Health & Wellness

Beyond Breathing Exercises & Yoga: 4 Natural Anxiety Remedies

Anyone who has experienced anxiety knows that it can be incredibly scary. You feel out of control. It affects you physically, mentally, and spiritually—making you doubt everything in your life. It can be debilitating by interrupting your sleep and your ability to deal with everyday stress.

Here’s a question to consider: What if you looked at anxiety as a way for your body to communicate to you that something is out of balance rather than simply labeling anxiety as a disorder that requires medication? Anxiety is not necessarily a mental health disorder; it is a physiological one. Luckily, there are numerous natural remedies for anxiety that address the cause, rather than just the symptoms.

 

What Is Anxiety?

It’s safe to say that we all feel anxious, or “stressed out” occasionally. But anxiety is something different. When anxious moments interfere with your daily life and then cause even more panic about what might be happening to you, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in the past. Or maybe you’ve simply avoided going to the doctor and attempted to remedy your anxious moments on your own. If you find yourself feeling anxious on a regular basis, you need to seek the underlying cause.

Anxiety occurs when the nervous system doesn’t operate as it should.

Your nervous systems has two states that impact your nervous system response: parasympathetic and sympathetic. Your sympathetic nervous system helps your body take action—it’s the “fight or flight” part. The parasympathetic nervous system is at the opposite end and helps your body to relax and conserve energy. It also helps your body to repair and heal.

Anxiety and The “Bear”

Anxiety is a common reaction to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system without proper rest and repair. Basically, your body perceives a threat whether there actually is one or not. It’s still running from the “bear” even when you know that the bear isn’t there.

This bear (stress) can occur because of different factors and is highly individualized. It is not always because you need talk therapy for depression and anxiety. Sometimes it’s because another medical event, such as inflammation, thyroid disorders, low adrenal function, nutritional deficiencies, and more may be causing your body stress. Sometimes it is due to external stressors such as work, relationships, grief, and loss. (Most often, it’s a combination of these.)

The problem with immediately turning to anxiety medications is that they don’t resole the underlying problem: the “bear.” And until the “bear” or the root cause is treated, it will continue to impact other areas of your health, making it harder to discontinue the medications in the future.

Most frustration with anxiety comes from figuring out the cause. By the time that most people seek help, the anxiety has already caught them in a vicious cycle of despair and overstimulation. But medication isn’t always the answer. There are many natural remedies for anxiety—you just have to find out why the anxiety is occurring and treat the cause.

Natural remedies for anxiety - Dr. Pingel

Causes of Anxiety

Finding the cause of anxiety is always frustrating. Anything that stimulates the nervous system can cause anxiety symptoms. This could be an event that is replayed in your mind, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Or it could be a combination of environmental factors, personality type, and a family history of anxiety. It could also be due to physical causes, including:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Hormonal shifts, such as those that occur during perimenopause and menopause
  • Metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance
  • Poor digestion
  • Poor bacterial flora
  • Intestinal overgrowths
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Heart arrhythmias

Keep in mind that these are just some of the possible physical causes of anxiety. Plus, certain substances, such as caffeineand many medications can also cause anxiety symptoms. [1]

All of these conditions ultimately result in changes to your nervous system, which contribute to what I find in my practice to be the biggest cause of anxiety: adrenal fatigue.

The stress from your daily life—whether they’re demands from work, family, or even personal expectations— results in fluctuations in your cortisol level. Constant fluctuations in cortisol lead to poor digestion, less rest, less cellular repair, less toxin clearance, poor immune response, and inflammation. And all of these have a direct impact on your “fight-or-flight” system. And even if you resolve the “kickoff event” that started the anxiety (a major life event, past trauma, etc.), your body has now adapted to this sympathetic state. So, now other smaller things may kick off an anxiety response. And the longer the longer this goes on, the less rest your body experiences.

In the next sections, I’ve included a list of symptoms of anxiety, plus I explain how I investigate the cause of anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Diagnosing Anxiety

Below is a list of many common anxiety symptoms. Keep in mind that some of these symptoms could also indicate other health conditions.

