Cate Sibley, PharmD
Cate Sibley, PharmD, graduated from Northeastern University in Boston and has experience as a home infusion clinical pharmacist and a staff pharmacist in the retail setting. She has a passion for teaching others how to live a joyful, vital life using complementary health approaches.
Recently, I came across a new nickname for this country that I found to be sad but probably accurate when considering the mental health of our nation’s general population: The United States of Anxiety.
Where is all this anxiety coming from? A mixture of panicky and negative news from the many media outlets, social-media pressures, the seemingly never-ending war or threats of new wars, mass shootings, economic concerns, and so on.
Although there are many prescription medications that help treat the symptoms of anxiety, we may want to consider more natural remedies if a long-term solution is needed.
Benzodiazepines are effective but can be addictive, as they share the same brain “reward” pathways as opioids and cannabinoids. Couple that with symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal that can occur upon discontinuation, and that may be a recipe for more harm than good. With benzodiazepines, what could be a suitable short-term anxiety treatment option, may quickly turn into a long-term course of therapy.
The downfall of long-term benzodiazepine use? Adverse effects such as memory loss, hip fractures, impaired thinking, and dizziness.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are also commonly used to treat anxiety but come with their own list of possible adverse effects.
SSRIs may lead to drowsiness, nausea, diarrhea, headache, sexual problems, agitation, dizziness, dry mouth, insomnia, and blurred vision. SNRIs, meanwhile, may cause dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, sexual problems, constipation, weight loss, insomnia, headaches, dry mouth, and agitation.
For patients seeking a more natural approach to easing their anxiety symptoms or wanting to complement their conventional medicine regimen to gain even better outcomes, here are 10 natural remedies to consider:
1. Meditation: Many studies have shown meditation and mindfulness to be effective in decreasing anxiety symptoms. One such meta-analysis combining the results of 163 different studies had an overall conclusion that practicing mindfulness and meditation produced beneficial results with a substantial improvement in anxiety.1 If one is new to meditation, it may be easiest to start with guided meditations, which are available on YouTube and podcasts. It is best not to worry about an over-active mind. It is surprising how a little meditation goes a long way, and with continued practice it becomes easier and more effective over time.
2. Vetiver Essential Oil: Vetiver is an herb native to India and has been used in ancient healing traditions for thousands of years. It has soothing and uplifting properties, which has made it known as the “oil of tranquility.” Place 1 to 2 drops of 100% pure vetiver essential oil on one's wrist, chest, or neck to soothe feelings of anxiety or nervousness. Patients can also add 5 to 10 drops of vetiver oil into their bath water to reap its relaxation benefits.
3. Lavender essential oil: With benefits discovered more than 2,500 years ago, lavender essential oil has become one of the most popular essential oils in the world. In a 2013 evidence-based study, researchers discovered that taking 80mg capsules of lavender essential oil alleviates anxiety, sleep disturbance, and depression. In this same study, results showed the lavender essential oil did not lead to adverse effects, drug interactions, or withdrawal symptoms.2 To relieve stress, inhale 100% pure lavender essential oil straight from the bottle or apply it topically behind the ears, on the temples, and on the back of the neck. It is also safe to combine lavender essential oil with vetiver oil.
4. Lower sugar and processed food intake: Sugar and refined carbohydrates found in processed foods can create sugar highs and lows throughout the day, which can lead to symptoms of anxiety. These foods can also cause mood swings and altered energy levels, making it potentially harder to gain control of anxiety symptoms. Foods such as cookies, pastries, soda, fast foods, fried foods, processed meat, and refined grains may best be avoided when it comes to easing anxiety.
5. Ashwagandha: This is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing and is frequently referred to as the “Indian ginseng.” It is a highly rejuvenating herb that reduces anxiety without causing drowsiness, and it helps to stabilize the body’s response to stress.
6. Kava root: This is a non-addictive and non-hypnotic anxiolytic. A meta-analysis reported by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that there are significant effects from kava treatment on anxiety with only a few mild adverse effects.3 These include headache, drowsiness, and diarrhea. Kava can interact with certain medications, so it should be taken under the guidance of a health care provider.
7. Valerian root: This has been found to naturally increase the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which helps regulate nerve cells and calm anxiety. The benzodiazepine medications work this same way.
8. 5-HTP: This is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a mood stabilizer. By taking 5-HTP, serotonin is increased, which is a calming neurotransmitter that is associated with a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms. This is a natural supplement that should not be taken with any prescription antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
9. Magnesium: Magnesium has many important roles in maintaining a healthy body, including calming the nervous system. It is also vital for GABA function. Interestingly, magnesium deficiency is a common deficiency in adults, so consider this supplement when recommending anti-anxiety treatment options. Magnesium in the chelate, citrate, or chloride forms are most beneficial, because they are absorbed best by the body. Remember to be careful with the dose because too much magnesium can lead to diarrhea. Start with a low dose and increase as needed based on anxiety symptoms.
10.Vitamin B-complex: B vitamins help reduce stress and stabilize moods. Vitamin B6 should specifically be considered as a natural remedy for anxiety symptoms, because one of the signs of B6 deficiency is anxiety itself. Vitamin B6 helps to boost mood, balance blood sugar levels, and maintain a healthy nervous system.
From conventional pharmacologic medications to natural remedies, there are many options to help those suffering from anxiety. What works best for some, may not work for others, however. Keeping an open mind and heart will help guide people in need to their best treatment options.
1. Sedlmeier P, Eberth J, Schwarz M, et al. The psychological effects of meditation: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 2012;138(6):1139-71. doi: 10.1037/a0028168.
2. Kasper S. An orally administered lavandula oil preparation (Silexan) for anxiety disorder and related conditions: an evidence based review. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2013;17 Suppl 1:15-22. doi: 10.3109/13651501.2013.813555.
3. Pittler MH, Ernst E. Kava extract for treating anxiety. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(1):CD003383.