Natural Ways to Help Manage Anxiety:
After a lifetime filled with anxiety, my symptoms hit an all-time high when I moved to Portland. Not because I don’t love this city, but because moving to a new city with no career in place, no friends, no family, and no sense of community or stability could make even the most easy-going person start to lose it. Things just continued to fall apart and those little voices in my head telling me I was a failure exponentially exacerbated the anxiety.
I decided that it had come to a point where seeking outside help could no longer be avoided. After a lot of research, it seemed finding a therapist that specialized in cognitive behavioral therapy was something that I needed to consider. And while I think in my situation this is the best thing I can do, I also whole-heartedly believe that herbs, oils, and other supplements have the power to transform one’s thought process and can help to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. While these “remedies” may not fully cure someone of their deep-rooted issues, there are things one can do on their own to help beat this awful thing called anxiety, the monster that can control our mind, spirit, relationships, and often even our body.
After copious amounts of research, I’ve narrowed down the best natural ways you can attempt to edge out anxiety, save for therapy. These are only suggestions, but they are based on research, experience, and major studies. With that said, I am not a licensed physician and any protocol you take on should be discussed with your doctor. It is quite the task to take on the beast that is anxiety and to seek help is one of the bravest things one can do. I hope that some of these suggestions can help you or your loved ones lead a more full, more balanced life.
Magnesium Citrate– Magnesium is an antidote to stress, the most powerful relaxation mineral available, and it can help improve your sleep. This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues — but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax. It is better absorbed when combined with calcium, and a b-complex supplement. Kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens, and garlic are all great sources of magnesium.
GABA– GABA is technically an amino acid, though it’s not part of any protein either in the food you eat, or in your body. You can get small amounts from food, but most of it in synthesized in your body from glutamate – something you most likely have plenty of. Many of the medications and remedies for anxiety that are used today affect the levels of GABA and how it works in your brain. Benzodiazepines (medications such as valium and xanax) reduce anxiety through the way they interact with the GABA receptors. (On the other hand, coffee inhibits GABA, and so can make you more anxious or buzzed up.) Without proper amounts of GABA, nerve cells fire too often and too easily. Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, seizure disorders, and numerous other conditions including addiction, headaches, Parkinson’s syndrome, and cognitive impairment are all related to low GABA activity. GABA hinders the transmission of nerve impulses from one neuron to another. It has a calming or quieting influence. There has been some debate as to whether or not GABA supplements can be absorbed fully as they supposedly do not cross the blood-brain barrier. And even if some of it does make it to the brain, it is in such small amounts, it really makes no difference. Well, the jury is still out on this. However, there have been many, many people who feel a real difference after taking a GABA supplement. Phenibu is a precursor to GABA, so a supplement containing this may help as well. I suggest people try GABA supplements out for themselves and decide what works for them.
L-theanine-a precursor to GABA, this amino acid stimulates production of GABA. L-theanine is a psychoactive substance, which means that it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect the central nervous system by interacting with the brain itself. Because they have access to the central nervous system, psychoactive substances such as L-theanine are believed to have the ability to affect mental abilities and states including your perception of the outer world, the speed at which you think, and the mood you are in. It is thought to have a stronger effect when combined with caffeine (the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance), which is also naturally found in green tea. L-theanine increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine.
Passionflower– Within the medical community the jury is still out on exactly how passionflower works, though various studies have shown it to be effective in cases of anxiety. The components of plant-based medicines that affect the body are collectively called “flavonoids.” Passionflower contains many flavonoids. Some evidence suggests that the flavonoids “chrysin” and “benzoflavone” may be the primary flavonoids in passionflower that are responsible for decreasing anxiety. Chrysin and benzoflavone are believed to have the effect of increasing the amount of GABA in the brain, much in the same way that standard anti-anxiety meds known as “benzodiazepines” do. GABA limits the “excitability” or reactivity of the brain’s neurons. This results in the calming effect that gives passionflower its reputation as a mild sedative, but means that it can also disrupt mental and motor functions in higher quantities.
