Natural Anxiety Relief - 9 Proven Anxiety Remedies
My friend's heart was pounding as if it was going to explode through her chest.
Her palms were getting sweaty. This wasn’t normal. She kept thinking “when is this going to end?”
After what felt like an eternity, it was her turn to order coffee and she was finally able to relax.
Anxiety can be normal. We all worry sometimes about money, work, family, our health...
Let’s face it: stuff happens.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. But when that stress increases or lasts a long time and turns into significant worrying, it can be really uncomfortable.
The good news is that there are natural treatments for anxiety that have been proven to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
In this article, we’ll explain what anxiety looks like and walk you through the best natural treatments for anxiety.
The symptoms of anxiety can take many forms. Usually, a sense of underlying worrying or tension is present, even when there is not a good reason for it. When you experience anxiety, you may feel worried about certain things, like going out in public or going to meet other people.
This type of anxiety is called social anxiety. Or you might feel really worried about a specific event, like the writing of an important exam or about getting on a plane. Or maybe you experience a sense of panic and overwhelm.
The anxiety experience can fall into three often overlapping categories: sensations, emotions, and thoughts.
- Sensations are things like trouble breathing, heart palpitations, or sweating. These are physical experiences happening in the body.
- Emotions are things like embarrassment, sadness, anger. These are subjective feelings that describe the personal interpretation of the situation.
- Thoughts are things like “This is too hard to overcome” or “I can’t do this.” These are usually untrue or exaggerated statements that are part of the anxiety experience, even though they may feel completely justified to the person experiencing them.
So overall anxiety can present with different signs and symptoms and the medical diagnosis that is often used is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD for short).
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The question is: what can you do about it before turning to medication?
There are many safe nondrug treatments available for anxiety. But the first thing you want to do is to make sure there’s nothing physically wrong with your body. Speak with a healthcare provider and get a proper assessment to make sure that you do in fact have some form of anxiety.
Done? Okay. Here are the natural anxiety relief options you should consider next...
Do You Have Anxiety?
9 Natural Anxiety Relief Tips
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish contain omega-3s, best available in the form of fish oil, although algae (vegan) can work, too. These omega-3 fatty acids are a major component of brain cells.
Those with anxiety who consume fish oil have improved mood, better concentration, and less fatigue. Studies have also shown that fish oil decreases anxiety, possibly because they help decrease inflammation in the brain, which otherwise promotes anxiety.
There is an ongoing debate (pdf) in the medical community about which form of fish oil is better: natural triglycerides or ethyl esters. But generally, both forms are better than not taking fish oil in the first place!
Some of our favorite brands include Integrative Therapeutics in the U.S. and Nutrasea in Canada because the quality of their fish oils is top notch. For the vegetarians and vegans out there, there does exist algae-based alternatives.
The dose for fish oil can vary, but usually, a total daily dose in the range of 1000-3000mg is considered appropriate. What’s more important is the ratio of the elements “EPA” and “DHA”.
For anxiety, it would be suggested to have an EPA to DHA ratio of at least 3 to 1 like in products that are identified as “high potency fish oil.”
And as we've said, algae works, too. You’ll just need to take more pills to get an adequate dose.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
CBT is one of the most well-proven and validated therapies for anxiety.
But what is it exactly? CBT is like auto-correct for your brain. Or like a software update for your phone, it helps to fix bugs.
It consists of talking with a CBT-trained healthcare provider who will ask you questions, listen to your answers, and walk you through the specific CBT process to effectively rewire your brain so that you're more relaxed.
CBT usually takes at least several weeks, but we can’t emphasize enough how impactful it can be for providing large and long-standing benefits. You can even consider getting started with CBT online.
Note: this is NOT merely talk therapy, which can sometimes be helpful but doesn’t have the track record of CBT.
L-theanine is an amino acid that's found in green tea. It’s said to help reduce stress by decreasing excitatory brain activity.
In other words, when your brain gets a little too excited, a little too active, a little too worried about things, L-theanine helps to calm down this process.
Studies have shown that L-theanine taken as a supplement in doses of 200mg can help ease mental or physical stress.
It can also help with something called anticipatory anxiety, which as the name suggests, is when you are anxious because you anticipate something stressful is coming up in your life. In these situations too, L-theanine causes relaxing effects.
Exercise helps reduce anxiety.
Exercising produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that do many things, including reducing the negative effects of anxiety.
When you’re feeling anxious, it can be hard to put one foot in front of the other to even get started with exercise, so we understand if you have a million excuses, a million reasons why you can’t exercise.
The good news is that even a little bit of exercise (like a 20-minute walk) can go a long way, so we encourage you to do everything in your power to just get started.
Research has shown that once you overcome that initial “I don’t feel like it,” you can make it the rest of the way much more easily. You can then benefit from decreasing tension, better sleep, better self-esteem, and a happier mood.
Here are 3 tactics we’ve found most helpful for helping people stick to their exercise:
- Pick an audiobook you want to listen to, and only allow yourself to listen to it while exercising. This has been studied and shown to help people exercise successfully. (In the study, they used “The Hunger Games” book series.)
