No More Chill Pills: A Guide For Natural Anxiety Management

Mental health disorders greatly influence individuals and communities. Anxiety disorders are significant contributors to mental illness, affecting more than 40 million people¹ in the United States alone. 

Characterized by persistent sensations of fear, worry, and restlessness, anxiety can be challenging to control and can be just as disabling as physical disorders. 

However, a range of natural treatments and home remedies² are available to help relieve and manage your symptoms. You can use these treatments in place of or in addition to more mainstream treatments such as psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy. 

Some natural remedies start working instantly, whereas others may work slower but still help lessen anxiety over time. Nevertheless, natural remedies can be a good alternative if you’re looking for a long-term solution. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Anxiety?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anxiety, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is anxiety?

The American Psychiatric Association defines anxiety as a natural reaction to stress that is also characterized as excessive apprehension, tension, or uneasiness that stems from a stressful situation. 

Anxiety disorders occur when the fear and worry become too much, prompting you to avoid problems that may trigger uncomfortable emotions, causing significant interference to everyday activities. 

The causes of anxiety are multifactorial and vary depending on the person. However, they produce hallmark symptoms such as: 

  • restlessness

  • irritability 

  • difficulty concentrating

  • sleep disturbance

Further symptoms can be observed depending on the type of anxiety disorder; however, treatments are available to help you regain control of your worries regardless of the severity and type of anxiety you have. 

Diagnosis and treatment

Anxiety can often be self-diagnosed when an obvious threat or concern is present. However, anxiety disorders require a diagnosis made by your doctor or mental health professional. If you have seen a doctor for anxiety, they may have recommended prescription medication as a treatment. 

Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), effectively treat anxiety symptoms. However, they may not be suitable for some people due to reports of undesirable side effects such as: 

  • dizziness 

  • drowsiness

  • headaches

  • blurred vision

  • dry mouth

Furthermore, medications can cause your symptoms to worsen before they get better, which is a concern for those considering treatment with SSRIs.

Benzodiazepines are another popular option for anxiety treatment. However, they can become addictive due to their effects on your brain's reward pathways³. Coupled with the side effects (similar to those previously mentioned for SSRIs) and possible withdrawal symptoms that can follow, benzodiazepines can cause serious consequences if not appropriately prescribed. 

Nevertheless, these medications work differently for everyone. Whether you think it may be a suitable option for your treatment depends on your situation and the opinion of your healthcare provider. 

It’s always best to consult a medical professional about your concerns to help create a personalized treatment plan for your needs.

Natural treatment options

If you’re looking for a more natural approach to relieve your anxiety symptoms, you can consider the following natural and evidence-based remedies.

Psychotherapy

Commonly known as talk therapy, psychotherapy refers to the treatment of mental disorders through talking to a trained professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. 

A popular form of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy that aims to help people work through specific disorders by changing their thought processes and behaviors. 

CBT is an active, goal-oriented therapy that focuses on modifying negative emotions and mindsets through cognitive restructuring, which involves breaking down negative thoughts into smaller parts. 

This makes it easier to understand how everything is connected and how these connections may impact your behaviors. Cognitive restructuring can occur through strategies⁴ such as: 

  • facing fears instead of avoiding them

  • role-playing to prepare for potentially problematic situations

  • learning to calm one’s mind and relax one’s body

CBT is considered an effective natural therapy, and there is scientific evidence demonstrating its effectiveness⁵ against all types of anxiety disorders compared to placebo drugs. It’s usually the first line of treatment recommended by doctors and other healthcare professionals. 

CBT can work for anyone from children to adults, with the number of sessions being flexible and dependent on the progress already made. 

Exercise

Exercise is an effective healing strategy for many conditions, and for good reason. Physical activity has multiple benefits on your physical and mental health, with a single walk having the power to alleviate anxiety symptoms for hours. Exercise can relieve symptoms of anxiety in several ways, such as: 

  • through releasing endorphins⁶ (feel-good hormones) and other natural brain chemicals (e.g., dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) to help enhance the sense of well-being and improve overall mood

  • by acting as a distraction⁷ from worries and negative thoughts to break the cycle of self-criticism that feeds anxiety

  • by providing a sense of accomplishment⁸ that continues to provide optimism to complete other tasks for the day 

Exercising regularly also provides long-term psychological and emotional benefits. According to a 2014 study⁹, regular exercise can lead to increased tolerance of psychological stressors in situations with increased workloads and pressuring environments. 

