Anxiety is a feeling of worry and a person’s natural response to stress about what’s to come. It’s completely normal to worry about the first day of school, a job interview, or how you're going to deliver a baby — but when anxiety turns into everyday panic and causes actual health issues, it needs to be addressed, often even with the help of a professional.
Herbs and supplements aren’t supposed to replace conventional doctor-approved treatments, but if your anxiety is mild to moderate, it can be treated naturally with herbal remedies. Certain plants — such as kava kava or passionflower — contain phytochemicals that are proven to work against the symptoms of anxiety. These supplements usually come in the form of capsules, tablets, tea, oils, tinctures, and herbal extracts.
Some cultures will prefer natural remedies over modern medicine anytime and studies have found that these nations are likely to react positively to herbal supplements.
There are hundreds of kinds of passionflower, but one subvariety of passionflower — Passiflora incarnata — is proven to work against anxiety, pain, and sleeping problems. The plant has a long history of use as an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) folklore remedy. It was once part of the official pharmacopoeia of many countries, especially in Europe, and it’s still an acceptable treatment for nervousness and anxiety.
The only problem with this plant, and any other herbal supplement, is the fact that they have a large number of phytochemicals, and it’s hard to determine which one of them is the active ingredient in a certain condition, so a person might be unnecessarily ingesting possibly toxic substances.
2. Kava kava
Kava is a drink made from the Piper methysticum plant. Many cultures have consumed it for centuries for its anxiety-relieving properties and the ability to improve sleep. A good thing about kava kava and its effectiveness in the treatment of anxiety disorders is its lack of sedation, meaning it can calm you without being mentally impairing.
Kava works by binding its active ingredients called kavalactones to GABA neurotransmitters, which are normally present in the brain, but due to certain brain disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, their number decreases.
Also known as Withania somnifera (WS), ahwagandha is a relatively obscure ayurvedic herb that has gained recognition in recent years in the US as a treatment for stress and anxiety.
Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce and release the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. This hormone is also known as the “stress hormone” and it often comes with an increased heart rate and blood pressure. When it comes to human studies on the effectiveness of aswagandha, most of them showed a decrease in cortisol levels in the ashwagandha groups, compared to the placebo groups. Of course, more studies on humans are highly welcomed.
4. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil
Cannabidiol is one of the active ingredients found in cannabis. Even though many people are concerned about CBD being and essential ingredient of marijuana (a drug!), it doesn’t make you “high” and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it doesn’t cause dependence. In spite of this, it’s still illegal in many parts of the world.
5. St John’s wort
Even though this plant is mostly recognized for its use in the treatment of depression, in Germany it’s licensed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Extracts from the flowers of St John’s wort are used all across the world as a sedative and a painkiller.
Several studies conducted on the efficiency of St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in the treatment of anxiety showed contradictory results. A small study that lasted for 12 weeks found it to lead to significant improvements, while a larger study showed no significant difference between treatment with St John’s wort and placebo. Many studies, on the other hand, have concluded St Jom's wort to be effective in the treatment of depression.
The bottom line
Anxiety is a normal part of human lives, but it can get worse and cause major stress and setbacks if you leave it untreated. I know that having a diagnosis and an obligation to commit to sticking with your treatment plan every day is hard, but you can lose years of your life if you wait for the crippling fear to go away on its own. I once hoped it would for me, but believe me – it won’t.
You can tame your anxieties with natural treatments, therapy, lifestyle changes, and of course — a combination of these treatments. Don’t become discouraged — there’s a big chance that you’ll need more than one therapy or a combination of remedies before finding what works best for you. You can always discuss your options with your healthcare provider.