When discussing a subject such as anxiety, it’s important to distinguish between a natural response to danger that we have been created with, such as a defense mechanism or the normal stresses of modern life, and a psychiatrically diagnosed illness that is often “treated” with prescription medication. Trying to sort all these factors out is no easy process, as anxiety, of all types, is a complex phenomenon because we as people are complex creatures. Incorporating natural remedies for anxiety relief can help support your body’s natural healing abilities without the use of addictive medications.
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety receive treatment.
What Is Anxiety?
A good place to begin is to see what Webster has to say about the subject. According to the dictionary, anxiety is: “Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.” This gives us a general idea of what anxiety is, but the concern is that there is “anxiety,” and then there is “anxiety.”
Some anxiety cases are very normal, and in fact, we could not survive dangerous or threatening situations without the help of some good old-fashioned anxiety. It is intrinsically tied to the fight-and-flight response that energizes our minds and bodies when we need some extra help to avoid harm to ourselves or others. The anxiety of this sort is an unconscious function of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). For example, if we are hiking through the woods and a mountain lion charges us, we immediately undergo some physical and mental changes, including a healthy dose of anxiety, to react as quickly as possible to save our lives. Our eyes would dilate, our heartbeat would increase, and we would instantly become more alert and attentive. Our digestion would even slow down to make more energy available to our muscles. This kind of anxiety is perfectly normal and necessary to our overall survival.
The stress of everyday life causes another common kind of anxiety. It’s natural to be anxious about the first day of a new job or how we will pay the bills if we are having financial difficulties. This type of anxiety is part of the human condition and always has been to one degree or another. It does seem to be worse for many folks in today’s modern world, and perhaps it’s because of certain lifestyle choices. I believe that even a few generations ago, most folks had a lot more common sense about how to live life in a way that minimized stress instead of maxing it out. A great example is avoiding financial stress by living within your means, and not having an instant gratification mentality, as so many people do today. Most folks from our grandparent’s generation were also a lot more physically active and out in the sun than we are today, and that alone can deter a good amount of anxiety and stress. A very healthy diet is also a great anxiety fighter. For most stressed-out American’s, convenience junk food has replaced the more natural, homegrown diets of our ancestors. It’s getting harder and harder to find “real” food at your average grocery store today. These facts of modern life only act to increase the anxiety in many of us.
The third kind of anxiety that abounds today, and perhaps the most controversial, is the kind the medical profession labels individuals with and usually tries to “manage” with the myriad of medications gladly provided by Big Pharma. The names for these syndromes and disorders are almost endless, and there seems to be a pet medication for each one. The sad part of all this is that most of these “conditions” are not true illnesses, but simply different labels put on the results of the poor lifestyle and nutritional choices that unfortunately define the American Way these days. I am not saying that some people genuinely are afflicted with medical concerns that cause undue anxiety, and in some cases, very prudent use of medications may be warranted. What I am saying is that most of the time, your average doctor will throw drugs at a stressed-out, undernourished patient instead of tutoring them as to how to change the way they are living and learn to make some choices that lead to wellness, and not simply compound the existing problems by covering them up with drugs.
Aside from these misdiagnosed cases of “anxiety,” let’s take a look at some of the legitimate forms of anxiety that can be a challenging burden for folks who are experiencing them, and discuss some management tools that may avoid the use of band-aids such as drugs that only treat the symptoms instead of the root concerns. I want to choose two of the more common anxiety disorders and discuss them in detail: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia).
What are Two of the Most Common Anxiety Disorders?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
In a nutshell, GAD is characterized by consistent and persistent feelings of anxiety without any definable or realistic cause. This type of anxiety is sometimes called “free-floating” anxiety. Individuals who struggle with GAD often say they feel anxious all the time, often for no identifiable reason. More women than men experience GAD, and it is a widespread diagnosis. I suspect that many more people are labeled with GAD than actually “have” it. Unfortunately, many of these people are then prescribed medications that often make matters worse and numb them to make positive solutions to their anxious feelings nearly impossible. However, the symptoms that are officially associated with GAD are as follows:
Symptoms Associated with GAD
- Feeling “on edge” most of the time
- Inability concentrating
- Easily distracted
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
- Profuse sweating
- Unreasonable fears
This is just a general list, and of course, it varies from person to person. Several risk factors have been identified that make a person’s risk of developing GAD greater:
- Chronic stress: People who have consistently high levels of stress, such as relational or financial, tend to develop more signs linked to GAD.
