Anxiety is 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.
Anxiety affects 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. Consider these trusted lifestyle changes that are proven natural cures for anxiety.
Eat a Clean and Well-Balanced Diet
Several studies show that there is a connection between the diet choices and psychology, physiology and behavior. Dietary choices impact a person from the moment he or she is born, to adult life. Consuming too many or too little calories increases anxiety symptoms and other psychological or emotional disorders. Poor diet leads to many anxiety symptoms, including moodiness, fatigue and abnormal blood sugar levels that cause nervousness and the jitters. A poor diet also leads to weight gain. And this impacts your body image and brings on feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods can be a natural remedy for anxiety because they are important for neurotransmitters synthesizing and balancing your mood and stress response. In addition, it’s also important to eat healthy fats, unrefined carbohydrates and lean protein. To improve anxiety symptoms, make sure to add vitamin B foods, magnesium rich foods, foods high in calcium and omega-3 foods to your diet too.
- wild-caught fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, white fish and herring)
- grass-fed beef
- organic chicken
- nutritional yeast
- yogurt or kefir
- leafy greens (like spinach, kale, chard and collard greens)
- fresh vegetables (like celery, bok choy, broccoli, beets and artichokes)
- fresh fruits (like blueberries, pineapple, banana and figs)
- sea vegetables
- healthy fats (like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil)
- beans (such as black beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas and fava beans)
- legumes (like lentils and peas)
- nuts (such as walnuts, almonds and cashews)
- seeds (including flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds)
- unrefined grains (like farro, quinoa and barley)
Try to Drink Three Cups of Chamomile Tea a Day When you're Feeling Anxious
Chamomile contains two chemicals that promote relaxation: apigenin and luteolin. A study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that patients with generalized anxiety disorder who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to patients who were given a placebo.
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.
Avoid Sugary and Processed Foods
Research shows that consuming foods that have a high glycemic index can contribute to anxiety and depression. Sugar and refined carbohydrates can give you blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day, increasing anxiety, nervousness and fatigue. These foods can cause mood swings and alter your energy levels, making it more difficult to get your anxiety symptoms under control. They also contribute to inflammation and alter your brain structure and neurotransmitter function.To maintain normal blood sugar levels and improve your anxiety symptoms, stay away from refined foods, including baked goods (like pastries and cookies), sweetened beverages, fast foods, fried foods, processed meat and refined grains (which can be found in cereals and packaged breads).
Try to get between 1 and 3 grams of omega-3s a day
There is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may ease symptoms of anxiety disorders and lift your mood by lowering levels of stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol in the body. Canned fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds are all great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. An Israeli study found that students given fish oil supplements had less test anxiety as measured by their eating and sleeping habits, cortisol levels, and mental states.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Too much caffeine or alcohol can increase anxiety symptoms like moodiness, nervousness and the jitters. A study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that abstinence from alcohol is associated with a lower risk of anxiety. To reduce anxiety, avoid alcohol completely or limit your alcohol intake to 1–3 drinks per week, but no more than two at a time.Research also shows that consuming too much caffeine can induce anxiety symptoms, and people with panic disorder and social anxiety seem to be particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Limit coffee or black tea to no more than one cup per day.
Yes, it's in beer, but you won't get the tranquilizing benefits of the bitter herb hops (Humulus lupulus) from a brew. The sedative compound in hops is a volatile oil, so you get it in extracts and tinctures—and as aromatherapy in hops pillows.
“It's very bitter, so you don't see it in tea much, unless combined with chamomile or mint,” says Blumenthal. Hops is often used as a sedative, to promote sleep, often with another herb, valerian. Note: Don't take sedative herbs if you are taking a prescription tranquilizer or sedative, and let your doctor know any supplements you are taking.
Vitamin B Complex
B vitamins help to combat stress and stabilize your mood. Vitamin B6, in particular, serves as a natural remedy for anxiety because it works to boost mood, balance blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy nervous system. In fact, symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency include anxiety, irritability, depression, changes in mood, muscle pains and fatigue. In addition, Vitamin B12 is also important for fighting chronic stress, mood disorders and depression. It helps to improve your concentration, improve energy levels and allow your nervous system to function properly.
It has been shown to reduce anxiety and help relax the body. A multi-center, double-blind, randomized study conducted in Germany found that Silexan, an oral lavender oil capsule, was just as effective as benzodiazepine, anti-anxiety medication that usually induces sedation and had a high potential for drug abuse.Research also shows that using lavender oil topically or inhaling lavender can help to induce calmness and relieve symptoms of anxiety like nervousness, headaches and muscle pain. Put 3 drops of lavender oil in your palm and rub it onto your neck, wrists and temples. You can also diffuse lavender oil at home or at work, inhale it directly from the bottle for immediate relief, and add 5–10 drops to warm bath water to fight anxiety naturally.
Regular physical activity helps to improve sleep quality, reduce inflammation, boost confidence, improve energy levels and ease stress and tension. People with anxiety can benefit from exercises like yoga and tai chi because they promote relaxation and involve deep breathing techniques that help to reduce stress and muscle tension. A 2012 review published in Alternative Medicine Review found that of the 35 trials that addressed the effects of yoga on anxiety and stress, 25 of them noted a significant decrease in stress and anxiety symptoms as a result of practicing yoga. In fact, yoga changes your brain by impacting your GABA levels and suppressing neural activity. Besides yoga and tai chi, you can practice other exercises that help to calm the body. For example, running, walking or hiking outdoors, lifting weights and even dancing can help to combat stress.
