30% of us will experience some sort of anxiety in our lifetime and women are twice as likely to experience it than men. From the occasional circumstantial anxiety to full-blown generalized anxiety disorders with panic attacks and debilitating phobias, there are many different types of anxiety. Thankfully, there are also many different types of herbs and can help us with our anxiety without having to reach for a prescription.
Here’s the thing…anti-anxiety medications, which include the all-too-commonly prescribed and highly addictive benzodiazepines (drugs like Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium) and other medications, come with a multitude of side effects — including short and long-term potentially permanent impacts on cognitive function. While muting out anxious symptoms may help in the moment, it doesn’t stop them from coming back. It also doesn’t address the root causes of why you feel the way you do. Let’s do a 180 and switch our mindset to natural remedies and root causes. Learning how to identify, manage, and treat anxiety is like learning a new language of the mind. It may take time. But it is learnable and it is worth the investment in yourself.
Identify the Feeling
The first step to overcoming anxiety is to recognize it for what it is. It is a set of feelings that are a result of a series of biological responses to a perceived threat. Pay attention to what happens when you become anxious? Your heart rate increases, your breathing accelerates, you may start to sweat, and your mouth might get dry. You may feel that you are going to pass out. Or you may have an urge to run, flee. You may have difficulty concentrating or experience memory lapses. You may experience nausea, chest pressure or pain. At bedtime you may be unable to fall asleep. You may feel a sense of impending doom – even that you are going to die. But you are not. These are the signs of anxiety. It is your body’s flight-or-fight response kicking in.
Be the Leader of Your Brain
The more you pay attention to the anxiety symptoms I described above, the more quickly you’ll recognize when they are coming on. The more you practice mind-body interventions for kicking that reaction in the butt – the better you’ll be at being able to manage your body’s response. When the feelings start to raise their ugly head, tell yourself, “I am safe – these are just feelings.” Tell it to yourself several times as you are doing very deep, slow breathing in and out. They are just feelings, they are just feelings, they are just feelings.
Try to actually use your breathing to slow your heart rate and breathing down. Do something to interrupt the cycle like slowly drink some cool water. Deliberately relax. Intentionally feel your feet on the ground. Keep a journal of your experiences as you learn to use these tools. I bet you’ll find that you are starting to succeed in reducing and controlling your anxiety!
Embrace Your History
Many of us are born with small variations in our genetic make-up that make us predisposed to anxiety and don’t allow us to clear anxiety neurotransmitters as well as others without these variations. So for some of us, our anxiety tends to come on a little easier, be worse and hang on a little longer.
Some of us grow up in environments that were very anxiety provoking – high stress homes, parents with substance, emotional, or even physical abuse problems, peer pressure at school. We grew up actually accustomed to anxiety as our baseline and as a result it becomes our natural default comfort zone emotion. But it actually doesn’t feel good or comfortable at all.
Whether it is your sister-in-law’s house for family dinner or a presentation you have to give – we all have triggers that spark our anxiety. Learning what triggers you have can help you avoid the avoidable and prepare well for what you must experience. Preparation might include getting extra rest and exercise ahead of time, working with a therapist to develop a specific set of skills for the event, and using herbs and supplements to bolster your stress response system prior to the time. All can work wonders when practiced appropriately.
Move Your Body
This one is simple. Exercise helps your body get rid of anxiety hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine more quickly. Walk it off. Dance it off. Do yoga. Jump rope. Go for a run. Punch a punching bag. Do ten push-ups. Repeat. Exercise regularly to help reduce anxiety. Even just 30 minutes a few times a week can make a difference. Breaking a sweat gives you bonus points just be sure not to over-do it, as that causes a whole different kind of stress on the body.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Balanced
Are you paying attention? This one is big. Hypoglycemia causes the same symptoms as anxiety. Seriously. Because when your body is low in glucose your brain goes into red alert to let you know that energy is needed or you could eventually die. Keeping your blood sugar steady lets your brain know you’re ok and prevents those anxious feelings. Here are the basics: Eat a balanced, non-sugary breakfast and don’t skip meals. Eat a good quality protein at each meal and snacks, eat something every few hours, and include high quality fats (olive oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds) at each meal. Avoid foods that lead to blood sugar drops. Sugar, white carbohydrates, and caffeine are the most common examples.
It gets a little more complicated in that food sensitivities and gluten intolerance can cause inflammation in your body, and when inflammation runs amuck, it fuels anxiety. So an elimination diet can sometimes help you get to the bottom of your anxiety and there might be certain foods that you need to avoid to support your mental well-being. There’s a strong connection between gut health and mental health, too. We can help you dive deeper into that if that’s something that interests you.
While you’re getting a handle on those root causes, or if you just want to take something that’s going to help for the time being — supportive remedies can help you get by and feel more inner peace, day-to-day.
Natural Alternatives To Anxiety Meds
There is not only strong history of traditional uses of the herbs below but also solid science. We love when these two coincide with one another so we can share all the info with you guys.
The beautiful, fragrant lavender is also one of the most effective herbs for anxiety — both chronic anxiety and acute situations. Taken on a regular basis about an hour before sleep, the European lavender extract product Lavela has demonstrated efficacy favorable to that of benzodiazapines in reducing anxiety, with none of the side effects or addictive potential. It has become a mainstay in my medical practice. Lavender oil can also be used as aromatherapy in a diffuser, on your pillow before sleep, in a bath, or a few drops applied topically to reduce acute anxiety symptoms. You might want to carry a small bottle of the oil with you in your bag.
The best of the best. Turmeric has now been found in several studies to be beneficial in treating both depression and anxiety. Curcumin, which is one of the principal active ingredients derived from the spice turmeric. It has particularly powerful anti-inflammatory effects and these have been found to be helpful in reducing anxiety specifically associated with a chronically activated stress response.
Reishi is in a class of herbs called adaptogens, that help us to adapt to the stresses and demands of modern life without getting stuck in chronic “survival mode.” They gently and effectively regulate the body’s stress response via their tonic actions on the adrenal glands. This medicinal mushroom is particularly calming and relaxing and is one of the best herbs for anxiety (and specifically one of the best adaptogens for anxiety), as well as anxiety that prevents you from sleeping, for which it can be taken just before bed.
A personal favorite. Ashwagandha, also an adaptogen, can significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It has also been shown to improve cortisol levels by resetting adrenal-associated stress, overall reducing your predisposition to anxiety.
This daisy-like flower is synonymous with calm, making it among the most well-known stress-soothing teas. Studies have found that long-term use of chamomile extract significantly reduced moderate to severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Traditionally called “the gladdening herb,” lemon balm has been used in western Europe in herbalism for hundreds of years — to brighten the spirit. It increases a sense of calm and decreases anxiety. While this scientific evidence isn’t as remarkable as with some of the other botanicals in this article, it’s still a really nice herb to include with chamomile and lavender.
If your special brand of anxiety happens to be the kind that rears its head just before your period, as part of PMS or as a stand alone symptom, Vitex (also called Chasteberry or Chaste tree) might be just the ticket to help you breeze through your cycles anxiety-free. Chasteberry has been shown in studies to attenuate symptoms of depression and anxiety that occur during PMS and to reduce PMS symptoms in general. For these reasons, we include this powder in our ‘A Female Thing’ tea.
Where to Find Herbs
These herbs can all be found right here at Next to Nature. We have loose herbs by the ounce, tinctures, essential oils, and capsules. Whatever your preference, we can help! All our herbs and products are the highest quality, organic, and ethically sourced to ensure you experience the true benefits of what herbal medicine can give you.
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