Yoga/Meditation– The effects of anxiety are magnified when the body is not exercised: tension in the muscles builds, breathing remains constricted most of the time, and the mind has no rest from the whirling thoughts and feelings that feed the anxiety. Yoga helps you to access an inner strength that allows you to face the sometimes-overwhelming fears, frustrations, and challenges of everyday life. The American Yoga Association program to reduce stress in the body, breath, and mind does so by building coping skills with a small daily routine of exercise, breathing, and meditation. A few Yoga exercises practiced daily (especially if they are done just prior to meditation) help to regulate the breath and relax the body by gently releasing tension from the large muscle groups, flushing all parts of the body and brain with fresh blood, oxygen, and other nutrients, and increasing feelings of well-being. Yoga and meditation stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and aide in calming anxiety and stress, and that common flight-or flight feeling we have on a regular basis in the modern world. The controlled breathing techniques that accompany yoga and meditation aide in decreasing stress as well.
Cutting alcohol/sugar/excess carbs-These substances reduce GABA, dopamine, and serotonin levels in the body, and that is the LAST thing a person with anxiety or depression needs.
Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha, Holy basil, Licorice-These herbs are your best friends if you have any of the cyclical and life paralyzing health conditions that doctors are scratching their heads over like fibromyalgia, fatigue, anxiety, hormone imbalance, blood sugar swings, auto-immune conditions, etc. Many health seekers choose adaptogens instead of steroids, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or other medications that may cause permanent health damage from side effects. They’d rather nourish their immune system than crash it. Adaptogens are life giving and they support the entire body. They are kind of like chameleons; they can change their action to fit the demands of an individual’s body. In general, they are immune modulating, energy boosting, inflammation quenchers, and adrenal gland fuel. The adrenals are the little walnut sized glands that sit on top of your kidneys. They are like the body’s spark plugs because they give us zip and keep us running. They are also key players in hormone balance, inflammatory response, thought and mood, and intestinal performance. Even though they are small, they have gigantic responsibilities. When in full gear, they give us the mo-jo to push beyond exhaustion or keep us in high alert when in danger. Because the modern day humans run around like crazy people and don’t take the time to rest and recover; everyone should consider supporting their adrenal glands.
Essential oils-oils of lemon balm, lavender, cedarwood, and frankincense, and other oils can help with calming, and grounding.
Vitamin B-12– Vitamin B12 plays a role in the development of anemia, nerve disorders, and cognitive deficits. Its status as one of the B vitamins that affects the brain and nerves the most has made it a popular choice of supplements for those trying to treat their anxiety with Vitamin B. B12 is also difficult to absorb in the elderly so it’s a popular supplement choice for those over 55. Deficiency can lead to mood problems, including depression and anxiety. It can affect nerve tissue and affect memory. There are also a few studies that indicate that low B12 levels are more common than previously believed and may have an effect on mental health even if they don’t reach the point of deficiency.
Omega 3’s– It’s well known that omega-3s from fish oil (EPA and DHA) are effective for alleviating depression, and one study looking at substance abusers with low fish consumption found that supplementing with fish oil for three months resulted in less anxiety and anger. Despite the fact that I think a vegan/vegetarian diet is the best for the planet as a whole, if you have anxiety, depression, or cognitive impairment, I personally believe consuming oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, can be wonderful for brain health.Only chose wild caught fish that are not endangered. Farmed fish can be bad for the water supply, for the fish, and for you. Only supplement with fish oil if you know for sure that your levels of omega-3s are low. A good starting dose is 1,000 mg daily. Fatty acid tests are available from labs such as Meametrix; results will indicate whether you need to supplement with omega-3s, omega-6s or both, and will also indicate your levels of damaging trans fats. Many anxious people with pyroluria don’t need to supplement with omega-3s but do seem to need the omega-6 GLA, ideally in the form of primrose oil.
Vitamin D– Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in eggs and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel (and cod liver oil), but your body can also make its own vitamin D after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, though this is somewhat dependent on the season, if you have sunscreen on, and your geographic location. It may improve seasonal anxiety and depression that worsen during the winter months. One study showed that vitamin D deficiency was associated with both anxiety and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Vitamin D is also important for immunity, bone health and heart health, and it helps protect against cancer. Recent research on vitamin D indicates that many people are deficient in this key vitamin. Personally, I don’t believe i slathering oneself with chemical sunscreen. You absorb harmful chemicals, and your body canot absorb the sunlight to create vitamin D. If you feel like you must use sunscreen, try zinc. Also, carrot seed oil, raspberry seed oil, coconut oil, and shea butter all have natural sunscreens that can help protect you from damaging rays without blocking out the sun completely, and without chemicals.
