Calm Your Anxiety Naturally

two women making herbal teas
April 17, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Most people view anxiety in a negative light. After all, who really likes to experience a pounding heart, sweatiness, butterflies in the stomach, and muscle tension?

However, acute (short-term) anxiety actually serves a purpose. Think of it as your body’s alarm system. It can help signal danger and spur you to get out of harm’s way. And it can prep you for an important event, such as a speech or performance.

Usually, anxiety is fleeting. The racing heart and sweaty palms disappear as soon as the “threat” (or nerve-wracking presentation to the boss) is over.

Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case for everyone. If you’ve ever suffered from chronic anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be.

Anxiety disorders take many forms. A few of the most common include generalized anxiety (constant worrying), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Considering anxiety is a mental health issue, you might think the only solution is a lifelong reliance on prescription drugs. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, for most patients with mild to moderate anxiety, I consider medications a last resort.

These natural therapies can be just as effective and far less harsh on the system.

A Multi-Pronged Approach

In the conventional medical community, many physicians will simply prescribe an anti-anxiety drug and send patients on their way. The most common of these medications, benzodiazepines, include familiar names such as Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.

They impact the central nervous system and produce a sedating effect that lowers anxiety levels. Sometimes, doctors may even prescribe antidepressants.

Let me be clear. Mind-altering drugs are serious—and often dangerous—business.

Best-case scenario, side effects include dizziness, headache, weakness, and sleepiness. These may not be deadly, but they can certainly impair your ability to drive or function throughout the day.

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And more often than not, benzodiazepines cause physical dependence. Stopping after only a few months of use can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms—agitation, insomnia, loss of self-worth, vomiting, cramping, and even seizures.

Now you can see why I’m not a fan…especially for long-term use. I prefer to take a multi-pronged holistic approach to this issue.

When my patients experience anxiety that starts to affect their everyday functioning, the very first thing I look at is their diet and lifestyle. Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can all make anxiety worse, so I always suggest eliminating them.

Second (no surprise here), exercise is a potent anxiety killer. You may not like working out, but there’s no denying its powerful influence on your physical and emotional health. If nothing else, at least get outside in the sunshine and go for a walk.

I also recommend therapy with a counselor experienced in treating anxiety. He or she can work with you to help you recognize patterns and change behaviors that lead to attacks. You may need only a few sessions, or long-term assistance. Either way, there’s really no drawback at all in seeking this kind of care from a compassionate, knowledgeable professional.

In addition to therapy, excellent at-home techniques to try include meditation, visualization, affirmations, yoga, deep breathing, and even spirituality or prayer.

Finally, various nutritional supplements can help.

GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is my top recommendation.This amino acid acts as a calming neurotransmitter. (Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that communicate information to the rest of the body.) GABA helps balance out the “excitatory” neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and glutamate, that fire up during bouts of anxiety. You can find GABA in supplement form. It can be taken alone or along with other herbs that enhance your natural production of GABA. These include:

  • DHA, an omeg-3 fatty acid which has been strongly linked to brain health. Your brain is mostly made of fat, and the quality and type of fat you consume affects how well your brain functions ad. DHA fights inflammation and aids the function of neurotransmitters.
  • L-theanine, an amino acid that stimulates the production of alpha waves, which promote relaxation and calm. It also plays a role in GABA creation.
  • Passionflower and chamomile, herbs that have a mild sedative effect on the central nervous system. Research shows both can lessen the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. You can find them in capsule or liquid form, or you can buy the dried herbs and make tea.
  • Ashwagandha is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine. A recently published review concluded that ashwagandha significantly improved anxiety in all five clinical trials that the researchers reexamined.

If you suffer from anxiety, give this mind/body approach a try. As with all treatment plans, sometimes it takes a little bit of trial and error to determine what nutrients, dosages, and therapy combinations work best for you.

If you can, collaborate with a physician who is willing to exhaust all avenues before resorting to prescription meds.

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