What is Anxiety?
Although it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, if you feel anxious without reason and if these worries persist and affect your day-to-day life, you may have generalized anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include restlessness, feeling tense or on edge, irritability, impatience, or poor concentration.
People may also notice changes in their physical health such as headaches, jaw pain, muscle tension, difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia), dry mouth, fatigue, chest tightness, indigestion, bloating, excessive sweating, and headache.
It’s important to be evaluated by your doctor for a proper diagnosis and to rule out other medical problems that may resemble anxiety.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety
These are some of the natural remedies that are being explored for anxiety.
The herb passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) was used as a folk remedy for anxiety and insomnia.
Two studies involving a total of 198 people examined the effectiveness of passionflower for anxiety. One study found passionflower to be comparable to benzodiazepine drugs. There was also improvement in job performance with passionflower and less drowsiness with passionflower compared with the drug mexazolam, however, neither was statistically significant.
Side effects of passionflower may include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and rapid heartbeat. The safety of passionflower in pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease has not been established. There have been five case reports in Norway of people becoming temporarily impaired mentally after using a combination product containing passionflower. It’s not known whether the other ingredients in the supplement played a role.
Passionflower should not be taken with sedatives unless under medical supervision. Passionflower may enhance the effect of pentobarbital, a medication used for sleep and seizure disorders.
Massage therapy, shiatsu, and other forms of bodywork are widely used to diminish muscle tension, relieve stress, and improve sleep.
Mind/body breathing exercises, physical exercise, yoga, tai chi, self-hypnosis, meditation, and biofeedback are just some of the stress reduction techniques used for anxiety. Try different techniques and determine which routine you can stick to with a hectic schedule.
The herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is best known as a herbal remedy for insomnia. Valerian is also used in patients with mild anxiety, but the research supporting its use for anxiety is limited.
For example, researchers with the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed studies on valerian for anxiety. Only one study met their quality criteria. It was a four-week study comparing valerian, the medication diazepam (Valium), and a placebo in 36 people with generalized anxiety disorder. No statistically signficant differences were found between the groups, perhaps due to the small size of the study.
Valerian is usually taken an hour before bedtime. It takes about two to three weeks to work and shouldn’t be used for more than three months at a time. Side effects of valerian may include mild indigestion, headache, palpitations, and dizziness. Although valerian tea and liquid extracts are available, most people don’t like the smell of valerian and prefer taking the capsule form.
Valerian shouldn’t be taken with many medications, especially those that depress the central nervous system, such as sedatives and antihistamines. Valerian shouldn’t be taken with alcohol, before or after surgery, or by people with liver disease. It should not be used before driving or operating machinery. Consultation with a qualified health practitioner is recommended. For more information about valerian, read the Valerian Fact Sheet.
Native to Polynesia, the herb kava (Piper methysticum) has been found to have anti-anxiety effects in humans.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has issued an advisory to consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury resulting from the use of dietary supplements containing kava. To date, there have been more than 25 reports of serious adverse effects from kava use in other countries, including four patients who required liver transplants. Learn more about kava; What is Kava?
Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
GABA is an amino acid that is known to play a role in the physiology of anxiety. Some prescription drugs for anxiety work by affecting GABA receptors in the brain. The degree to which orally ingested GABA supplements can reach the brain, however, is unknown.
Plant essential oils can be added to baths, massage oil, or infusers. Essential oils that are used for anxiety and nervous tension are: bergamot, cypress, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood, ylang-ylang. Lavender is the most common and forms the base of many relaxing blends.
Other Natural Remedies for Anxiety
Andreatini R, Sartori VA, Seabra ML, Leite JR. Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytother Res. 16.7 (2002): 650-654.
Ernst E. Herbal remedies for anxiety – a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 13.3 (2006): 205-208.
Miyasaka LS, Atallah AN, Soares BG. Valerian for anxiety disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD004515.
Miyasaka L, Atallah A, Soares B. Passiflora for anxiety disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24;(1):CD004518.