- Certain medical conditions: These include chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, alcoholism, hypertension, and fibromyalgia, among others. Other conditions such as hyperthyroidism can also significantly contribute to forms of anxiety such as GAD.
- Family history: If GAD runs in your family, your risk for struggling with it personally increases. This may be more of a learned behavior related to how one deals with stress rather than genetic.
- Certain personality types: Some folks are just more high-strung than others, and they have a greater likelihood of developing anxiety disorders.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This condition, also known as social phobia, is really just an abnormal amount of difficulty with people and situations that we all experience to one degree or another. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed “mental disorders” in the Western World, and again I suspect it is grossly overdiagnosed. It is typically associated with such signs as:
- Extreme anxiety about meeting new people or being judged by them.
- Anxiety about others noticing that you are anxious (fear of fear itself)
- Unrealistic thoughts that people are talking about you or judging you
- Fear of entering a room or meeting late so that everyone notices you.
- Typical symptoms of GAD, as listed above, with the addition of blushing, trembling, and heart palpitations.
Like with all anxiety disorders, symptoms can fluctuate depending on the levels of stress in a person’s life at any given moment. Some folks have a much more difficult time if they have not gotten enough sleep or are not taking care of themselves by eating well and getting ample exercise and relaxation time. The truth be known, I think all of us could be diagnosed with any number of anxiety disorders on any given day. It is simply part of the human condition to react better or worse to the stresses of life depending on what is going on inside us and in the world around us.
What Natural Remedies for Anxiety Relief are Available?
Below are 10 natural remedies for anxiety relief that can help all types of anxiety disorders include taking some common-sense steps to learn to deal with anxiety and stress in better, more constructive ways.
→ Find Someone to Talk To
The first of the natural remedies for anxiety relief is to find somebody to talk to when you are feeling anxious. Keeping it inside only makes it worse. This could be a professional relationship with a therapist or counselor, a pastor, or just a trusted friend who is willing to listen and help you through the tough times. Most people who suffer from abnormal amounts of anxiety tend to isolate themselves from others, which is the worst thing they can do.
→ Go After the Root Concern
It may take some time to identify one or multiple sources of your anxiety, but try to identify it and tackle it head-on. For example, if you find yourself anxious about your finances, sit down and make a budget, and change your spending habits if possible to live within your means. All change is difficult at first, but an approach like this brings lasting, real change, not just temporary relief.
→ Physical Exercise
Enough cannot be said about getting up and partaking in some physical activity, especially outside activities, when you are anxious. Take a walk in nature, get involved in an outside sport, ride a bicycle, work in your garden, etc. It will help you feel better mentally and physically and stimulate biochemical changes in your body that can help relieve anxiety.
→ Get Enough Healthy Sleep
The habit of skimping on sleep may actually cause long-term concerns in virtually every aspect of your health. In the United States, 50-70 million adults experience sleep deprivation and insomnia, and the numbers continue to grow. A Sleep in America poll conducted in 2005 showed that people diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep less than six hours at night. In a 2007 study of 10,000 people, those with insomnia were five times more likely to develop depression than those without. In fact, insomnia is often one of the first symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Sleep loss often aggravates the symptoms of anxiety, and anxiety can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Getting healthy sleep is extremely important. On the positive side, treating sleep concerns can help anxiety and its symptoms, and vice versa. And a reminder that it is during the hours of sleep that your body works the hardest to heal and repair.
→ Eat a Healthy Diet
Most pre-packaged foods contain chemicals that act as xenoestrogens (hormones), refined sugar, and hormone-laden milk can have a definite effect on your emotional health. Focus on organic or fresh locally grown vegetables & fruit, free-range meat, organic nuts & seeds, green tea, and healthy, organic raw juices.
