Everyone suffers from anxiety from time to time—it's a perfectly normal reaction to stress. But when anxiety becomes excessive and irrational and interferes with daily life, it's important to do something about it.
There are various types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), each with its own set of symptoms and treatment options.
But the doctor's usual go-to are the so-called 'anxiolytic' drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines, which go hand-in-hand with a number of unwanted side-effects including dependency, reduced alertness, sexual dysfunction and even suicidal thoughts.
The good news is that much safer, effective alternatives are available. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of counseling, is one of the most effective long-term treatments for anxiety-related disorders, but here are five more natural options you may not know about.
1) Pick passionflower
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), an herb used for centuries as a mind calmer and mood booster, has "strong evidence" of being an effective modern-day treatment for anxiety symptoms and disorders.1 In one study, it was just as effective as the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam for generalized anxiety disorder.2
Suggested dosage: 45 drops/day liquid extract
2) Try yoga
Yoga can be helpful, whether you suffer from occasional anxious thoughts or a full-blown anxiety disorder. Practicing yoga twice a week for two months led to a significant reduction in anxiety levels in one study of women with anxiety disorders.3 Another trial found that regular yoga was more effective than walking for improving mood and anxiety in healthy people—and may work by boosting levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain.4
3) Opt for amino acids
The amino acids L-lysine and L-arginine may influence neurotransmitters involved in stress and anxiety, studies suggest (at least in animals).5 And in humans, supplementing with the two together appears to reduce both state anxiety (temporary anxious feelings that arise when confronted by a specific situation) and trait anxiety (a general tendency to be anxious) in healthy men and women subjected to stressful situations.
Taking L-lysine alone has also been shown to reduce chronic anxiety in people with low dietary intake of the amino acid.6
Suggested dosage: 2.6 g/day each of L-lysine and L-arginine
4) Consider chamomile
Another calming herb with a long history of use, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) was significantly better than a placebo at reducing symptoms in patients with chronic anxiety.7 A more recent, much longer-term trial reported similar results and noted that the treatment was safe with only a few mild side-effects.8
Suggested dosage: 220-1,500 mg/day chamomile extract, depending on the severity of symptoms
5) Cut the caffeine
Anxiety sufferers seem to be unusually sensitive to the effects of caffeine9—even small amounts may exacerbate symptoms—so cutting caffeine from the diet may be a good idea. Caffeine is not just found in coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks; watch out for it in cocoa products, ice cream and medication, too. Even decaffeinated tea and coffee still contain small amounts of the stimulant.
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