For many of us, anxiety is a nervous, jittery feeling that arises when we’re faced with a stressful situation. Worrying about a job interview or meeting your future in-laws for the first time can stir up a level of restlessness that is totally normal and healthy.
For some, however, anxiety symptoms can linger, or be so overwhelming as to become irrational or obsessive, in which case it becomes a full-blown disorder. Phobias, PTSD, Obsessissive-Compulsive Disorder, and panic attacks all fall into this category.
Prescription anxiety drugs are the most common mainstream treatment for anxiety, but the side effects of such medications aren’t exactly trivial. They include aggression, headaches, memory loss, impaired thinking, loss of balance, and an increase in the risks of Alzheimer’s Disease (1), dementia (2)(3), and cognitive decline (4).
What’s worse, anxiety drugs can be terribly addictive because they share the same brain “reward” pathways as opioids.
While methods like nutritional supplements and herbs might not resolve anxiety issues in everyone, they offer a drug-free means of attempting to manage the symptoms naturally.
Should People With Anxiety Exercise?
The most important thing to know about anxiety is that it’s a natural part of the stress response. When faced with a stressful situation (whether physical, mental, chemical, or social), the body releases stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol into the bloodstream to prepare you for action (fight or flight). They act to speed up your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, heighten your senses, and increase your strength and energy, among other things.
If the stress response is never allowed to “reset,” it can remain active and the symptoms of stress can be constantly present, giving people an edgy, fidgety feeling.
Short bursts of intense exercise (like high intensity interval training) have been shown to reset the stress response, lower stress hormone levels, and release endorphins (our “feel good” chemicals).
Furthermore, regular exercise is “associated with lower neuroticism, anxiety and depression, and higher extraversion and sensation seeking in the population” (5). This basically means that working out helps to calm us down, rest our minds, have an improved sense of ourselves, and be more outgoing.
The 11 Best Natural Remedies for Anxiety
Ultimately, for any anxiety remedy to be successful, the source of stress needs to be removed. This isn’t always possible, as life itself is stressful. There may also be one or multiple mental disorders accompanying anxiety symptoms that need to be addressed by a mental health professional.
In any case, there are several natural substances that have been proven to lower anxiety symptoms regardless of the source.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their effectiveness in reducing inflammation. One study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity showed that medical students who supplemented with omega-3s (DHA & EPA) experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms (6).
2. A review of 5 human trials revealed that ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, was effective in significantly improving anxiety symptoms when compared to placebo (7).
3. A number of studies have named aromatherapy (8)(9), and more specifically lavender (10)(11)(12) and orange (13) essential oils, as non-invasive, cost-effective, and easily applicable natural anxiety remedies.
4. Kava has been useful as an herbal treatment for anxiety (14)(15)(16) and insomnia for decades. Kava contains compounds that operate on non-opiate pathways to offer a natural and non-narcotic action against anxiety (17), the effectiveness of which rivals prescription drugs (18).
6. Science has shown a clear connection between intestinal flora and mood disorders. That’s another article entirely, but taking a quality probiotic supplement can help lower stress hormones and anxiety-related behavior (22).
7. As if we couldn’t see this coming, here is yet more evidence that Vitamin D is one of our most important essential nutrients. A deficiency in Vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of panic disorders (23).
8. Magnesium is a natural relaxant, and about 80% of the human population suffers from a magnesium deficiency due to a lack of leafy green vegetables and nuts in the diet.
9. Valerian root has been used for centuries as an herbal treatment for anxiety and insomnia. It increases GABA levels in the brain, helping to reduce brain activity and calm the nervous system (24)(25).
10. The prospect of social interaction is enough to trigger anxiety in some people, but science shows that social support, making friends, and nurturing others all act as a buffer to poor health caused by stress (26)(27).
11. Many people don’t realize that a lack of proper nutrients in the diet can affect mental outlook, sleeping habits, and mood. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed that eating fruits and vegetables helped calm nerves (28).