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Top Natural Approaches for Anxiety

Article at-a-glance:

  • About 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders
  • Giving up caffeine, exercising, and mindfulness practices can all help
  • The amino acid GABA is a calming nutrient produced naturally in our brains, and can be supplemented to help calm the nervous system
  • The amino acid L-Theanine pairs well with GABA, helping to support a feeling relaxed alertness
  • Many botanicals have a long folk history of use in anxiety and insomnia, often backed by modern scientific studies
Anxiety Word Cloud
We’re living through incredibly stressful times that can render even the most stalwart stoic stressed out—an uncertain economy, climate change, partisan politics, and a global pandemic. Add onto that juggling kids, finances, and relationships and it’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. Chronic anxiety—in the form of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, or social anxiety disorder—can be physically and mentally debilitating. About 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, according to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.1 In fact, over a lifetime, nearly eight percent of women and nearly five percent of men will suffer from GAD.2

Chronic anxiety can be debilitating. It’s characterized by excessive, constant worry. “It affects you physiologically, it affects you cognitively, it affects you emotionally,” according to Daniel Smith, author of the book Monkey Mind, in an interview with National Public Radio.3 Symptoms include constant worry about day-to-day situations, restlessness, feeling on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, worry about the future, irritability, among others. It can lead to physical symptoms as well, including muscle tension, digestive disturbances and headaches.4 Many people have described juggling all this is making them feel like their brain has too many browser tabs open. Others feel like they just can’t turn their mind off, that they’re wound up, are experiencing a sense of doom or are having full-blown panic.

Panic attacks feel like a sudden storm that can come on quickly and seem to hijack the body and mind. Symptoms of a panic attack include pounding or racing heart, sweating, chills, trouble breathing, dizziness, chest pain, stomach pain, and nausea.5 Fortunately, there are natural ways to calm and rebalance your nervous system to help you feel better, think clearer and enjoy your day more.

Quit the Caffeine

Caffeinated beverages are central nervous stimulants that easily cross the blood-brain barrier.6 Studies show that caffeine increases anxiety in those prone to panic or anxiousness, and in sensitive patients, the caffeine in just two cups of coffee increases attacks and worsens their symptoms.7 Simply discontinuing caffeine leads to improvement.8 It may be that those suffering from panic disorder are more sensitive to caffeine because of gene variants in their cells’ adenosine receptors, to which caffeine strongly binds.9,10

One of the easiest and quickest natural solutions is to stop drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks. While Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Mountain Dew are some of the most popular sodas that contain caffeine, many people are surprised to learn that even Sunkist Orange Soda also has caffeine. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a 20-ounce can of Mountain Dew (diet or regular) contains 91 mg of caffeine, Diet Coke 76 mg of caffeine, and Sunkist Orange Soda (diet or regular) 31 mg of caffeine. 

Some soft drinks even rival the amount of caffeine in coffee. While a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks Pike Place Roast drip coffee contains 310 mg of caffeine and is more than soda provides, most varieties of Keurig K-cups deliver 75-150 mg of caffeine per cup and even a 16-ounce cup of decaf Starbucks contains 25 mg.11 

Move Your Body

Exercise good for so much that it’s hard to overestimate the importance of moving your body. Whether your struggle with excess weight, diabetes, heart disease risk, and yes, even anxiety, exercise can help. It’s also as cheap as walking out your door or pulling out your yoga mat. Physical activity has been utilized successfully in both generalized anxiety disorder and in panic disorder. Specifically, brisk walking or jogging on a treadmill for just twenty minutes three times a week helps reduce anxiety.12 And for those who don’t want to pound the pavement, yoga or tai-chi is also effective.13,14

Connect Your Mind and Body

Anxiety may feel like it lives in the body—with a racing heart and sweaty palms—and it may seem to rise up of its own accord, but in truth, it begins in the mind and cognitive approaches can help tame it. For example, psychotherapeutic approaches have been shown to be as effective as medication in reducing anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing unhealthy thought patterns and ingrained behaviors, improves symptoms.15 Mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes one’s ‘witnessing’ calm awareness of body and mind, is also helpful.16 One meta-analysis that examined 36 randomized controlled trials found that meditation reduces anxiety symptoms.17 

Commit to Yourself

Too many people struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries and suffer the consequences. Being pulled in too many directions makes your feel overextended, overwhelmed, and anxious. It’s crucial to make your health and well-being a priority. After all, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. And if you have children, ask yourself if you’re modeling behaviors you want them to do when they grow up. If not, slow down, make your health a priority and nurture yourself before you nurture others. It’s like the flight attendants say before takeoff, put your oxygen mask on before helping others put theirs on. 

Catch Some Zzzzz’s

Lack of sleep can cause anxiety disorders or make them worse.18 If you struggle with anxiety, taking a calming bath or soaking in a jacuzzi before bed may help you relax and sleep better. One of the most common reasons people don’t sleep well is because of technology. Using screens before bed decreases the amount and quality of sleep. In one clinical trial people who read on their tablets before bed took significantly longer to fall asleep and it took them hours longer in the morning to feel fully awake compared to those not on their devices.19 Getting off your phone or tablet thirty minutes to an hour before bed, learning calming breathing techniques, playing white noise while you sleep, and taking Sleep Relief may help. 

Get into Nature

In Japan, there is a practice called “forest bathing.” Getting out into nature is important for balancing your nervous system, boosting your immune system, improving your mood, and restoring feelings of peace and tranquility. Get out into nature and help your body heal. 

Take Calming Nutrients

L-theanine 

This amino acid is found naturally in tea that has been shown to reduce stress and help induce relaxation without sleepiness.20 Brain wave patterns after supplementation with L-theanine resemble those induced by meditation.21  Supplementation with L-theanine has been shown to slow heart rate in settings of acute stress.22 The amino acid also improved sleep satisfaction in a 10-week double-blind placebo-controlled study involving 46 individuals who had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.23 L-theanine has been shown to increase the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and glycine. 

GABA 

Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) is your nervous system’s most abundant relaxation molecule—it functions as a neurotransmitter that slows nerve impulses and helps regulate the “calm and connect” parasympathetic response. It binds to GABA receptors, just like benzodiazepine medications used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks do. However, unlike the medications, your brain naturally produces GABA. A deficiency in GABA promotes chronic hyperarousal and insomnia.24 Lower GABA concentrations have been found in individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and supplementation with GABA increases calming alpha brain waves, reducing anxiety.25,26

Hops (Humulus lupulus

When most people think of hops they think of their favorite beer. In fact, it’s the hos in beer that contribute to the drink’s relaxing effect. In traditional botanical remedies, hops has a long folk history of being used as a mild sedative for anxiety and insomnia. In studies combining it with other calming or sedative herbs, it improved insomnia.27

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap is another plant that has a long history as a popular folk remedy to support relaxation.28 The botanical has a balancing effect on GABA and the stimulating amino acid glutamate.29

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera

In India, Ashwagandha has been used medicinally for more than 3000 years. In Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medical system in India, Ashwagandha is used alone and in combination with other herbs. Ashwagandha helps balance the nervous system, promotes a healthy tolerance to stress and supports a strong immune system.30 In one 12-week, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 50 individuals aged 65-80 years, ashwagandha root extract significantly improved sleep quality and daytime alertness compared to placebo.31

For a clinically validated combination of these and other nutrients to more comprehensively support a healthier, more balanced nervous system, take NBI’s Calm + Clear. 

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References
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