Kratom– Panic attacks are no laughing matter – that’s why many people are finding relief by taking kratom for anxiety. This ancient herbal remedy, used for thousands of years as a folk medicine in its native Southeast Asia, has been an invaluable asset in the fight against anxiety. Natural and non-chemical, it is an inexpensive and effective alternative that many people prefer to pharmaceutical drugs. If you are suffering from anxiety, consider using a botanical medicinal instead of running to the pharmacy.
Valerian– Although there has long been controversy over what makes valerian so effective as a relaxant, it is increasingly accepted that this herb does, in fact, work as the ancients once claimed it did. In addition to promoting sound sleep, valerian has a reputation for easing anxiety and relaxing tense muscles. It may also have a role to play in relieving digestive conditions, such as diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Valerian added to bath water in the form of a very strong herbal tea or as an essential oil is said to have a calming effect.
Zinc and Vitamin B6-These are essential for the production of your other brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.
Inositol- Inositol is a carbohydrate and vitamin substance that the body can produce in small amounts. It is found naturally in certain fruits, lecithin, brown rice, meats and whole grains, but the amounts present in food are typically not enough to produce anti-anxiety effects so a supplement may be needed. Inositol is necessary for proper formation of cells, transportation of fats and nerve transmission. The neurotransmitter serotonin may also be affected by use of Inositol. Serotonin levels are often low in depression and anxiety sufferers and many forms of medication for these conditions affect Serotonin receptors in the brain.
Skullcap– Skullcap is the anxiety remedy for people who experience anxiety along with restlessness, muscle tension, and jaw clenching. If you tend to toss and turn in bed, or if you feel like you can only relax when you’re out walking (but sitting still makes you want to jump out of your skin), or if you feel like “climbing the walls” when you’re stuck inside during a bout of anxiety, skullcap can help you to unwind not only your anxiety, but also the accompanying muscular tension and restlessness. Skullcap is effective in tea or tincture (a tincture is an herb extracted in alcohol) form, but if you can tolerate small amounts of alcohol I think 20-40 drops of the tincture (for a 150-pound person) is the most effective form.
Hops– Studies have found that hops is sedating (calming and sleep promoting), often with no unwanted side effects. Compounds in hops have various properties, including relieving aches and pains, and killing bacteria. Hops is used to help treat various health problems, such as sleeplessness and nervous problems.
Lemon Balm– A large amount of published data has emerged on the benefits of lemon balm for alleviating anxiety and mood disorders in humans. In the past five years alone, the powerful relaxing effects of lemon balm extracts have been documented by scientists around the world. These studies confirm what herbal practitioners have long known—that lemon balm in combination with other herbal agents is effective in addressing conditions related to stress and anxiety.
Magnolia Bark– This bark has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to address anxiety and nervous tension and to promote sleep. Some researchers believe that these effects are due to honokiol, a natural compound in the bark.
Ginkgo Biloba– In a study accepted by Journal of Psychiatric Research in May, 2006, and published online ahead of print, 107 patients with GAD, or a similar condition called adjustment disorder with anxious mood, received either a high dose of a gingko biloba extract called EGb 761®, a low dose of the same extract, or a placebo for four weeks. Result: the extract worked roughly as well as benzodiazepines, but was tolerated better, had fewer serious adverse effects and had no risk of dependence. Sounds like a win win to me.
Potassium– Potassium is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. Sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, beets, potatoes, white beans, dates, and tomatoes. It’s easy to get from foods.
Noni-fruit– Exciting research shows that noni offers a safe, therapeutic alternative for anxiety support comparable to powerful anti-anxiety medications. Noni acts as a natural sedative and anti-anxiety super food that supports GABA production and activity in the brain.
5-hydroxytryptophan-5-HTP is short for its longer name: 5-Hydroxytryptophan. It is a natural compound that is produced by your body which acts as a precursor to the important “happiness” neurotransmitter called serotonin and the “sleep” hormone melatonin. There has been some research to suggest taking this on a daily basis may not be good for the heart long term. As with any supplement, check with your doctor.
Experience “awe”-When we experience awe, we are filled with positive emotion. We feel happier, and more fulfilled. We are also healthier and experience greater vitality. A new study published in the journal Emotion shows that positive emotions such as awe actually lower our inflammation and reduce the risk for heart disease, arthritis, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease. With awe we also tend to feel an interconnectedness and a sense of meaning in our lives, according to Dacher Keltner, one of the researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.