Feeling anxious, whether it’s focused on a particular subject or just a generalized sense of worry, is a common symptom of mood disorders. For some people, therapy, prescription medications, and other treatments may be necessary to restore a calmer mood. In mild cases, natural anxiety remedies may be enough to help you relax and focus on the important things in life.
Psychiatrist David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that there are a few supplements and some relatively simple lifestyle adjustments that may help. However, he suggests starting with an evaluation by a mental health professional.
“It’s not a good idea to try to self-medicate your treatment if you think you’re suffering from an anxiety or mood disorder,” he says. “The best thing you can do is get a consultation with a professional.”
While it’s always a good idea to discuss your feelings of anxiety with a therapist or other mental health professional, you should also talk about safe, natural anxiety remedies. These include herbal supplements and teas.
“There are a few supplements that have been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality,” Dr. Mischoulon says. “Whether the supplements can improve a person’s overall outlook on life is not clear, however. Kava has been shown to have beneficial effects on generalized anxiety, but its use has been limited by some reports of liver toxicity. Recent evidence suggests that those problems are the result of poor manufacturing standards that resulted in contamination. Nonetheless, caution is advised.”
Another supplement for anxiety is valerian root, which can help improve sleep, too. “Valerian is thought to be generally safe, with no serious adverse effects,” Dr. Mischoulon says. “Like all sedatives, it should be used with caution, however.” Valerian and kava can be taken as pills, drops, or as a tea.
Chamomile tea has also been used for its calming effects. Dr. Mischoulon notes that there is not a lot of rigorous evidence from clinical trials to support its effectiveness, or to refute it.
Exercise for Relaxation
Regular exercise should also be part of your daily routine. “Physical activities, even moderate exercise like going for a simple walk outdoors, can have beneficial effects on mood and anxiety,” Dr. Mischoulon says. “Research in this area is promising, from the standpoint of symptom reduction, as well as preventing certain side effects from medications—for example, weight gain from psychotropic medications.”
Exercise can increase energy and improve mood, perhaps through mechanisms such as endorphin release, or “runner’s high.”
Other natural anxiety remedies fall under the category of complementary and alternative treatments. These include therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, and less-common treatments, such as aromatherapy, and biofeedback.
“While many of these alternative therapies have promising evidence to support their efficacy for anxiety and other conditions, it is important to understand that they are generally not as thoroughly or rigorously studied as more conventional interventions, such as FDA-approved medications,” Dr. Mischoulon says. “We also don’t know as much regarding their safety and risks of interactions with other drugs. Consequently, people who are considering these therapies need to be careful and perhaps obtain advice from a medical or psychiatric professional before embarking on a trial intervention that may or may not prove effective.”
When to Seek Help
“In general, anxiety occurs in everyone at different times, typically as a reaction to stressful events,” Dr. Mischoulon explains. “This is normal.”
However, if the anxiety appears to start dominating your life, it could signal a more serious anxiety disorder. If you’re spending the entire day worrying about bad things that may happen, or if the anxiety is distracting you from being able to work better at your job, manage your home or your family, interfere with your sleep or your appetite, then it may be more than a reaction to stress. In those cases, it’s a good idea to speak with a medical or psychiatric professional, because your condition may require treatment.
Dr. Mischoulon suggests speaking to your primary care physician about your symptoms, and ask for his or her opinion. “Usually primary care doctors can ask a short series of questions intended to screen for conditions such as anxiety or depression,” he says. “This can give them an idea of whether you’re suffering from something that would require further evaluation from a specialist, and/or some sort of treatment. These conditions are very treatable, and by getting adequate treatment you can have a tremendous positive impact on the quality of your life and health.”