Almost everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, whether it be a case of nerves before giving a speech or getting anxious when stuck in traffic. But if anxiety seems to pervade everything you do, affecting your day-to-day life in more profound ways, you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million people. Luckily, there are medications that can help relieve your symptoms—but there are also natural ways to reduce anxiety that you may not know about.
Why Managing Anxiety Is Different For Everyone
Anxiety isn’t just a one-size-fits all disorder. It can take on many forms, including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
As someone who’s dealt with generalized anxiety her whole life, I’ve tried just about every remedy out there. What I’ve learned is that what works for one person may not work for another, and managing anxiety is often a lifelong feat that continually changes and morphs. While medications to treat anxiety disorders can play an important role in symptom management, there are also natural treatments you can use either in place of medications or to supplement them.
I’m not a medical professional, and if you are experiencing any type of mental health concern it’s best to speak with a licensed professional. Anxiety disorders can be caused by situational events (a divorce, a death, job stress) or chemical imbalances in the brain—or both. I’m not here to tell you it’s possible to cure lifelong anxiety with jumping jacks. However, I firmly believe you can take charge of your mental and physical health by being your own advocate and finding treatments that work for you.
All-Natural Ways To Reduce Anxiety
Here are the most effective natural anxiety remedies around—if you find one or two that helps reduce your anxiety or at least take the edge off, that’s a win.
1. Lavender Aromatherapy
You’ve likely already heard that using lavender essential oil can reduce anxiety, but it’s not just an old wives’ tale—lavender is kind of magical. Studies have shown that healthcare patients are less anxious if doctor’s waiting rooms are scented with lavender oil. In one study in particular, a specifically formulated lavender pill made in Germany was shown to reduce symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder as effectively as Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication. Carry some lavender oil with you and take a whiff whenever you feel anxious, or make potpourri sachets with lavender to keep at home. You can also mix a few drops of lavender oil with your body lotion and apply it before bed for more peaceful sleep.
This amino acid is found naturally in green tea, and has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, producing a sense of calm. L-Theanine works by boosting your brain’s levels of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When GABA levels are raised, anxiety decreases. While you can take GABA supplements directly, it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier as easily as L-Theanine does, meaning it won’t get absorbed into your system as efficiently. While drinking green tea can provide you with some L-Theanine, most people find more relief from an L-Theanine supplement. Find one at your local health foods store and try taking it daily for anxiety relief.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the present moment instead of catastrophizing future events in your mind. Simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe normally. Notice your inhalations and exhalations. When your brain thinks a random thought, simply acknowledge it and turn your attention back to your breath. There are so many types of meditation—you can find the one that works best for you. A regular meditation practice has the power to regulate your breath, boost your immune system, and change your brain chemistry. Research shows that as little as 2 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day can reduce anxiety.
4. Consistent Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise works wonders on taking the edge off of anxiety. It’s generally believed that it takes at least 21 minutes of cardio to feel reduced anxiety. You can do anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, cycling, the elliptical, etc. Working out boosts your brain’s levels of serotonin—the “feel good” chemical—and should definitely be a part of your treatment plan if you have anxiety, whether you also take medication or not.
5. Bach’s Rescue Remedy
I first heard about this remedy from a friend who took it to help her fly. (They even make a version for pets!) Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a natural blend of five different herbs and flowers, intended to relieve feelings of panic and nervous tension. The blend comes in a spray, gum, or little pastille candies. They’re great to keep on hand if you suffer from panic attacks. I prefer the candies; they’re great to pop in your mouth when you need a quick calm-down.
6. Creating a Worry Journal
Sometimes just getting your fears out in the open can help you feel less anxious. If you’re someone who lays awake at night stressing about things, this exercise might be a good one for you: create a worry journal that you write in and get out all your fears and concerns. Designate a time of day that’s “worry time,” where you can free-write about your fears as long as you want. Giving yourself permission to name your fears and focus on them for a specific amount of time relieves the burden of carrying them around in your head all day and waiting for them to pop up in your subconscious.
7. The 4-7-8 Breath
When we’re anxious, we’re prone to taking short, shallow breaths. By tuning back into our breath and breathing deeply in a specific pattern, we can actually calm our nerves pretty effectively. Dr. Weil, a natural health pioneer, championed something called the 4-7-8 Breath for years. This breathing technique quickly promotes relaxation. You can do this exercise anywhere in less than a minute and it will calm your nerves. I have turned to this practice time and time again when I need to slow down and regain a sense of peace. It truly works!
Taking a Rhodiola supplement helps some people reduce their anxiety; it has been used for ages as a way to lower stress while increasing mental focus and improving mood. Rhodiola is a type of adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps your body become more resistant to stress. Also sometimes called Arctic root or golden root, Rhodiola can reduce your body’s cortisol levels while at the same time improving your mental focus. Rarely, some people can get jittery when taking rhodiola, having the opposite affect as intended. If this happens, stop taking it and find something else that works better for you.
Yoga helps link breath to movement, calming the body and the mind at the same time. Yoga poses that help relieve anxiety include inversions—poses where you are upside down or head is lower than your heart. This is because inversions switch the flow of blood, relieving tension and breaking the cycle of anxious thoughts. Next time you are experiencing anxiety, try some inversions like downward facing down, forward fold, or Legs Up the Wall pose.
Related: 6 Yoga Poses To Relieve Anxiety
10. A Coffee Detox
Coffee lovers will be mad at me for this one, but going without caffeine for a while can greatly reduce anxiety. I’m a HUGE coffee person, but I’ve noticed that when I’m having a particularly anxious spell, switching to herbal tea or even a light green tea with a low caffeine content can help reset my body’s stress response. You can slowly add coffee back into your diet if you want, but take a few weeks away and see if you notice a difference. It can really help to lessen that constant “fight or flight” feeling.
If you’re feeling anxious at the end of a long day, brew some chamomile tea or take a chamomile supplement. Certain compounds in chamomile are shown to bind to brain receptors in the same way as drugs like Valium do. In one study, patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorders took chamomile supplements every day for 8 weeks and their anxiety symptoms were markedly lower than those on a placebo.