guaranteed to make you feel good. The idea of the afternoon tea break is thought to have started in 19th-century England, when Anna the Duchess of Bedford started having tea and a small snack to tide her over until dinner (which wasn’t usually served until late). The Duchess sipped her brew solo at first, but then decided it would be more fun if she invited some friends to join her. Before long, the custom of afternoon tea as a low-stress social break had become all the rage in London.

Of course, the idea of tea as a satisfying social lubricant isn’t uniquely British. Far from it. For centuries, Japanese tea ceremonies have served as a brief moment to sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of the things around you with those that you care about. In Chinese tea ceremonies, hosts only fill cups halfway with tea, while the rest is understood to be filled with friendship and affection. And no Moroccan host would dream of having a guest into their home without offering a small glass of sweetened mint tea.

In short, tea serves as a form of self-care that can be shared with others at the same time. (Can’t usually say that about your bubble bath, can you?) And it’s becoming more of a thing right here at home. “Within the last year or so, I’ve seen a rise in tea culture in New York and California,” says Philadelphia-based tea consultant Alexis Siemons. “As we’re connecting tea to wellness, we’re creating our own American tea ritual.”

Indeed, the simple act of brewing a pot of tea and sipping the warm, sweet liquid can be intensely calming if not downright meditative. And it’s really, really simple. If you have 10 minutes, you can do it—whether you’re alone or with a friend. All you have to do is stay checked in:

Put away your phone and focus on brewing the water to the right temperature. Watch the leaves swirl as you pour the hot water into your cup. Breathe in the aromatic steam, taste the subtle flavors as you sip, and enjoy the uninterrupted peace of it all.

“It’s about water, tea, time, and being present,” Siemons says.

And while preparing and drinking any type of tea can be calming, there are some brews that boast extra stress-busting benefits. Here are 7 that are worth trying.

green tea
Green Tea

Have it in the morning or mid-afternoon when you want a gentle jolt instead of a crazy rush. Green tea, including trendy matcha tea, delivers a small amount of caffeine, but it’s also got the amino acid l-theanine—a compound that increases the production of alpha waves. These electrical patterns promote feelings of calm relaxation while boosting cognitive activity, so you’ll feel more energized without a side of the jitters.

Related: 20 Little Ways To Nurture Yourself This Winter

Flavia Morlachetti/getty

The red herbal tea is rich in aspalathin, a polyphenol that some research suggests can thwart the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Consider brewing a cup when a nerve-wracking situation (last-minute work project, anyone?) has you craving a sugary treat. Rooibos has a naturally sweet flavor that hits the spot—without the blood sugar spike and crash that you’d get from a cookie or a brownie. (Here's what your food cravings are desperately trying to tell you.)

This delicious slushie features kombucha, a fizzy fermented tea containing mood-boosting probiotics:

lemon balm
Lemon Balm

Used since ancient times, this citrusy herbal tea has long been known for its tension-taming properties. Lemon balm contains compounds that can help reduce levels of cortisol, while drinking lemon balm tea has been shown to lower feelings of anxiety. And if racing thoughts are making it harder to doze off, consider seeking out a tea that’s got both lemon balm and valerian. In a study of people with minor sleep problems, the combo helped 81% of participants snooze more soundly. (Here's exactly what one writer ate to get her anxiety under control.)

chamomile tea
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Like lemon balm, chamomile and chamomile tea have been used to fight frazzled feelings and insomnia for thousands of years. And research backs this up. One randomized, double-blind study found that chamomile extract was more effective at easing anxiety than a placebo. More research is needed to prove whether the same is true for chamomile tea, but why not give it a try and see if it works for you?

Related: 16 Unique Gifts For Tea Lovers

mint tea
Joanna Czerniawski / EyeEm/getty

Ah, smell that cool freshness? That’s the scent of you chilling out—both physically and mentally. The menthol in mint tea is thought to relieve muscle tension and soreness from exercise and could help fight tension headaches. And because it has a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, it might also be a stress-buster. Plus, it’s caffeine-free, so it’s good to enjoy during the day or before bed after you’ve been running around for hours.

Related: 7 Surprising Health Benefits Of Mint

passionflower tea

Sweet and floral, this herbal sipper is thought to boost levels of certain acids in the brain that lower brain activity—which might help you calm down and sleep better. One study showed that drinking passionflower tea daily for a week improved subjects’ sleep quality more than a placebo. Another, conducted on surgery patients, found that the tea eased anxiety without making subjects feel sleepy or woozy.

Related: 12 Foolproof Natural Sleep Remedies That Experts Swear By

black tea
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It might not get as much attention in the wellness world as green or herbal teas. But don’t discount it. Research shows that sipping black tea can slash levels of cortisol by nearly 50% in less than an hour. Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and other black tea varieties all work, so pick whichever you enjoy the most. Just steer clear before bedtime, since black tea contains around 50mg caffeine per cup (about half of what’s in a cup of coffee).

Related: 21 Ways To Be A Happier Person Every Day Of Your Life