As for the most effective exercises, opinions are varied, suggesting that it is entirely up to you. There is a wide range of exercises that can be undertaken by people at all fitness levels. 

Lower impact exercises, such as yoga and even household cleaning, can be just as beneficial in relieving anxiety as high-intensity workouts, such as weight training or running. 

Nevertheless, doing any form of exercise for as little as ten minutes can make a great difference to your well-being.

Meditation

Meditation is the practice of bringing awareness to your mental state to regain more control of your thoughts and emotions. Meditation exists in many forms, including mindfulness meditation¹⁰, yoga, and tai chi, and is believed to be effective in stress reduction and decreasing anxiety symptoms. 

Although meditation research is still in its early stages, some studies have shown that meditation can positively change brain activity. 

A study¹¹ from 2010 showed that beginner meditators had reduced amygdala activation during mindful and resting states, suggesting that meditation may help relax emotional responses. Another study¹² agreed with these findings and even showed that long-term meditation could increase folds in certain parts of your brain, including the insula¹³, a region responsible for emotion processing and decision-making. 

Taken together, it appears that meditation may help enhance your emotional well-being while ensuring that you’re not overwhelmed. 

Suppose meditation is a potential treatment you’d like to try. In that case, many guided meditation videos, apps, and podcasts are available. A small meditation session of just ten minutes can go a long way. It can become a simple yet effective strategy to manage anxiety symptoms with continued practice. 

Deep breathing

Deep breathing is another known countermeasure for anxiety symptoms. ​​Also called diaphragmatic breathing, this type of breathing differs from our usual style of shallow breathing as you are required to draw in air through your nose actively; it has a calming effect on your nervous system and brain. 

When you inhale deeply, air fills your lungs, which causes your diaphragm (lower belly) to rise. As this air is slowly released, stretch receptors in the lungs activate the vagus nerve¹⁴, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and induces feelings of relaxation. 

Deep breathing has been a staple in yoga, tai chi, and other forms of meditation. However, this kind of breathing exercise is suitable for everyone and less strenuous than exercise. 

A 2017 study¹⁵ found that deep breathing exercises effectively reduced negative thinking, improved concentration, and reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels. 

If you would like to try deep breathing, below is a common technique you can follow: 

  • lie on your back, either on the floor or on your bed

  • place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach

  • slowly inhale through your nose for approximately six seconds, ensuring that your chest remains as still as possible

  • slowly exhale through your mouth for about six seconds, ensuring that your chest remains as still as possible

  • concentrate on moving only your stomach throughout this exercise to ensure you are contracting your diaphragm

Nutritional supplements

The use of nutritional supplements in the U.S. has increased by 40%¹⁶ over the past 15 years and remains a popular treatment for mild anxiety symptoms. You can easily access dietary supplements over-the-counter, which are a convenient option if you’re hesitant to try medications.

Although some studies show the beneficial effects of nutritional supplements, it’s important to do some research and to speak to your healthcare professional before making any decisions.

Some supplements may cause unwanted side effects and interact with medications you’re already taking.

Popular supplement options include:

B vitamins

B vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins that are key players in the nervous system and maintain brain health.

In particular, vitamins B6, B9, and B12 are essential for enzymes to produce serotonin and dopamine¹⁷ (brain chemicals that belong to a class of hormones called neurotransmitters), both of which are important for mood regulation.

A 2020 study¹⁸ found that vitamin B6 and B12 intake was inversely related to anxiety symptoms, suggesting B6 and B12 as promising supplements to relieve the severity of anxiety symptoms.

Vitamin D

A naturally occurring vitamin provided by exposure to the sun, vitamin D is another popular nutritional supplement that has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms¹⁹.

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with anxiety and depression due to its role in creating serotonin²⁰, a hormone that makes you happy.  

In a study²¹ examining patients with generalized anxiety disorder and vitamin D deficiency, researchers found that supplementing vitamin D for three months significantly reduced the severity of anxiety symptoms. This increase in vitamin D levels in the blood also resulted in reduced inflammation, which offers an additional benefit to its antidepressant effects.

While eating food fortified with vitamin D can help boost your vitamin levels, the best way to obtain it is to spend 15–30 minutes in the sun, depending on your skin tone. Of course, if you plan to spend that much time in the sunlight, you need to use sunscreen, but if you’re careful, you can spend some time in the sun every day to get your dose of natural vitamin D.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral used in the body for many processes. It’s believed that magnesium deficiencies²² create symptoms similar to stress.