Common anxiety symptoms include: [2, 3]

  • Excessive nervousness or muscle tension
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Uncontrolled worry
  • Brain fog (difficulty concentrating)
  • Sweating
  • Gastrointestinal issues (including nausea, acid reflux or GERD, etc.)
  • Trembling
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Hypervigilance
  • Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Feeling a sense of impending danger
  • Wanting to avoid situations that cause anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Indifference to and annoyance of loved ones
  • Obsessive thoughts about never ending “to-do” lists and commitments
  • Lack of interest in events that you used to enjoy
  • Abdominal weight gain
  • Unreasonable fears

Diagnosing and Treating Anxiety

If you find that you are struggling with one or more of these symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider and request a full, thorough work-up. The investigation of anxiety should not start with a prescription pad.

When a patient comes to me with anxiety symptoms, I begin by listening. Often, the emotional stressors will be revealed fairly quickly when someone has the time and a comfortable environment in which to vent.

This may sound obvious, but how often have you had the time to truly unload your worries onto your doctor during a quick 10-minute office visit? The first guide to proper diagnosis is observation. If you do not have time to divulge all of your concerns with your physician, then observation cannot occur.

Often this will be followed by physical examination and a full lab work-up, including, but not limited to: metabolics, nutritional markers, inflammatory markers, adrenal hormones, thyroid hormones, sex hormones, and any further investigation of potential stressors (such as autoimmunity or viral impacts and more).

As a naturopathic physician, I consider four key questions when I’m evaluating a patient for anxiety:

  1. Where is it coming from?
  2. Is the body under stress?
  3. What’s causing the stress?
  4. Are there any underlying pathologies or imbalances?

Once I determine the root cause, I work with the patient to correct it.

In some cases, anxiety is due to the body not having the tools it needs to sustain the neurotransmitters in the nervous system that help regulate our mood and response to stress.

The “tools” include getting enough vitamins, minerals, and proteins to produce the amino acids our bodies need to support those neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, which help calm the body.

It is no surprise that serotonin and GABA play a role in balancing out the sympathetic nervous system. The primary therapies often offered immediately by many physicians are SSRI (selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants such as Lexapro, Paxil, and Prozac. SSRIs work by causing the brain to “recycle” serotonin, which keeps more serotonin circulating in the nervous system, resulting in a perceived calm. But the bear is still present. So, herein lies a problem with long-term SSRI therapy.

Even more concerning is how quickly benzodiazepines such as Xanax are prescribed for chronic anxiety episodes. These drugs bind to GABA, which may help in the short-term, but with long-term use, the body is no longer able to properly produce GABA on its own. Plus, withdrawal can be difficult and dangerous.

I find that it’s best to support these processes and pathways in the body rather than trying to block them or force them. That’s why I recommend trying natural remedies for anxiety instead of turning to benzodiazepines as a first course of action.

 

4 Natural Remedies for Anxiety Symptoms

Finding the root cause is unique to each person, but it’s key for optimal treatment. Once you’re able to determine the underlying cause of your anxiety, you can address the root cause.

For example, in many cases, people are actually dealing with adrenal fatigue—and their anxiety symptoms are a manifestation of that. So, by treating the adrenal fatigue, usually the anxiety symptoms, such as insomnia or digestive issues, are relieved as well.

This treatment is typically a combination of regulating the patient’s cortisol levels, perhaps with a combination of supplementing with phosphatidylserine (a nutrient that helps support brain chemistry and a healthy nervous system), lifestyle techniques, and dietary changes. [4] Some other natural remedies for anxiety may also help support the treatment.

Additionally, liver detoxification and liver support can be very helpful when treating anxiety symptoms.

While it’s important to see your healthcare provider if you’re struggling with anxiety to investigate cause, there are also some natural remedies for anxiety symptoms that you can use at home to help find relief.

Some basic natural remedies for anxiety that you may already be familiar with include breathing exercises, dietary changes, and yoga. These are important and definitely worth investigating because they assist in accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. But I also recommend exploring some of the following options to assist with the symptoms while you seek the root cause.

As always, check with your doctor first before trying any new supplements or herbs, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking any other medications or supplements.

1. Herbal Remedies

Some herbal remedies that you can use as natural remedies for anxiety and stress include tinctures made from valerian, passiflora (also known as passionflower), lavender, and kava kava (also known as kava). A tincture is made by soaking one or more herbs in alcohol for a few weeks to extract the active compounds, which results in a highly concentrated liquid extract of the herb. Look for high-quality, reputable brands.

