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There are many proven ways to successfully treat anxiety symptoms — such as medications, psychotherapy, meditation, and exercise. Keep reading to find if therapy with lavender is another way to alleviate the unpleasant feelings brought by anxiety.

"Anxiety disorder" is a broad term that includes several kinds of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic conditions, and phobia-related disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic and recurring disease that affects 25 percent of the American population and – according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 3.6 percent of the world’s inhabitants.

When anxiety symptoms are severe and present all the time, daily life can become a living hell. The feeling of helplessness is around all the time and this can be quite intense. Anxiety symptoms tend to intensify over time so if not treated, it can only become more difficult to handle at this point.

Anxiety affects physical and mental health

Anxious feelings negatively affect not only our thoughts and behaviors, but also health in general. Anxiety can leave you drained, distressed, and without love and enjoyment of everyday activities.

Worrying all the time causes physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, cramps in the stomach, and pain.

Having panic attacks is a common and unpleasant sign that your anxiety is at its peak. This intense combination of fear and physical symptoms like a pounding heart, dizziness, and shortness of breath does not occur in all people diagnosed with anxiety disorders, but for many people simply worrying about the possibility of going through a panic attack causes more anxiety. It’s a real vicious cycle.

Day to day worries are a normal part of our busy lives, but if they become part of who we are and start affecting our life and mood, it can become a problem. Anxiety can strike so badly that a person might lose their will to go to work or hang out with friends. It can even lead to depression, so it’s important to tackle it with all available means.

Alternative anxiety therapy with lavender: What does the science say?

Although medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed therapy to treat anxiety, they can cause some unwanted side effects such as psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms. This, and the fact that they are quite expensive, is why many people refuse to use these medications and seek alternative ways to help alleviate their anxiety symptoms instead.

Lavender has traditionally been used for its various therapeutic properties such as treating burns and insect bites, as well as parasitic infections. Lavender essential oil is a botanical extract that shares many properties of anxiety medications, although it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Over the course of history, the oil has been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) benefits that were just recently supported by clinical trials. Apparently, two main ingredients of lavender oil — linalool and linalyl acetate — may bring a form of release to people affected by anxiety. In fact, several animal as well as human studies suggest lavender not only for its benefits in anxiety treatment, but also for its sedative, analgesic, and anticonvulsive properties.

According to Dr Hideki Kashiwadani from Kagoshima University, co-author of a study on the relaxing effects of smelling lavender published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, inhaling linalool from the plant carries it from the lungs into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors in the brain, the same ones targeted by benzodiazepines.

It is believed that inhaled lavender particularly affects the amygdala and hippocampus, the two parts of the brain responsible for storing emotional memories such as fears and threatening events.

Another study found that the anxiolytic effect of lavender was superior to placebo in 221 people suffering from anxiety disorders. Lavender helped with symptoms such as bad sleep, restlessness, and had a significant influence on general wellbeing.

Studies have shown that aromatherapy with lavender administered during childbirth reduces anxiety in mothers, and inhaling it for four weeks helps to prevent or reduce anxiety and depression in postpartum period.

Recently, once-a-day capsules of lavender oil (Silexan) made it to the market and they’re advertised as an anti-anxiety supplement. Preliminary studies show efficacy in the treatment of anxiety alone and in combination with depression, but much more research and evidence is needed on safety of such treatments. In one study, 80 mg of Silexan per day showed the same effect for generalized anxiety as 0.5 mg a day of lorazepam.

The bottom line

Modern medicine apparently doesn’t accept scents as a therapy for anxiety, despite a need for safer alternative to medications.

Certainly one of the best features of a natural product is its calming effect without sedation, but also inability to become dependent. Short-term studies showed no significant side-effects of using lavender either by oral administration, massage, or aromatherapy.  Although more research is welcomed, there seems to be enough data that supports the traditional uses of lavender in the treatment of neurological disorders.

If you decide to try whether lavender can help alleviate your anxiety symptoms, you can combine it with more successful forms of treatment such as progressive muscle relaxation and visualization. Smelling the plant probably won’t do much for severe anxiety, but a combination of various southing techniques is definitely better than relying on just one or even worse – doing nothing.

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