Research has shown that magnesium can indirectly alleviate anxiety symptoms by regulating the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis²³, the central component of the stress response.

Furthermore, it has also been shown to reduce cortisol²⁴ (stress hormone), suggesting that magnesium influences anxiety by regulating stress responses. Interestingly, magnesium deficiency is common in adults, so consider this supplement when exploring your options.

Herbal remedies

Herbal treatments have been another popular option for treating anxiety, although limited research to support these claims is available. When trying herbal supplements, make sure you have done some research to ensure no potential interactions with any prescribed drugs you may be taking.

Some of the most frequently used herbal remedies include:

Kava kava

Kava kava is a non-addictive plant extract that positively affects anxiety symptoms. While the exact mechanisms are unknown, it’s thought to upregulate dopamine and serotonin levels and induce relaxation through the active ingredient, kavapyrones.

A meta-analysis²⁵ of six kava kava-related studies supported the use of kava kava for anxiety. However, caution is advised due to kava kava’s potential effects in inhibiting the body’s ability to metabolize²⁶ other drugs.

Passionflower

Passionflower is a plant extract and a popular sleep aid for insomnia. Recent evidence suggests that passionflower is a suitable treatment for alleviating stress²⁷.

However, clinical trials in humans are limited, and thus not much is known about its mechanism. One clinical trial²⁸ regarding the use of passionflower in generalized anxiety disorder has been conducted; however, compared with the short-term use of an anti-anxiety drug, no significant differences were observed.

Further investigations regarding appropriate dosages and possible side effects are needed.

St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort is a flower with extracts that are a popular treatment for mild to moderate depression but are less popular for treating anxiety.

An open-labeled study²⁹ surrounding the effect of St John’s wort on depressive individuals with anxiety has been conducted; however, because of the complex relationship between anxiety and depression, researchers could not determine whether St. John’s wort is a suitable treatment for anxiety alone.

More robust evidence is needed before St. John's wort can be considered a treatment option for patients with anxiety.

The lowdown

Conventional treatments such as medications and behavioral therapy can be as effective as natural alternative therapies. Finding the ideal solution for you might take some trial and error, but this will enable you to find the treatment that will lead to the fewest and least severe side effects.

If you’re unsure about the best option for you, speak to your doctor or mental health professional. They may be able to help you develop a tailored plan to overcome your anxiety.

  1. Facts & statistics | Anxiety & Depression Association of America

  2. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review (2010)

  3. Hooked on benzodiazepines: GABAA receptor subtypes and addiction (2014)

  4. Cognitive restructuring (2013)

  5. Efficacy of treatments for anxiety disorders (2015)

  6. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety (2013)

  7. An enjoyable distraction during exercise augments the positive effects of exercise on mood (2014)

  8. Exercise and clinical depression: examining two psychological mechanisms (2005)

  9. The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise (2015)

  10. Mindfulness meditation and psychopathology (2019)

  11. Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder (2014)

  12. The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: Alterations in cortical gyrification (2012)

  13. Structure and function of the human insula (2018)

  14. Breath of life: The respiratory vagal stimulation model of contemplative activity (2018)

  15. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults (2017)

  16. Health effects of vitamin and mineral supplements (2020)

  17. Adjunctive nutraceuticals for depression: A systematic review and meta-analyses (2016)

  18. Dietary intake of B vitamins and their association with depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms: A cross-sectional, population-based survey (2021)

  19. The effect of vitamin D supplement on negative emotions: A systematic review and meta-analysis (2020)

  20. Physiology, serotonin (2022)

  21. Vitamin D supplementation ameliorates severity of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (2019)

  22. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—A systematic review (2017)

  23. The role of magnesium in clinical biochemistry: an overview (1991)

  24. Oral Mg2+ supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans (2002)

  25. Kava: A comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology (2010)

  26. Therapeutic potential of kava in the treatment of anxiety disorders (2002)

  27. Herbal medicinal products from passiflora for anxiety: An unexploited potential (2020)

  28. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam (2001)

  29. Treating depression comorbid with anxiety – results of an open, practice-oriented study with St John's wort WS® 5572 and valerian extract in high doses (2003)

Have you considered clinical trials for Anxiety?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anxiety, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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