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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach before going to school or before a first date, you recognize the physical symptoms of anxiety. Feeling a bit anxious is a normal response when you’re starting something new, or there’s a bit of pressure on you socially or at work.
When those symptoms are ongoing, though, it’s important to get the help you need. Medication and therapy are the most effective treatments, but some people want to explore natural remedies for anxiety. Let’s see what science has to say about these treatments.
Common symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety can come with a whole slew of physical and emotional symptoms. Many of these symptoms can feel similar to other conditions, which can be alarming for many people. It can be helpful to understand what’s a normal part of anxiety and what’s a cause for alarm.
If you’re experiencing new symptoms or they’re getting worse, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
Some people feel anxiety in their chest area with a rapid heart rate and pounding or irregular heartbeat. Others have headaches, backaches, or other pains throughout their bodies.
When anxiety affects the nervous system, some feel dizzy, light-headed, or restless (can’t sit still). Some may grind their teeth from tension, experience numbness or tingling, or have panic attacks.
Panic attack vs. anxiety attack: what’s the difference?
People can also have digestive system symptoms of anxiety with nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or a churning stomach. Some people find they breathe a lot faster when they feel stressed. Many people with anxiety have trouble sleeping (Chand, 2021).
Emotional symptoms of anxiety
Emotional symptoms of anxiety include feeling nervous, worried, and frightened. Some people have a constant feeling of dread about the future. Others feel out of touch with reality or disconnected from their bodies.
Some people feel anxious about being anxious or feel that other people are judging them for their anxiety. Others may keep thinking the same negative thoughts over and over (a behavior called ruminating). Anxiety and depression often go together (Chand, 2021).
It can be challenging to live with anxiety. Some people with anxiety disorders are unable to work. Others may find it difficult to have close relationships, try new things, or even enjoy their lives. For most people, though, between medicine, therapy, and natural treatments, anxiety doesn’t have to impede their ability to live rich and full lives.
Medical treatment for anxiety
If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve probably already been to your healthcare provider or mental health professional. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and your provider will customize treatment for you.
Anxiety disorders have many causes, and most medical professionals try to treat your specific anxiety disorder with a combination of prescription medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) (Carl, 2018).
The most common prescription medications for anxiety disorders include antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While SSRIs are antidepressants, clinical studies show they are very effective for treating anxiety. Some people need short-term relief from their anxiety symptoms. They might get anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonipin) for a few weeks.
Anxiety treatments: therapies, medication, self-care
Medications do have side effects, and it’s essential to be aware of how you respond to your prescription. Speak to your healthcare professional about any side effects you notice.
Natural remedies to help anxiety
There are natural remedies to decrease your anxiety. Many are safe even if you are taking prescription medication for your anxiety. Please note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate vitamin supplements, herbal remedies, herbal supplements, and herbal teas. Use caution, as herbs and supplements can interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. Let your healthcare professional know everything you’re taking so you can do so safely.
Supplements for anxiety
There are a few supplements that may be useful for anxiety.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps regulate the way messages are sent to and from the brain and the body.
Research into magnesium shows that it may help reduce some symptoms of anxiety. Animal studies show promising results, though human studies have not shown a significant difference between a magnesium supplement or a placebo (Boyle, 2017).
Magnesium for anxiety: is it proven to help?
Because magnesium is involved in over 300 processes in the human body, taking magnesium—especially large doses of magnesium—can potentially have significant side effects. More research is needed to determine the dosing and frequency of taking a magnesium supplement for anxiety (Boyle, 2017).
Omega-3 fatty acids
Scientists suggest that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can trigger psychiatric disorders, including anxiety. Research shows that people who take high doses of omega-3 supplements reduced their anxiety significantly. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements, fatty fish, or flaxseed (Su, 2018).
Clinical trials and studies are researching the effects of probiotics on anxiety. They tested many different bacterial strains. The Lactobacillus strain L. rhamnosus has been shown to reduce anxiety more than other strains (Reis, 2018, Lui, 2019).
Herbal remedies for anxiety
Many people like using herbal remedies for various ailments, including anxiety.
Aromatherapy and essential oils
Aromatherapy uses oils or extracts from plants and herbs based on their smell. Different aromatherapy formulations use either the entire plant or parts of the plant—flowers, roots, leaves, stems, or twigs. These types of oils are called essential oils.
While essential oils have gained popularity in recent years, this treatment is ancient. Hippocrates advocated using pleasant scents for healing.
Essential oils can be rolled or massaged onto the skin, inhaled through the nostrils by using a diffuser, swallowed in a gelatin capsule, or used as a flavoring. Several scents are thought to help reduce anxiety. Citrus scents like lemon, sweet orange, bergamot, and florals, including rose, jasmine, neroli, and lavender, may be beneficial for anxiety relief (Farrar, 2020).
Side effects can occur if you are allergic to an oil, have sensitive skin, a history of asthma, get the oil in your eyes, or swallow the oil. Children and the elderly are at a higher risk of experiencing side effects (Farrar, 2020).
Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from cannabis and hemp plants. The cannabis or marijuana plant has two compounds that work on the brain and body: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives the characteristic “high” people associate with marijuana, and cannabidiol, which helps reduce panic and other symptoms of anxiety.
Cannabidiol products typically have higher amounts of CBD and minimal amounts of THC (so CBD products generally don’t result in a high).
