Anxiety can be a disabling condition that’s accompanied by long-term stress and a decline in overall health. It contributes to many chronic diseases, even when treated with conventional medications. That’s why we need to use natural remedies for anxiety and other mood disorders that will address the root of the problem instead of putting a Band-Aid on your symptoms.
In fact, anxiety can affect people of all ages, with a lifetime prevalence between 4.3 and 5.9 percent. In addition, 40–60 percent of people with anxiety experience signs of depression, which makes it an even more serious and difficult condition to treat properly. And research shows that people with anxiety cannot successfully achieve short or long term remission, with remission rates remaining as low as 38 percent after five years.
The good news is that there are many natural remedies for anxiety that are safe and don’t cause adverse side effects like so many anti-anxiety medications. By eating a clean and well-balanced diet that contains important nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium and omega-3s, and using essential oils for anxiety, you will notice an immediate difference in your mood, energy levels and sleep patterns.
If symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your daily life, consider these trusted lifestyle changes that are proven natural cures for anxiety.
If you have a jittery moment, a cuppa chamomile tea might help calm you down. Some compounds in chamomile (Matricaria recutita) bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium.
You can also take it as a supplement, typically standardized to contain 1.2% apigenin (an active ingredient), along with dried chamomile flowers. In one study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to patients taking placebo.
Breathe in lavender
One study found that people who received a massage with lavender oil were more upbeat and had less anxiety than people who had a lavender-free massage. Another found lavender massage can even lower systolic pressure, the top blood pressure number that’s associated with stress. Try putting a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow or in your bath, or add a few drops to a cup of boiling water and inhale for a quick calm-me-down. You can even dab a few drops right on your skin—it’s one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly. The scent of vanilla has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. In a study done at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients undergoing MRIs who breathed vanilla-scented air had 63 percent less anxiety than those who breathed unscented air.
In spite of the name, this herb won’t help you in love. It’s a sedative; the German government has approved it for nervous restlessness. Some studies find that it can reduce symptoms of anxiety as effectively as prescription drugs. It’s often used for insomnia.
Like other sedatives, it can cause sleepiness and drowsiness, so don’t take it—or valerian, hops, kava, lemon balm, or other sedative herbs—when you are also taking a prescription sedative.
Be careful about using more than one sedative herb at a time, and don’t take passionflower for longer than one month at a time.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that is often used as a natural remedy for anxiety because it helps to stabilize the body’s response to stress. In a systematic review that assessed data on the effectiveness of ashwagandha as a treatment for anxiety, researchers found that most studies concluded with significant improvement in anxiety symptoms with ashwagandha therapy.
However, ashwagandha is not only a stress reliever. It also protects the brain from degeneration and it works to improve anxiety symptoms by destroying free radicals that cause damage to the brain and body. Research shows that ashwagandha helps to improve focus, reduce fatigue and fight anxiety without the side effects of most anti-anxiety medications.
Cut out (or down) caffeine
Caffeine boosts your energy, and can make you jittery and anxious. If you can’t go cold turkey, try reducing by a cup a day and see if you notice any decrease in your anxiety symptoms. You can also try switching to a drink with less caffeine and more health benefits, such as green tea. Be aware of other sources of caffeine that may be in your diet such as soda, chocolate, tea, and some over-the-counter medications like Excedrin or Midol.
Hold your breath!
Ok, let it out now. We’re not recommending that you turn blue, but yoga breathing has been shown to be effective in lowering stress and anxiety. In his bestselling 2011 book Spontaneous Happiness, Andrew Weil, MD, introduced a classic yoga breathing technique he calls the 4-7-8 breath.
One reason it works is that you can’t breathe deeply and be anxious at the same time. To do the 4-7-8 breath, exhale completely through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Now let it out slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat at least twice a day.
You know fish oils are good for the heart, and perhaps they protect against depression. Add anxiety to the list. In one study, students who took 2.5 milligrams a day of mixed omega-3 fatty acids for 12 weeks had less anxiety before an exam than students taking placebo.
Experts generally recommend that you get your omega-3s from food whenever possible. Oily, cold-water fishes like salmon are the best sources of the fatty acids; a six-ounce piece of grilled wild salmon contains about 3.75 grams.
Other good choices: anchovies, sardines, and mussels.
Named after the Greek word for “honey bee,” lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), has been used at least since the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, and help with sleep. In one study of healthy volunteers, those who took standardized lemon balm extracts (600 mg) were more calm and alert than those who took a placebo.
While it’s generally safe, be aware that some studies have found that taking too much can actually make you more anxious. So follow directions and start with the smallest dose. Lemon balm is sold as a tea, capsule, and tincture. It’s often combined with other calming herbs such as hops, chamomile, and valerian.
Exercise is safe, good for the brain, and a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety, both immediately and in the long term. “If you exercise on a regular basis, you’ll have more self-esteem and feel healthier,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University.
“One of the major causes of anxiety is worrying about illness and health, and that dissipates when you are fit.”