Living with intense anxiety can take a huge toll on your life. Not only does it impact your mental and emotional well-being, it can also have far-reaching effects on your physical health and your interpersonal relationships. Anxiety is very common, yet it is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses.
Those are huge numbers – in fact, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness. But what is anxiety? How can you know if what you feel requires treatment?
As many as one in every four American adults will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes, and one in ten will have an anxiety disorder each year.
Facts about Anxiety
Like depression, anxiety is frequently misunderstood. A person who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder may find it difficult to let go of things that other people shrug off easily. They always expect disaster, and can’t stop worrying about thinks like health, money, family, and work.
The symptoms of GAD include:
- Having an unrealistic view of problems and stresses
- Excessive and ongoing tension and worry
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Increased need to urinate
- Being easily startled
GAD is frequently co-diagnosed with other mental disorders, including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
It can be difficult to pin down why one person has GAD and another does not, but there are three main things that appear to factor in:
- Family history. There is some evidence to suggest that GAD runs in families, so if other family members struggle with GAD you may be more likely to get it, too.
- Brain chemistry. When the neural pathways in your brain do not work correctly due to an imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters, it can result in feelings of anxiety and panic that have no basis in reality. There are prescription drugs that can help balance out the brain’s chemistry.
- Environmental factors. When you undergo a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, the stress may lead to anxiety. Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can also trigger an attack of anxiety.
Anxiety attacks can range from the mild to the severe, with the most serious example being a full-scale panic attack.
Alternative Remedies for Anxiety
While there are prescription drugs that treat anxiety, many of them have serious side effects and can be addictive. For that reason, finding alternative treatments may be desirable. Here are 15 of the best:
Drink chamomile tea. Chamomile has long been used as a sleep aid, but it turns out it can work for anxiety too. It binds with the same neuroreceptors as drugs like Valium.
Inhale lavender. Like chamomile, lavender is a traditional folk remedy for sleeplessness. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety – students who breathed in the scent of lavender before an exam felt less anxious while taking it. You might consider putting lavender essential oil in a bath, or simply putting it in simmering water and inhaling it. Products like lavender-scented linen spray may also be helpful for soothing anxiety at night.
Take valerian root. Valerian helps stimulate the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which can help to ease both depression and anxiety. Valerian is available both as a tea and as an herbal supplement.
Add Omega-3s to your diet. You probably already know that Omega-3 – the oil found in cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel – is good for your heart. However, it can also help with anxiety and depression. While Omega-3 is available as a supplement, it’s better to get it from food if you can. If you’re not a fan of fish, try flaxseed oil or chia seeds to get your daily dose.
Drink green tea. Green tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. If you are worried about sleep, make sure to drink decaffeinated tea.
Do breathing exercises. Anxiety can make you feel as if you are out of control, and controlling your breathing can help reinforce the idea that you do have control. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is easy to do. Exhale completely through your mouth, then inhale for a count of four through your nose. Hold your breath for a count of 7, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8.
Get the human touch. Sometimes when you are anxious, you can feel as if you are not in body. A hug from another person can help ground you with reality and with your own physical being. If nobody else is around, try taking your two hands and pressing them hard against your heart.
Take cannabis. While it is still illegal in some states, other such as California, Colorado and Washington have legalized it. Some states that have not legalized marijuana for general use have made it available for medical purposes. Cannabis contains beta-caryophyllene, which has been shown to be useful in treating both anxiety and depression.
Take passionflower. This plant is a natural sedative that can help with anxiety. It is available as a supplement. It is also used as a natural treatment for insomnia.
Warm up. You’ve probably noticed that being physically warm, whether it’s because you’re out in the sun or in a hot bath, can make you feel relaxed and even sleepy. If you’re feeling anxious, think about a shower, bath or sauna as a way of relaxing your body.
Getting a good workout is great for you in a number of ways, but it can be a real lifesaver when it comes to anxiety. Exercising released endorphins and other happy hormones that can ease stress. In addition, while you are working out, it’s more difficult to focus on the things that are worrying you because you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.
Take lemon balm. Lemon balm is another calming herb that is widely available. However, be cautious and start with a small dose, because taking too much can actually increase anxiety. Lemon balm is available in various forms, including capsules, teas and tinctures.
Try meditation. Meditation has a whole slew of health benefits, but perhaps the most dramatic is its ability to reshape the brain. People with GAD may find meditation a challenge, but if you stick with it you may find that it becomes easier to let go of the things that cause you stress.
Eat something. Sometimes anxiety can be exacerbated by a rapid drop in blood sugar. Try having a healthy snack, like walnuts, almonds or a piece of very dark chocolate. Chocolate can also be a mood elevator, and walnuts and almonds contain Omega-3s.
Take some honey. Raw honey has many nutrients that are good for you, and it also has a calming effect. Try adding honey to one of the herbal teas mentioned above for a double dose of calm before bed.
It is important to note that plants such as lemon balm, valerian, passionflower and cannabis should not be taken in conjunction with prescription anti-anxiety medication. Stick to one sedative at a time and figure out which one works best for you. The most important thing to remember is that while GAD may make you feel helpless, you are not. There are things you can do to help minimize and even eliminate your anxiety without spending a lot of money or relying on prescription drugs.