→ Saliva Test Your Sex and Thyroid Hormones
This is something that many practitioners often overlook. Saliva testing one’s estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol levels are highly recommended. The endocrine system has a definite effect on the entire body, and unbalanced hormones can definitely cause emotional concerns. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are linked to many health concerns such as depression, anxiety, infertility, weight gain, heart defects, early puberty, diabetes, complications during IVF treatments, breast and prostate cancers just to name a few.
→ Cleanse Your Body
Performing a liver and digestive tract (sometimes called the second brain) cleanse can actually support good emotional health. One of the many symptoms of a toxic liver is emotional concerns such as anxiety. Research shows a definite link between anxiety and the gut and how the good and bad bacteria directly influence this link in the gut. With this research, we know that the gut, and not just the brain, is one of the chief instigators of anxiety.
→ Hi-Tech Supplements
Get on an organic multi-vitamin-mineral supplement and take it daily. Other supplements to research include adrenal glandulars, Lithium Orotate, Vitamin D-3, B-12 (methylcobalamin), as well as B complex and Magnesium Orotate. Research herbs such as peppermint leaf, passionflower, lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, and ashwagandha. Harmful bacteria are known to ramp up anxiety, and more than several studies show that probiotics and prebiotics can have the opposite effect. If you are on any prescription meds, be sure to research any contraindications with herbs or supplements.
→ Deep Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
With anxiety often comes shallow, fast breathing. This can lead to a fast heart rate, dizziness or lightheadedness, or even a full-blown panic attack. Mindful Breathing — the deliberate process of taking slow, even, deep breaths — can restore normal breathing and reduce anxiety. When you practice mindful breathing, you gain a helpful skill to use whenever you need to quiet and clear your mind. Just following a few breaths—in and out, in and out—can relax your mind and body so you can calmly observe and respond to the world around you, rather than mindlessly reacting to events.
Meditation is a simple practice that can help you relax, reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, most natural medicine practitioners highly recommend meditation as one of the most helpful self-healing modalities. All you need to do is find a quiet space that is free from distractions and sit with your eyes closed for a while. Allow your thoughts to float in and out without getting attached to any of them. Concentrate on your breath. There are different types of meditation, and although the techniques may differ, their goal is the same – to help you relax, calm your mind and gain control of your thoughts. You can meditate on scripture while listening to calming hymns or other music, or just by closing your eyes and breathing slowly. Practiced over a period of time, meditation can help to uproot negative thoughts and make you a more positive, happy, and satisfied person. Research from John Hopkins suggests 30 minutes of daily meditation may alleviate some anxiety symptoms and act as an antidepressant.
→ Face Your Fears
One suggestion that may help a person who has an issue with social phobia, for example, would be to arrange opportunities to tackle the issue head-on. Some ideas might include:
- Attend a social event that may typically make you anxious with a trusted friend as your support person.
- Think ahead of time about topics for discussion to avoid “small-talk” anxiety. Often instigating conversation will remove some of your uncomfortable feelings and fears.
- Practice doing things that make you anxious, like speaking to a stranger or asking a clerk in a store to help you find something.
- Practice the mantra: Fear Is A Liar.
Just a reminder that fear signals danger to your body and sets up a fight, flight, or freeze response, which sends a wave of immune-damaging stress hormones into your body. Once you begin to see that you can overcome your fears, they will have less power over you. It sure beats taking a drug to numb you so that you don’t think about your concerns. That is not a real solution.
It is not my purpose to minimize in any way the sufferings of individuals who have anxiety. I do not want to make light of legitimate concerns that cause anxiety in people’s lives. In most cases, the use of medications is not a long-term answer that is going to best help a person get well and overcome their anxiety concerns. Getting to the root cause of anxiety using natural remedies for anxiety relief is the best long-term answer to help people heal and get well. And it will take time. Unfortunately, that is not the opinion of many modern health care providers and the drug companies that work hand-in-hand with most of them. There are better natural remedies for anxiety relief in most cases than by covering it up with a drug; however, it takes working with a knowledgeable practitioner and/or counselor that knows what the body needs to repair and heal – both physically and emotionally.