I usually blend these tinctures with some adrenal herbs such as rhodiola or schisandra. [5, 6, 7, 8] Note that when using kava for anxiety, it should only be used as a short-term remedy. Avoid it if you have any liver-related medical conditions.

Often, if someone is in “fight-or-flight” mode, their liver is also bogged down and they’re going to hold more toxin. If they hold more toxin, then that puts more stress on the body. Because of this, liver-supporting herbal remedies, such as milk thistle, may be useful. [9, 10]

Check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies for anxiety, including tinctures, especially if you are taking other supplements or medications.


2. Nutritional Therapies

Magnesium

Your body can’t function without magnesium, and that includes its ability managing stress. One of magnesium’s many roles is helping to produce neurotransmitters and stress-related hormones used for stress management.

When your body is stressed, it suppresses digestion. This results in less nutritional absorption of magnesium from your small intestine. Basically, when you’re stressed, you have lower magnesium levels.

Getting more magnesium can help your body to better manage your stress response, making this one of the top natural remedies for anxiety. Eating a plant-based diet can help. You may also want to consider magnesium supplements to boost your magnesium intake. Magnesium glycinate or magnesium orotate supplements offer the best absorption, and I often recommend to my patients.

If you want to learn more about supplementing with magnesium for anxiety, read this article on magnesium deficiency for more information and guidance. And always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.

Methylated B Vitamins

Did you know that B vitamins are also very important co-factors for the creation and management of neurotransmitters and hormonal stress response? The more stress you are under, the more depleted your B vitamin stash becomes, due to overuse and lack of proper absorption.

Consider taking a good quality methylated B-vitamin supplement to assist and support the body in making important calming neurotransmitters, removing toxins from the system, and improving mood and metabolism for energy.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the backbone for neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitter balance is key to proper anxiety management. Instead of using medications to force binding neurotransmitters, such as GABA and serotonin, you can provide the building blocks for your body to supply its own calming neurotransmitters, such as 5-HTP, phosphatidylserine, or taurine. Combining amino acids with proper nutritional co-factors, such as B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C, can make a world of difference in your symptoms and overall health.

3. Acupuncture

Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which acupuncture is part of, have been practiced for thousands of years. Several studies have shown that acupuncture treatments can indeed help improve anxiety symptoms. [11, 12, 13]

TCM is founded on the concept of qi (pronounced “chee”) or “life-force energy” flowing through the body. Acupuncture is a TCM technique used to redirect or rebalance qi by inserting fine needles at particular points along meridians, or pathways, on the body. So, what makes acupuncture one of my top natural remedies for anxiety? There are actually acupuncture points for anxiety that can help calm the nervous system.

4. Essential Oil Blends

Essential oils are a pleasant and fragrant natural remedy to help find some relief from mild anxiety symptoms. [14] Sprinkling a few drops of certain oils into an essential oil diffuser filled with distilled water can help to bring a sensation of calm and relaxation, making them great natural remedies for anxiety.

Other ways to use essential oils include adding a few drops to a bath or blending them with carrier oils (such as jojoba or sweet almond) and massaging them into the skin.

Alternatively, you can also add a few drops to a cotton ball or handkerchief and inhale the scent as needed.

Some of the essential oils that help alleviate anxiety symptoms include the following: [15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]

  • Bergamot (may cause sun sensitivity, so it’s best not to use on the skin)
  • Clary sage
  • Holy basil (Tulsi)
  • Lavender
  • Neroli
  • Orange
  • Roman chamomile
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang

You can also blend any of these oils together. Remember, if you are using any essential oils topically, dilute them with a carrier oil.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety can be acute or chronic. Chronic anxiety can get in the way of daily functioning and may be helped by seeking treatment from your physician or healthcare provider.
  • Finding the root cause of anxiety is key to figuring out the best course of treatment, which may include lifestyle or dietary changes, supplements, and treating the underlying root cause.
  • Natural remedies for anxiety including certain essential oils, herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies, nutritional therapies, and acupuncture can help to soothe anxiety symptoms.

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