Anxiety sufferers know: when it comes to calming the mind and soothing the physical effects of anxiety and stress, it’s a complex issue.
Where do you start? Is your doctor right about medications and “just reducing stress” – or is there a better, more beneficial and more natural way?
People today are looking for gentler but effective alternatives to anti-anxiety medications. Here are some of the best and most studied (and proven) natural ways to combat your anxiety.
Don’t discount it because it sounds like a new-agey fad … meditation really does work to reduce stress and alleviate anxiety, according to extensive research. Far from a flash in the pan, meditation has been utilized in both the east and, to an extent, in the west for thousands of years. Western medicine pooh-poohed the practice in recent centuries as being ineffective, but today’s Western studies prove otherwise.
If you’ve tried meditation before and believed it “just didn’t work,” realize that it takes time to both build the skills necessary to achieve a meditative state (the so-termed alpha state, named for your brain’s slower, calmer brain waves). And once you get it down, it will take regular practice for you to experience meditation’s benefits.
If you feel you just don’t have time to meditate, consider this: the last time you logged onto Facebook or Tweeted for 10 or 15 minutes, you could have been meditating. Just that small amount of time can, with regular use, produce amazing all-body and all-mind calming.
The video below is an extremely simple yet very effective meditation exercise to try. As time goes on, you may move on to more complex and detailed meditations, or you may stick with basics and simplicity. Both will have a positive effect on your emotions, your panic responses and your central nervous system.
You may have heard yoga and meditation being utilized together – and sometimes, interchangeably. There are subtle differences, the primary one being that yoga tends to utilize the body much more than meditation does (though there are crossovers).
Placing your body into various yoga positions is said to open up stagnant energy in the body, to produce a sense of focus that takes the mind off the “self” and allows it deeper understanding. It can have physical, measurable effects, such as lowered blood pressure and a better-functioning central nervous system – all essential for managing anxiety.
Yoga also focuses on the breath, which is key to both this practice and the practice of meditation. Measuring the breath evenly and allowing it in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth has an effect on both your body and your mind to produce a calm feeling.
If you have physical considerations, such as back pain, arthritis or stiff joints, modify your yoga practice so that it is less physically stressful. If you are in pain, stop. Yoga should never hurt. It is intended as work and focus, but not as an over-stretching beyond your limits or the production of pain.
Your best bet is to consult an experienced yoga practitioner to determine what routine is best for you. Or if you’re the more self-starter type, check this out for a few simple moves that can help alleviate anxiety immediately as well as over time.
Herbs are becoming more and more mainstream in treating anxiety. In fact, your doctor may have recommended one or two. If you’re interested in trying herbal treatments, here are the best ones for anxiety and panic:
- Kava Kava. The peeled root of this extract in water has been used among Pacific Islanders for centuries to produce a sensation of calm. Be careful – some studies have linked overuse of Kava Kava to liver damage in susceptible individuals. Ask your doctor.
- Valerian root. Valerian is grown in Asia and Europe. The root is used for sleep disorders (especially insomnia), general anxiety and for specific conditions such as social anxiety. Valerian root can cause drowsiness, so use conservatively and don’t use if you plan to drive or operate machinery. It’s better to use Valerian root as an on-the-spot treatment than a daily supplement.
- Hops extract. Hops was brought to the New World by English and European settlers. The active constituent in beer and ale, hops produce a calm and slightly drowsy effect depending upon how much the user takes. Hops is also used for digestive and hormonal (particularly in women) issues. Take only as directed. People with alcoholism or who are currently being treated with bio-identical hormones SHOULD NOT take hops.
- Passion flower. Discovered by Spanish explorers in Peru, the flower portion of this plant is used for anxiousness, as well as insomnia. It also calms the stomach and is used for gastrointestinal distress. It is generally used to produce a gently calming vs. a sedating effect; for the latter, you will usually find Passion Flower in combination with stronger sedatives, such as Skullcap.
- Lavender. Typically, you will utilize lavender by applying it to the skin rather than ingesting it. Certain chemicals found naturally in lavender produce a calming effect when they are inhaled. If you choose lavender essential oil, make sure it is already diluted and can be used directly; otherwise, you will need to dilute it yourself. DO NOT use pure lavender essential oil directly on the skin.
Several vitamins in the B family are known to have a positive effect on the central nervous system and are particularly helpful for the physical effects of anxiety, such as sweating, trembling/shaking, and rapid heartbeat. This is because B vitamins work directly on the central nervous system, improving your health overall.
B vitamins need to be taken daily and will begin to produce a sense of calm in B-deficient individuals over time. If you want to know whether you are deficient in vitamin B, check with your doctor. A simple blood test will tell you whether you are not receiving (via food sources) or utilizing B efficiently.
The bad news is that in non-B deficient individuals, taking more vitamin B will probably not produce noticeable results. In other words, it’s not an “add-on” to produce a sense of calm in most individuals the way, for example, anti-anxiety medications or extracts such as Hops or Kava Kava are.
The most commonly utilized B vitamins for anxiety are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin). The two B vitamins you will find most in anti-anxiety over-the-counter preparations are B6 and B12.
Remember: consult your doctor before taking any herbal or vitamin supplementation for anxiety. Try these one at a time so that you know how each affects you; if you take them in combination with one another, you will not know which is helping. Once you find the combination that works well for you, stick with it.
Anxiety, like other neurological issues, takes time to correct. Hang in there – help is waiting for you!