Clinical trials and studies show that CBD products work for generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. More research is needed to determine proper dosing and which strains work best (Sharpe, 2020).
CBD for anxiety: dosage, benefits and side effects
Cannabis products you put in your mouth are CBD oils and tinctures, and edibles (often sold as gummy bears or lozenges). Other CBD products include creams you apply to skin or vaporizers that you inhale. CBD products come in different strengths and flavors. THC products are federally illegal, but hemp-derived cannabis products are federally legal because they have almost no THC. Medical-grade marijuana products are legal in 36 states. The FDA has not approved any non-prescription CBD products yet (Ferber, 2020).
Many herbs have been used since ancient times to help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Some well-known herbs include chamomile, chaste berry, lavender, saffron, kava, passionflower, and black cohosh.
Many people find anxiety relief with herbal supplements, but others may have sensitivities to them. Please let your healthcare provider know if you take any of these herbal supplements. They may interact with other medications and with other herbs.
There are some important warnings to be aware of with herbal supplements (Fernandez-Rodriguez, 2017):
- Passionflower is usually mixed with other herbs, but it may cause dizziness in some people.
- Chamomile may cause increased bleeding if you take any blood-thinning medication. Chamomile is part of the ragweed family. If you have a sensitivity or an allergy to these plants, use chamomile with caution.
- Lavender can cause low blood pressure.
- Valerian is known for its calming properties, but many people find it smells terrible on its own. As a result, most people usually take it as a tincture or mixed with other herbs.
- Lemon balm can cause nausea and increased anxiety if taken in large doses. Monitor how you feel, especially if you drink tea with lemon balm in it, and take a tincture or capsule daily
- Kava is well known for anxiety treatment, but the FDA has issued warnings about liver damage with even short-term kava use (NIDDK, 2018).
Many herbal teas are sold as products with the word “calm” in them. They usually contain herbs like chamomile, hops, kava, lemon balm, passionflower, and valerian. You may want to use caution with these herbal teas, especially if you’re taking anti-anxiety medication. These herbs have sedating qualities and cause drowsiness. Some people find the simple ritual of preparing and drinking tea relaxing, no matter what type of tea they use (Fernandez-Rodriguez, 2017).
Wellness and lifestyle interventions
While many people swear by herbs and supplements for their anxiety, not everyone responds well to those options. Some people want to avoid adding in any substances that may interfere with any medications they’re taking. The following lifestyle interventions shouldn’t interfere with other therapies you might use.
Meditation for anxiety: does it work?
Some people experience shortness of breath, shallowness, or rapid breathing when they feel anxious. There are different types of breathing exercises to help manage these symptoms. Most involve slowly taking in a breath, holding the breath for a short time, and very slowly letting the air out. Modern breathwork is based on ancient Zen meditation philosophy on how breathing affects your mental state and your body’s wellbeing (Tobe, 2020).
If you’re dieting, fasting, forget to eat, or have no appetite, you may feel anxious. When you don’t eat enough, your blood sugar drops, so your body sends a message to your liver to increase the amount of glucose in your blood. Your body then sends that message through epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Epinephrine is the same hormone that raises your heart rate, increases your breathing rate, and makes you feel anxious (Bickett, 2016).
If you don’t eat right away, your body may send stress signals, ramping up your anxiety even more. So, when you start feeling anxious, you may want to eat something to relieve your symptoms. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine all can raise your anxiety level. Try to reduce these as much as possible if you want to reduce anxiety (Bickett, 2016).
Exercise and ecotherapy
Exercise can help relieve anxiety because physical movement increases feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins. Purposefully moving your muscles can also help you sleep better at night, which can reduce stress. People with any diagnosed anxiety disorder or even intermittent anxiety can benefit from exercise (Aylett, 2018).
There are multiple studies of the benefits of being in nature (ecotherapy) to improve mood and decrease anxiety. You can combine movement (exercise) with ecotherapy (going outside) for optimal benefit (Summers, 2018).
Mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness helps you bring awareness to whatever it is you are doing. Meditation can help you manage stress, which helps lower anxiety. Studies show that mindfulness meditation works well for people with anxiety disorders (Hoffman, 2017).
There’s been a lot of research on how pets help people diagnosed with medical and mental health disorders. The type of pet isn’t important. What matters is that pets provide a sense of support, love, and companionship—crucial factors for reducing the isolation and loneliness that many people with anxiety feel (Friedman, 2018).
When people feel anxious, they may hold their muscles tight, creating muscle tension. Some people find relief from consciously relaxing their muscles by incorporating daily yoga or progressive muscular relaxation practice (Hoffman, 2017).
Journaling or writing down your feelings can help decrease anxiety. There have been multiple studies on the positive effects of journaling for other mental health conditions. Writing down your feelings improves your mood and reduces anxiety (Smyth, 2018).
Getting better naturally
You have many choices in how you treat your symptoms of anxiety. Besides prescription medications and psychotherapy, there are supplements, herbal remedies, mindfulness meditation, and exercise options that may help.
Before starting any regimen on your own, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. It’s essential to ensure that there won’t be any harmful interactions with other medications you’re taking. While anxiety can’t be cured, using some of these complementary interventions may help you reduce your anxiety levels and increase your overall wellness.
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Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.