Natural Remedies for Anxiety

natural remedies for anxiety | herbal medicine for anxiety | valerian passion flower kava kavaAnxiety is something that all of us, for at least some time in our lives, have experienced first hand. 

Some people can be naturally predisposed to anxiety whilst for others, it rears its head at times of difficulty in our lives. For others still, it can come on at seemingly ‘random’ times with no apparent cause. 

What Is anxiety? 

Anxiety is characterised by both emotional and physical feelings. The emotional component of anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, worry, unease and fear. The physical symptoms can be a racing heart, sweaty palms and trembling. Anxiety can also cause insomnia and problems focusing and concentrating. 

The feelings of anxiety are related to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. In particular the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for the physical feelings that accompany anxiety. In the short term it works to help us perform better and deal with a stressful situation, however when it is either too intense or lasts too long, mental and physical health problems can follow. (I have written a whole article about stress and the fight-or-flight response here). 

What causes anxiety?

In my own experience and professional work I have found that there are a few main causes of anxiety:

  1. Life stress – periods of stress/change/difficulty in life can naturally lead to feelings of anxiety, especially when these changes might have lasting impacts on our life. Life events such as sitting exams, deciding whether to move to a new area, being diagnosed with an illness, starting a new job, deciding to get married etc can all lead to feelings of anxiety. This is to be expected and although it is not a pleasant experience, it is often transitory and will go away when the stressful event/time is over. The anxiety-promoting effects of stress are not only limited to life stress but also include physical stress such as a poor diet and lack of sleep. Most often physical stress is not enough to actually cause anxiety but it can worsen it when combined with emotional stress (as is often the case). 
  2. Repressed trauma/emotions – traumatic life events and emotions that are not dealt with properly can manifest themselves years later as anxiety and fear. This happens because our system is still on ‘alert’ – it is still in self-preservation mode because there has been no internal resolution to the negative emotion or trauma.When we acknowledge these difficult emotions/experiences and work through them (often with the help of a professional therapist/cousellor) we can come to a place of acceptance instead of resistance and a feeling of safety. When we do this our system will relinquish it’s need to be on ‘alert’ and anxiety will diminish. It is important to note that more everyday repressed feelings in the form of acting against or ignoring your true will (such as staying in a relationship you know is not good for you, doing a job you actually hate, being too afraid to do what it is you truly wish to do etc) can also all lead to a background hum of anxiety and feelings of fear.  
  3. Excess caffeine and stimulants in the diet – this can put our sympathetic nervous system in overdrive and lead to feelings and physical symptoms of anxiety. When coupled stress (lack of sleep, work stress, family problems, poor diet etc), the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine are ramped up. This happens because our baseline level of sympathetic nervous system arousal is already high due to stress/lack of sleep/poor diet…so whack a few shots of caffeine on top and you have a not-so-wonderful recipe for anxiety. 

Natural Remedies for anxiety

Of course with all of this in mind, dealing with anxiety often requires a multi-faceted approach, depending on the cause. But whatever the reason, there are natural remedies that can help you feel more calm and peaceful and ease the physical feelings of anxiety. These natural remedies can be very effective at providing symptomatic relief and calming the body and mind. When this happens, we are in a much better state to actually work through the issues at hand and make positive changes.

Herbs and supplements that help to relive anxiety and calm the mind do so largely through their action on the central nervous system and the endocrine system. My top picks of natural remedies for anxiety are: 

Passion Flower

Passion flower is a popular remedy among herbalists for the treatment of anxiety. Its intriguing name come from the Spanish Jesuits in Peru who discovered it in the 1600’s and named it ‘passion flower’ because of the flower’s resemblance to the crucifixion of christ. (I have to admit I don’t really get it but I guess they had wilder imaginations than I do!). 

It has a long history of use in the treatment of agitation, restlessness, insomnia and anxiety – uses which are still applicable today. It is also a wonderful remedy for stress-induced digestive upsets and menopausal anxiety. 

Dose: 300mg 2-3 times per day. Tincture: 2-5 ml 3 times per day/ Tea: 1 tsp dried herb in 1 cup boiling water, 3-4 times a day. 

St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort is a wonderful natural anti-depressant and works very well for anxiety when combined with other calming herbs. It is a wonderful remedy to use when suffering from anxiety as well as low mood/SAD/depression. A study done in 2000 showed that St John’s Wort was as effective as the antidepressant drugs citalopram, sertraline and fluoxetine. Most herbalists do not use St John’s Wort by itself but rather combine it with other mood-boosting and calming herbs. In particular it combines very well with lemon balm and valerian for anxiety, depression and SAD as well as for menopausal anxiety, tension headaches and nervous exhaustion/burnout. 

Dose: 300mg 4-4 times per day standardised extract (standardised to 0.3% hypericin). Tincture: 2-5ml 3 times per day. Tea: 1 tsp dried herb in 1 cup boiling water, 2-3 cups per day. 

Kava Kava 

Kava Kava has been used by the natives of the South Pacific Islands for hundreds of years as a ceremonial drink to promote relaxation and calmness. It has amazing anxiolytic and sedative properties and also a wonderful muscle relaxant and pain reliever. 

Numerous German studies have shown that kava kava is as effective as benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants for the treatment of anxiety disorders – only without the side effects that often accompany pharmaceutical medications. A 2004 study also showed that kayak kava is an effective natural remedy for restless legs syndrome, tension headaches and muscle spasms. It also helps to relieve anxiety-induced insomnia and increase REM sleep without resulting in morning grogginess.

Dose: 400-500mg 5-6 times per day (100-200 mg kava lactones a day). Tincture: 2-3ml 3 times per day. Tea: 1-2 tsp dried root powder per cup boiling water 2-3 times per day. 

Valerian 

Valerian has a good reputation as a natural relaxant and sleep aid. It has been used for hundreds of years in Europe to help cure insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, stress-related digestive problems and nervous headaches. 

Valerian contains a class of iridoids called ‘valepotriates’ which bind to benzodiazepine receptors (the same receptors that valium binds to) and lead to a feeling of sedation and calmness. It also contains the amino acid GABA which inhibits over activation of the brain and as a calming effect. 

Many studies have looked into the calming and anti-anxiety effects of valerian, especially when combined with other herbal remedies such as St John’s Wort and Lemon Balm. This combination has been found to be as effective as the pharmaceutical drug amitryptyline for depression and even more effective than valium for reducing anxiety. 

Dose: 300-500mg standardised extract per day (or follow manufacturer recommendation). Fresh tincture: 2-5ml 2-3 times per day. Tea: 1 tsp dried root per cup boiling water 3 times per day. 

Lemon Balm

This is one of my favourite plants. Even just the smell is immediately reviving and uplifting. I have a special connection with it because I used it when I was suffering from depression and anxiety and it really helped to lift my spirits. Lemon balm has wonderful mood-lifting and anxiety-anxiety effects. A double-blind study published in 2004 showed that a single dose of 600mg lemon balm led to increased feelings of calmness and reduced alertness. A lower dose of 300mg was effective at improving focus and helped participants complete a maths problem more quickly. 

A 2002 study also showed that the use of lemon balm essential oil in aromatherapy helped to reduced agitation and social withdrawal in patients with dementia. It also helped to promote helpful activities and behaviour.  

Dose: 300-600mg plant extract 2-3 times daily. Aromatherapy: 20 drops per day. 10g herbal tea 

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