- Set miniscule goals that you can meet every day. That’s the way to develop a habit. B.J. Fogg has illustrated this with his research at Stanford. For example, commit to a daily 3 minute walk. Some days you may decide to extend it to 20 while other days you’ll stick with 3, but what’s most important is that you’ll be forming the habit.
- Pick something fun. Do you like swimming or dancing? Try to commit to a weekly activity. It can be especially useful if you see yourself improving over time and where it can be a group activity, like in yoga. Those things provide positive reinforcement.
5. Medicinal Herbs
Herbal medicine for anxiety is a fantastic supplemental option. In many cases, it can be just as powerful as medications, but often without many of the uncomfortable side effects.
Here are just a few options to consider for anxiety:
- Lemon balm
Each of these herbs has a unique profile, so there might be one or more that are right for you.
They can be in tincture form, which means they are alcohol-based extracts. No, that doesn’t mean you are medicating your stress with alcohol. The amount of alcohol will be very low, it is only used as a way to extract all the goodness out of the herb.
Herbs can also be provided in capsule form, where the dried herb has been turned into a powder and then put into capsules.
And herbs can also sometimes be used in other forms (depending on the herb), such as in the form of essential oils which can create a soothing aroma, or in the form of a tea.
So which herbs may be right for you?
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider a herb with sedative properties, like valerian or passionflower. Herbs like these would best be taken in the evening and before bed, rather than during the day. Because of their sedative actions, they should help you go to sleep a little easier. These may be best taken as a tincture or in capsule form.
- Do you have anxiety that is associated with any stomach upset? Consider a herb like chamomile, which also has soothing actions on the stomach. It’s probably best taken as a tea in the evening.
- What about a herb like ginkgo for anxiety? Well, ginkgo influences several chemical messengers or neurotransmitters involved in mood, including dopamine and serotonin. Studies have shown that ginkgo extracts significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and can also improve mood.
You may also want to experiment (with supervision) with various combinations. Perhaps you find a specific combination of anti-anxiety herbs that works really well for you.
6. Mindfulness Meditation and MBSR
It sounds super boring, but if you commit to forming a mindfulness habit, it can be one of the most powerful things you will ever do.
Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment in a way that is free of judgment.
Meditation is a state of peacefulness and tranquility that occurs when the mind is calm.
Because each of these concepts can mean a lot of different things to different people, another term that is used to try to identify a standardized treatment is Mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR for short.
MBSR is typically a program that takes up to 10 weeks where you are taught mindful awareness via weekly group meetings, workshops, and daily individual practice at home.
MBSR has been shown to positively impact the areas of the brain responsible for producing our self-image, as well as reducing social anxiety.
Overall, meditation and mindfulness work to change your perceptions of negative thoughts, identifying them as things that come and go, not integral parts of yourself.
This process reduces the potential to be triggered by reactions to negative thoughts and reduces distress. There are free MBSR courses offered online.
7. Inositol supplementation.
Inositol is a supplement whose composition is similar to that of vitamins (it is often confused as a B vitamin).
It has been investigated for the treatment of anxiety and compared against medication. The results of one study showed that after 1 month, inositol had successfully decreased anxiety symptoms.
Inositol was also shown to decrease panic symptoms. However, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Inositol is typically recommended as a powder. This has pros and cons. If you want to try using it, you may find that you have trouble achieving the required daily dose, as it can go as high as 18g a day.
As doses increases, the risk of adverse effects increases (and for inositol, it is usually stomach issues). You don’t need to be too picky about sourcing - anywhere you find it, you can grab it and know that it's acceptable.
Is there a diet for anxiety?
Well, not exactly. But research continues to show that diet affects mental health.
Studies have shown that when you consume a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and lean organic meats, you have a lower likelihood of experiencing anxiety. Impressive.
Of course the bad news is that the opposite is also true… When you consume a diet high in processed meats, pizza, sweets, soft drinks, french fries, coffee, cake, and ice cream, you have a significantly higher likelihood of anxiety.
Researchers think that increased stress levels cause you to reach for foods that make you feel good right away. This may help in the short-term, but has negative long-term consequences.
There are strong links between the misuse of caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol use (especially over the long term) can reduce levels of critical nutrients needed for brain function, such as B vitamins.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome or food allergies, you may benefit from treating these underlying conditions. Avoid the foods you are allergic or sensitive to or the foods that make you feel worse. There are greater rates of anxiety in those suffering from these conditions.
Check out our nutrition article for more info on how to eat well.
#9 Work with a naturopathic doctor.
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) complete almost the same amount of educational hours as conventional doctors, but NDs place more emphasis on natural approaches and on fixing the root cause of your health issue rather than just relieving symptoms.
NDs are trained to utilize prescription drugs, but the emphasis is on the use of the following therapies:
- Clinical Nutrition: Providing diet advice and prescribing supplements to manage nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Lifestyle Counselling: Providing support and empowering patients to make healthy choices to achieve health on all levels, including exercise and sleep recommendations, as well as talk therapy and stress management.
- Botanical Medicine: Using herbs and applying the medicinal properties of plants.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: A broad range of therapies that include acupuncture, or the use of small needles inserted into the body at specific locations.
P.S. If you'd like to talk to a naturopathic doctor about anxiety (from the comfort of your own home), you can start here and we'll get you into an online session within 24 hours.