8 Natural Anxiety Relievers: Which Ones Really Work; Which One Can Be Deadly | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Just ask anyone who survived a natural disaster, or has health or financial problems or family issues: anxiety can get you down. Top it with an uncertain future, and it can be downright debilitating.

If it gets too bad, you go to a doctor or therapist, but what if there came a time you couldn’t get there. What natural anxiety relievers could help?

If you’re under some stress right now, you might even want to give a couple a test run so you’ll know what works in the future. Of course, always check with your doctor since none of these can take the place of expert medical care.

Good Anxiety Is Still Anxiety

First, know that, from your mind’s perspective, stress is stress. No matter if your anxiety is because you’re excited your family’s coming in or is related to the aftermath of a disaster, the brain sees it the same. It revs up your body’s energy to prepare you for that fight-or-flight response. Your muscles tense, your heart speeds up.

That extra energy, in moderation, can be just the thing to help you prepare for the holidays or run from, say, a wild animal or help you through a hurricane or tornado. But the energy surge is meant to be short term. In most modern-day situations, all it does is wear you out.

And whether it’s good stress or bad stress, it all adds up. You can’t sleep, you’re tired, your temper grows short. Even worse, this type of stress lowers your immune system, increases body inflammation (which wreaks all sort of havoc), and can lead to numerous health issues.

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Nature’s Anxiety Relievers

Now, I think all of you probably know that exercise, cutting back on sugar and caffeine (because you don’t need any more stimulants), and just saying no to too many Christmas parties can help. But there are some other good natural anxiety relievers with scientific proof to back them up. (There are also some iffy ones and one that’s downright dangerous.)

If you’re going to try any of these, take it slow. They can take several weeks to get to their maximum benefit. And try one at a time. Mixing them together can cause unwanted side effects, as can mixing them with certain other medications. Don’t mix them with alcohol, and always check with your doctor.

1. Fish oil (omega-3 supplements). In a study published last year in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, sixty-eight medical students were studied. Half of them took a placebo. Blood was taken on all at various times, including right before a big exam. The half that took 2,500 mg of fish oil daily had twenty percent less known-stress-producing chemicals in their blood.

2. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) capsules. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, fifty-seven people were divided into two groups. One group took a placebo. The other group took a 220 mg capsule of German chamomile. After a week they could take two capsules a day if they wanted, and so on, up to five capsules a day. After eight weeks the group taking the chamomile reported significantly less anxiety. As to whether other types of chamomile or forms or delivery (tea, oil) work as well, we don’t know, but they’re probably worth a try.

3. Magnesium and B vitamins. Blood samples in people with anxiety often show low B vitamins and magnesium levels, so it’s theorized that taking these supplements might help.

4. Valerian root. Some studies show valerian can help you sleep, but no really good study has been done. Also, the safety of regular use for more than six weeks hasn’t been established. The dose is to take 200 mg three or four times a day.

5. Passionflower. A small study showed 45 drops per day helped relieve anxiety as well as prescriptions sedatives, and with fewer side effects. Other studies have shown an effective dosage of ten to thirty drops three times a day. Drinking a cup of passionflower tea at bedtime has been shown to help you sleep. But its safety—especially when taking it long-term—is unclear.

6. Lavender oil. This aromatherapy has mixed results. Never take it by mouth. Occasionally it can irritate if put on the skin, and don’t apply it to adolescents since there has been evidence of breast enlargement in young boys (it apparently can trigger your body to increase its production of estrogen).

7. St. John’s wort. Mixed results here, also, on treating anxiety. And it can interact with many prescription medications such as blood thinners, birth control pills, and antidepressants, to name a few.

8. Kava. It has been associated with cases of severe liver damage and is not recommended.

Remember, these treatments are for mild anxiety or when you can‘t get expert medical help. I’ve seen too many who try to self-medicate, especially with alcohol or illegal drugs, which doesn’t solve the problem and leads to addiction. If the anxiety is ongoing or getting worse, therapists, psychologists, and medical doctors have stronger, proven options to help, such as prescription medicines, psychotherapy, and biofeedback.

Has anyone tried any of these? How did they work?

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Generalized anxiety disorder artwork courtesy Adams999 on Flickr.