Get Enough Rest
Researchers at the University of Berkeley found that a lack of sleep can amplify anticipatory anxiety by stimulating regions in the brain that are associated with emotional processing. This means sleep deprivation can contribute to common anxiety symptoms. These symptoms include excessive worrying, and by restoring proper sleep patterns, people with anxiety can reduce feelings of fear, worry and tension. Aim to get 7–9 hours of sleep every night in order to reduce stress, balance your hormones, prevent moodiness and reduce fatigue. You can also diffuse lavender or Roman chamomile essential oil in your bedroom to help induce relaxation.
Breath and question
To stay mindful, ask yourself simple questions while practicing breathing exercises, Edenfield suggests. “Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and focus on how your breath feels coming in and out of your body. Now ask yourself silent questions while focusing on the breath.”
What is the temperature of the air as it enters your nose? How does your breath feel different as it leaves your body? How does the air feel as it fills your lungs?
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.
L-theanine (or green tea)
They say Japanese Buddhist monks could meditate for hours, both alert and relaxed. One reason may have been an amino acid in their green tea called L-theanine, says Mark Blumenthal, of the American Botanical Council.
Research shows that L-theanine helps curb a rising heart rate and blood pressure, and a few small human studies have found that it reduces anxiety. In one study, anxiety-prone subjects were calmer and more focused during a test if they took 200 milligrams of L-theanine beforehand.
You can get that much L-theanine from green tea, but you'll have to drink many cups—as few as five, as many as 20.
Some herbal supplements reduce anxiety without making you sleepy (such as L-theanine), while others are sedatives. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is squarely in the second category. It is a sleep aid, for insomnia. It contains sedative compounds; the German government has approved it as a treatment for sleep problems.
Valerian smells kind of nasty, so most people take it as a capsule or tincture, rather than a tea. If you want to try it, take it in the evening—not before you go to work! Valerian is often combined with other sedative herbs such as hops, chamomile, and lemon balm.
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, who blogs at www.DrewRamseyMD.com.
“One of the major causes of anxiety is worrying about illness and health, and that dissipates when you are fit.”
The 21-minute cure
Twenty-one minutes: That's about how long it takes for exercise to reliably reduce anxiety, studies show, give or take a minute. “If you're really anxious and you hop on a treadmill, you will feel more calm after the workout,” Dr. Ramsey says.
“I generally ask my patients to spend 20 to 30 minutes in an activity that gets their heart rate up, whether it's a treadmill or elliptical or stair stepping—anything you like. If you rowed in college, get back to rowing. If you don't exercise, start taking brisk walks.”
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.
When you're attacked by anxiety, it's easy to get into a mind set known as “catastrophic thinking” or “catastrophizing.” Your mind goes to the bad terrible really horrible just unbearable things and what if they really do happen? “You think, ‘This could really ruin my life,'” says Dr. Ramsey.
Instead, take a few deep breaths, walk around the block, and consider the real probability that this problem will really spin out into catastrophe. How likely is it that you'll lose your job, never talk to your sister again, go bankrupt?
Chances are a catastrophic outcome is a lot less likely than you think when you're consumed with anxiety. “Very few events really change the trajectory of your life,” says Dr. Ramsey.
Ever wonder why you feel so relaxed after a spell in the sauna or a steam room? Heating up your body reduces muscle tension and anxiety, research finds. Sensations of warmth alter neural circuits that control mood, which include those that affect the neurotransmitter serotonin. Warming up may be one of the ways that exercise—not to mention curling up by a fire with a cozy cup of tea—boosts mood.
As one group of researchers put it, “Whether lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, grabbing a few minutes in the sauna or spa after work, or sitting in a hot bath or Jacuzzi in the evening, we often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being.”
Take a ‘forest bath'
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, literally “forest bath.” You and I know it as a walk in the woods. Japanese researchers measured body changes in people who walked for about 20 minutes in a beautiful forest, with the woodsy smells and the sounds of a running stream.
The forest bathers had lower stress hormone levels after their walk than they did after a comparable walk in an urban area.
Learn mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation, originally a Buddhist practice but now a mainstream therapy, is a particularly effective treatment for anxiety , says Teresa M. Edenfield, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who often uses it to treat anxiety patients. “The act of practicing mindful awareness allows one to experience the true essence of each moment as it really occurs, rather than what is expected or feared,” she says.
How to begin? You can start by simply “paying attention to the present moment, intentionally, with curiosity, and with an effort to attend non-judgmentally,” Edenfield says.
Give yourself credit
Are you having anxious thoughts? Congratulations. You're aware of your emotional state, and that awareness is the first step in reducing anxiety, says Edenfield.
“Remember to give yourself credit for being aware that you are having anxious thoughts, and probably body changes. This is truly a skill of mindfulness that must be learned. It is essential in making the next steps of intervening through strategies such as positive self-talk, cognitive reframing”
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