Unfortunately for the human race, stress and anxiety are a normal part of day-to-day life. But what if you could take natural herbs for anxiety and feel more relaxed and in control? This idea might sound far-fetched, but research actually shows that herbal supplements can help ease the feelings of stress we feel in our daily lives. But this doesn't mean that all herbs are the same. Or that you should just rely on herbal supplements to help manage your symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is a nuanced part of our brain chemistry that sometimes requires prescription medication or therapy. These modern treatments are extremely beneficial to many sufferers of anxiety. But if your symptoms aren't severe, or you'd like to try alternative medicine for your anxiety, natural herbs for anxiety are an option. So what exactly is anxiety? And how can we use plants and their organic compounds to help alleviate our symptoms?
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety describes both a normal part of life and a mental disorder. On the one hand, anxiety is the overall feeling of stress or dread that our bodies experience during times of discomfort. Many people know this feeling as the "fight or flight" response. While there are some nuances that differentiate fight or flight from anxiety, they do go hand-in-hand. And you can manage this type of anxiety on a case-by-case basis with mindfulness, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
We all feel anxiety at certain times of our life. For many people, bouts of anxiety come on before a big test, job interview, or asking someone on a date. These feelings, while definitely not enjoyable, are a completely normal part of life as a physical and emotional being. However, anxiety can become an issue when you experience long episodes, have disproportionate responses to stressful situations, or find that your feelings of anxiety are interfering with your quality of life. These are symptoms of a potential anxiety disorder.
Only a medical professional can diagnose an anxiety disorder, but many people deal with these disorders every day. Most people think of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, characterized by an overall increased level of day-to-day anxiety when they think of an anxiety disorder.
Additionally, doctors characterize many other mental disorders that as anxiety disorders. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are other well-known examples of anxiety disorders. For many people with these diagnosable disorders, therapy and medication are the only treatment options that work.
How Does Modern Medicine Treat Anxiety?
While day-to-day, "normal" anxiety might not be a diagnosable mental condition, it can still weigh heavily on our mental and physical health. Therefore, minimizing emotional stress and doing what we can to alleviate the stress we can't avoid is in our best interest. Most modern treatment methods for handling this anxiety, more generally called stress, involve positive lifestyle changes. Proper sleep, nutrition, and regular exercise can all naturally help manage stress.
Anxiety disorders typically follow one of two treatment courses or a combination of both. Medical doctors may prescribe medication to a patient with an anxiety disorder, or they may recommend therapy to manage symptoms of anxiety. While anxiety disorders aren't entirely understood, studies point to imbalances in neurochemicals as the cause for many peoples' anxiety.
With the legalization of CBD and THC products in several U.S. states, some people are turning to legal cannabis as a way to handle daily stress. Anecdotal evidence points toward these products helping to lower or eliminate anxiety. But clinical research on the relationships between cannabis, its byproducts, and anxiety is still in its infancy.
Can Alternative Medicine Help with Anxiety?
Believe it or not, Epsom salt baths might help with some people's anxiety. When we feel stressed or anxious, our body's magnesium levels plummet. The magnesium found in Epsom salt helps bring these levels back up, therefore alleviating some of the symptoms of anxiety. While an Epsom salt bath isn't necessarily a cure-all for anxiety and depression, it's amazing what a simple bath can do.
Another popular way of handling stress and anxiety is meditation. While some therapists and medical doctors will recommend meditation to their patients, most consider it as an alternative treatment to traditional medication and therapy. Meditation can help with remaining in the moment and calming negative thoughts caused by anxiety. You can also practice breathing techniques that will lower your heart rate and help manage other physical symptoms of anxiety.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with anxiety, we always recommend speaking with a medical doctor. Alternative treatments like herbs and Epsom salt can help treat symptoms of mild stress. But they are not a cure for anxiety disorders. Your doctor can prescribe a treatment regimen that you can then supplement with these alternative medicines. However, choosing to forego medical advice for your anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
Using Herbs for Anxiety: How We Reviewed
When researching herbs with the potential to treat anxiety or day-to-day stress, we primarily looked at clinical research. While herbal medicine is largely under-researched in the modern world, safety and efficacy are still important and must be proven. Since available research is very limited, we had to settle for herbs that simply show some promise of effectiveness.
For our list of herbs for anxiety, we also avoided any substances that had proven negative effects on the human body. Some herbs on our list, such as kava kava, can harm the liver if taken in too large of doses or too frequently. But moderate use is safe, and therefore these herbs stayed on our list. However, future research may reveal that some herbs previously considered safe are actually harmful, and vice-versa. When choosing your own herbal supplements, it's always important to consult a doctor and stay up-to-date on available research.
The Top 6 Herbs for Anxiety
Herbs are an excellent way to treat symptoms of stress and anxiety. But you must be wary of the research surrounding these plant compounds when choosing what to try. Some natural herbs for anxiety have the backing of clinical research that shows improvement in symptoms with regular use. While other herbs supposedly help with these symptoms but have zero research to back up their claims.
