Ever had that intense, excessive, or persistent feeling of worry and fear? Well, that’s anxiety – a natural response to stress. Between all the hassle involved in our daily jobs, family, relationships, finances, and life’s uncertainties, stress and anxiety always seem to catch up with us one way or another. It could also be a side effect of some medication, medical condition (such as an overactive thyroid), or use of drugs – like cocaine.
Sometimes the anxiety is accompanied by symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and may even lead to depression. These problems could negatively impact your quality of life, even leading to loss of job positions and damaged relationships. Therefore, it is always good to seek an accurate diagnostic for the best treatment, especially when anxiety has become a daily struggle.
But some people prefer not to see a doctor, partly because they don’t want the prescription pills that come afterward. Whether you are looking for something to complement your medication or simply want to avoid pharmaceuticals, here are some natural solutions that could help you combat anxiety.
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Exercise has physical, mental, and emotional benefits to our bodies. Research shows that as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise has anti-anxiety effects. Exercise, among other physical activities, produces endorphins. These chemicals are natural painkillers and also improve our ability to sleep.
Moreover, a single vigorous session can help alleviate anxiety symptoms for hours, and regular exercise can have a lasting influence on your well being. Aerobics can decrease overall tension levels, elevate and stabilise mood, promote sleep, and even boost self-esteem.
So, next time you are anxious about something, as odd as it may seem, try jogging, climbing a flight of stairs, doing a push-ups, or even hit the treadmill – see if it helps!
Prevention is always better than cure. When it comes to anxiety, one preventive measure that tops the list is quality sleep. Numerous studies have linked lack of sleep to anxiety and depression. Regions in the brain that regulate emotions and help us stay less anxious and calmer, are also highly sensitive to sleep loss, triggering the same mechanisms that make us responsive to anxiety.
According to a 2018 study, sleep deprivation for just a single night produced the same brain fMRI images as anxiety. They also reported an increase in activity in the amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulated cortex. These are regions of the brain that process negative emotions and are hyperactive in patients suffering from anxiety disorders.
The study’s sleep-deprived participants also had activity in their medial prefrontal cortex, an area in the brain that is linked to the amygdala and helps control negative emotions. The good news: symptoms subsided after a full night of sleep.
Try the following to capitalise on your sleep:
- Only sleep at night, when you are tired
- Don’t read or watch television in bed
- Avoid phones, tablets, and laptops in bed
- Keep off caffeine, nicotine, and large meals before bedtime
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool during sleep hours
- Maintain the same sleeping time each night
You probably expected meditation to feature in this list. Its main goal is always to eliminate chaotic thoughts from your head, achieving a sense of calm and mindfulness. A 2013 study investigating the link between meditation and anxiety relief, reported lesser levels of anxiety in subjects who meditated.
Additionally, brain imaging associated anxiety relief with activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulated cortex, and anterior insular. These are regions of the brain associated with control of worrying and executive functions.
Spending Time with Animals
Experts believe spending some time with animals could help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Pets provide love, support, and companionship. If you already have one, then all the quality time you’ve spent together has been helping soothe your nervous system, partly by fulfilling the basic human need for touch. Human-animal interaction has been linked to an increase in oxytocin levels and a decrease in subjective psychological stress – like fear and anxiety.
The good news is that although people prefer cats, dogs, and other furry animals, the pet doesn’t have to be cuddly to provide support. Researchers have pointed out that even caring for crickets could improve your psychological well-being!
Although there is relatively little research on aromatherapy, various studies show that some soothing scents from plant oils can ease anxiety and stress. Aromatherapy helps you relax, reduce your blood pressure, and sleep better. It also boosts your mood by altering brain waves.
We all have that unique fragrance that works for us better. If you don’t have one, you can take a trial and error approach to find your perfect fit. Otherwise, consider Lavender since it helps promote sleep and reduce crying in infants.
You may inhale directly or add it to a warm bath or diffuser. Here are some of the essential oils that people use to relieve anxiety:
- Clary sage
- Ylang ylang
Although there isn’t much scientific evidence to back them up, several herbal remedies have been put under the microscope to understand their effects on anxiety better. Here’s what is known so far:
- Passionflower: Some clinical trials have suggested that passionflower combats anxiety and insomnia in multiple ways. Researchers point to its ability to increase the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, a mood-regulating chemical in the brain. GABA brings a calming effect by inhibiting neurotransmitters that cause excitement in the brain.
However, it might be worth mentioning that a few studies also found passionflower can cause confusion, drowsiness, and dizziness. Therefore, it might not be the best option when you’re working. It is also not ideal for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Valerian: The feeling here is mixed. Some people who use valerian report reduced anxiety, while others say there’s no benefit. Researchers, too, don’t seem too sure on how valerian root works to combat stress and insomnia. However, there is evidence to suggest valerian triggers an increase of GABA levels in the brain.
Long-term safety trials are not available, so you might want to only use this one for short intervals of a few weeks.
- Chamomile: Some data suggest chamomile, during short-term use, is generally safe and can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It alters levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. However, it might increase the risk of over-bleeding when used alongside blood-thinning drugs.
- Lavender: Evidence suggests that lavender, when used both orally or in aromatherapy, can help to subside anxiety effects. Experts at Kagoshima University, Japan, identified linalool, a sweet-smelling ingredient in lavender, that influenced the brain through smell. It has a calming impact, and, unlike anti-anxiety drugs, does not impair movement.
- Lemon balm: Early research shows that lemon balm could alleviate symptoms of anxiety, including nervousness and excitability. One pilot study linked these benefits to lemon balm’s effect on the neurotransmitter GABA (lemon balm makes GABA more readily accessible). It is generally tolerable to most people and considered safe, albeit it can cause abdominal pain and nausea in some people.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety may inhibit our abilities to perform in various tasks, and even hinder our careers and relationships. The items on this list have been reported to help some people to relieve the feelings of helplessness and a constant sense of panic associated with anxiety. They could be used independently or paired with other medications.
However, if you get too anxious regularly, it is always advisable to consult your GP about treatment options available as well as possible interactions of these natural remedies with your medication. They could even recommend some natural remedies that we’ve missed in this list.