Let’s talk anxiety. The American Psychological Association characterizes it as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” But anxiety goes way deeper than that. There are seemingly endless forms of it: from the flutters in your stomach before a long-awaited job interview, to the dread of an inevitable hard conversation you know you need to have with a loved one, or something more serious like a debilitating Generalized Anxiety Disorder that causes constant panic attacks. The range of anxiety is far and wide.
When it comes to anxiety, I can relate. It’s something that has plagued my life since I was a kid. When I was young, the main cause of it was unstable family life. As I got older, my anxiety grew from a blend of things; mainly from an extraordinarily stressful career that I had built for myself until I got sick. Anxiety can present itself in many different ways. For me, it has reared its ugly head as countless sleepless nights and I believe the build up of anxiety in my life eventually contributed to my cancer diagnosis. Anxiety can appear as chronic fatigue, nervousness, intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness, depression, addiction and so much more. Some forms of anxiety, like pre-speech jitters, are considered ‘normal’ and ultimately harmless. But the anxiety I, and so many others, experience can be very unhealthy.
Chronic anxiety is a serious disorder that goes beyond affecting your mental and emotional health to also negatively impact your physical health. Left ignored, it can lead to issues like muscle tension, headaches, dizziness, increased heart rate and shortness of breath – just to name a few. Some of the more serious side effects are insomnia and spikes in blood pressure, which can lead to damaged blood vessels and chronic high blood pressure. Plus, anxiety can cause cortisol levels to skyrocket, which can have lasting negative effects.
What’s so crazy about anxiety is how common it is. Around 30% of the U.S. population experiences anxiety symptoms in their lifetime, which makes anxiety disorders the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric illness in the country! Plus, for us women, we’re twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than men. I’m getting anxiety just thinking about that! You’d think that with an illness so prevalent, there would be more of an effort to fix it but right now, our society only focuses on one treatment for the most part: drugs.
The issue with prescribing so many different medications for anxiety is that they come with their own long lists of negative side effects. For example, benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax and Ativan are extremely addictive. Other drugs are said to have long-lasting impacts on brain function – yikes. Pharmaceuticals may seem helpful as a short-term solution (and sometimes they are absolutely necessary!), but they are only band aides. We need to better understand the root of the issue so that we can solve it head on.
It can take time to get to the heart of an anxiety condition, and it typically requires counseling to fully understand it. But in the meantime, it’s absolutely preferred to get relief from natural, herbal remedies over drugs whenever possible. Herbal medicines rarely cause side effects and they often work just as well as their pharmaceutical equivalents. The phytochemicals inside the herbs are powerful enough to reset pathways in our nervous system. Crazy; right?
Here are my favorite herbal ‘medications’ for anxiety:
Lavender is one of the most effective herbal medicines for the treatment of chronic anxiety. Taken on a regular basis about an hour before sleep, the European lavender extract product Lavela has shown credible research that compares it to that of benzodiazapines in reducing anxiety, with none of the side effects. The dose of lavender oil, as you find in the above product, is 80 mg/day.
Also known as the ‘gladdening herb,’ Lemon Balm has been around for hundreds of years. This herb doesn’t have as much scientific backing as some of the others, however, many people feel much more relaxed after having it. Lemon Balm is ideal for before bed, since it has been known to slightly reduce alertness. If you have trouble falling asleep, this herb is for you. The full dose Is around 300 mg up to four times a day, but I recommend starting a bit to see how sedated it makes you feel.
You probably know it as the bright yellow spice that can be added as a flavor enhancer to any curry or soup. Turmeric is a powerful root that has recently been the focus of a number of studies that have found it to be helpful in treating both anxiety and depression. In order for it to have anti-anxiety effects, the daily dosage is between 80 to 500 mg. You can take it in the forms of Theracumin or Meriva for optimal absorption.
This mushroom is often sold in powder form and has amazing calming effects. It has been touted as one of the best adaptogens for anxiety and I am obsessed with the relaxing effect it has on me. The ideal dose is 3 g to 9 g dried in capsule/ tablet form daily. You can also get in 2 to 4 mL tincture form and use that twice daily.
Ever wonder why so many motherly figures in various films offer to “put on a pot of tea” when someone else is super stressed? It’s because herbs like chamomile can have very peaceful results. Chamomile is legitimately approved in Europe where herbal medicine is much more widely accepted. Pretty cool, huh? A cup of organic chamomile tea should be enough to get you feeling calmer.
Kava kava, also known as Piper methysticum, is what I call my ‘emergency herb.’ Keep this around if you’re prone to panic attacks, as it really does help you to relax in the midst of one. I also like it for helping to ease my anxiety around other things like speech stress or anxiety around flying. Per my recommendation for all adaptogens, start with a low dose and work your way up to an amount that feels good for you.
My favorite brands for medicinal herbs are Sun Potion, Nature’s Answer’s alcohol-free tinctures, Organic India, Gaia, Mountain Rose and Herb Pharm. I do go for the liquids more often, because they work faster!