Before starting any herbal treatments for your anxiety, consult with your doctor. Some herbs may have adverse side effects when combined with medications. Plus, you should always tell your doctor about herbs for anxiety you're already taking when discussing prescription medication. Once you've done all of the above, you're ready to try natural herbs for anxiety. We've listed our top recommendations for herbal treatments below.
1. Valerian root
Valerian is a flowering plant found in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. As the name implies, Valerian root is an extract taken from the root of this plant. The ancient Greeks and Romans used this plant as an herb for anxiety and sleep disorders. This root, which is known for its mild sedative abilities, is still present in countless herbal sleep aids on pharmacy shelves.
While many people believe in and use Valerian root for its anti-anxiety properties, we have insufficient evidence to know whether or not it really works. However, there are no conclusive studies showing that Valerian root has zero benefits for anxiety sufferers, so it's worth a try. Like any herbs for anxiety, though, it's important that you speak with a doctor to ensure you won't experience any side effects or reactions with your medications. But most users tolerate Valerian root well.
Kava is another extract that comes from the root of a plant. The kava plant comes from the Pacific Islands and was common in traditional medicine and social gatherings. This herb works much like alcohol in that it suppresses brain activity in a way that helps keep us calm and happy.
Clinical studies show that kava is a potential short-term treatment for generalized anxiety. The root's depressive qualities make it one of the best herbs for anxiety if you're looking for something to actively calm you down. While the studies focused on kava and its effects are somewhat limited, the current results are extremely promising.
When most people hear chamomile, they think of chamomile tea. That is certainly the most popular way to ingest the chamomile herb, but many people don't actually know what chamomile is. The chamomile flower is part of the daisy family, and it's the flower itself that many use as a medicinal herb. Chamomile is popular for its sedative properties and ability to calm an upset stomach.
Preliminary studies that attempt to treat symptoms of anxiety with chamomile show promising results. But other research suggests that the effectiveness of using chamomile and other herbs for anxiety is intuitive, but nowhere near proven. While chamomile likely has direct benefits to those suffering from anxiety, you should still use caution when beginning an herbal treatment regimen.
The lavender flower grows in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. Lavender is common in soaps, perfumes, and other cosmetic products because of its distinct fragrance. But it is also one of the most popular herbs for anxiety. Lavender is most popular as an essential oil, but some people prefer using the dried flowers themselves.
While evidence shows that lavender can help manage symptoms of generalized anxiety, there is no research to suggest it helps with disorders like PTSD or OCD. However, this doesn't mean that lavender is worthless for treating all kinds of anxiety. Researchers also note that there are no studies on the safety of using lavender as a long-term solution to generalized anxiety. As with all alternative treatments for anxiety, check with your doctor before using lavender on a regular basis.
The Ashwagandha plant grows in Southern Asia. Both the root and berries hold supposed medicinal properties that can help treat symptoms of anxiety, lower blood pressure, and alleviate arthritis.
Current research surrounding Ashwagandha is extremely promising. Double-blind placebo studies show dramatic improvements in stress and anxiety symptoms among those treated with this herb. For short-term use, researchers have determined that this herb is safe to use. The long-term safety of using this herb is unknown at this time. But further research will hopefully reveal more potential for using this herb in the treatment of anxiety.
Vitex is another herbal flower from the Mediterranean region. Extracts typically come from this plant's seeds or fruit. The vitex flower has been used for centuries in folk medicine to help stimulate breast milk, pass afterbirth, and manage other female health issues. Today, people still use this plant to alleviate changes in their menstrual cycle or following pregnancy.
Vitex and its role in managing symptoms of anxiety are unique. While Vitex isn't shown to help with generalized anxiety symptoms, it can actually help alleviate symptoms of anxiety caused by pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS. Vitex's hormonal benefits can help balance out the biological changes that cause severe anxiety and depression leading up to a woman's period. Vitex might not fit in with the other herbs for anxiety on our list, but its effectiveness is undeniable.
Finding an Anxiety Treatment That Works for You
When considering herbs for anxiety management, it's always important to speak with a trusted medical professional. You should also regularly check for further research on your chosen herbs and their effectiveness. New studies are constantly emerging on the subject. Different people might react to certain herbs for anxiety better than others, so it also doesn't hurt to try out a variety of supplements and dosages. Eventually, you will find one that's right for you.
If you or a loved one struggle with an anxiety disorder, it's essential that you don't beat yourself up over your treatment or needing prescription medication. While herbs for anxiety might work for some people, especially those just dealing with a little daily stress, anxiety disorders often emerge from chemical imbalances that herbs can't always fix. Regardless of the treatment path you take, what matters most is your mental health and well-being. Herbal remedies are not for everyone but for others they can have a positive impact on anxiety.