We get it. Anxiety’s a pain. It’s a little more than the nervousness you might feel before, say, giving a public speech, and a little less than full-on panic. It might make you feel out of control and certainly adds a layer of difficulty and emotional fatigue to your everyday life. Thankfully, though, we’re here to help and you’ve got many DIY natural anxiety remedies at your disposal. It goes without saying that the best natural anxiety remedies are those that meet your specific needs, and finding those may take a little experimentation and time. The pursuit, however, is well worth the effort. Let us give you some ideas to guide you on your way.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety itself is a normal and healthy emotion. According to the American Psychological Association, it’s defined by “feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Your brain, in response to a stressful situation, gives your amygdala–two almond-shaped structures in its center–center stage, and the “fight-flight-freeze” response kicks off. This more primitive part of your brain thinks it gets to decide whether you “fight” against whatever stressed you out, “fly” away from it, or “freeze” until it passes.
An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, happens when the duration or severity of the anxiety grows out of proportion to the original stressor or trigger. The symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), according to Medical News Today, can include:
- Restlessness, and a feeling of being “on-edge”
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
- Increased irritability
- Concentration difficulties
- Sleep difficulties
Within the broad category of anxiety disorders, several types exist. Your healthcare practitioner or therapist, if you have one, can diagnose which type you have. Consider these natural anxiety remedies if:
- You’re a DIY-er and want to try them to avoid the cost of anxiety medications
- You’ve taken anxiety medications but the side effects haven’t been worth the benefit
- You’re currently taking anxiety medications and want to supplement them with other helpful remedies.
15 Natural Anxiety Remedies
At Smith Rexall Drug, we believe the best supplements are ones that provide good adrenal and neurotransmitter function as well as mood and sleep support. The supplements we recommend generally contain some mixture of the following minerals, amino acids, and vitamins:
- B vitamins
- D vitamins
A 2017 review of 18 different human studies of magnesium’s effects on anxiety did, in fact, find that it reduced anxiety. How and why it does that isn’t completely understood, although researchers hypothesize that it helps with brain function.
L-lysine is an amino acid that your body can’t make, although it’s essential for several bodily functions. If you can’t get enough from food (see below), take l-lysine supplements. Although more research needs to be done about its effectiveness in human patients, some studies show promising results. One showed that it reduced cortisol levels in poor women in Syria when added to their bread flour. Another study, this time with 50 healthy females and males in Japan, found that l-lysine supplementation reduced anxiety.
B vitamins are also essential to many bodily processes, and can be obtained from food. If you can’t get enough from foods, though (see below for ideas), then you should take B-vitamin supplements. A 2019 review of 18 studies examining the effects of B-vitamin supplementation showed a better-than-placebo effect for overall mood improvement. However, it didn’t show a statistically significant effect on depression or anxiety. More encouragingly, a 2017 review of 14 studies showed that “magnesium and vitamin B6 may be effective in combination in reducing premenstrual stress, and vitamin B6 alone may reduce anxiety effectively in older women.”
Symptoms of a vitamin-D deficiency can include anxiety. Your doctor may in fact do a blood test to check the level of vitamin D in your blood. A 2020 study found a “significant” improvement in anxiety symptoms with vitamin-D supplementation.
A May 2022 randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving chronically stressed otherwise healthy individuals showed that a combination of magnesium, vitamins B6, B9, B12, rhodiola, and l-theanine reduced self-reported stress levels significantly over a month’s time. Also, an April 2022 study found that the kind of l-theanine–an amino acid found in many teas–has multiple health benefits and food applications, among them positive effects on mental health. But more about that later…
As we’ve mentioned before, please keep some things in mind with any supplement you take:
- Some may interact with medications or other supplements you’re taking so consult your healthcare practitioner first.
- Some may have side effects of their own.
- Look for some type of quality control, like third-party testing.
- Investigate, using reliable, scientific sources, whether they’re actually effective.
Foods and Drinks
When it comes to what you eat and drink, there are don’t’s, which are really “you’ll-feel-better-if-you-don’t-consume-these” things in disguise. And there are do’s, which are “you’ll-feel-better-with-these-too” things. They’re both opportunities to say “no” to your anxiety.
Don’t Do Alcohol
A 2017 review of 63 different studies revealed that “improvement of anxiety and depression symptoms, self-confidence, physical and mental quality of life, …and better social functioning can result from reduced alcohol intake.”
Healthline also reports that heavy drinking can interfere with neurotransmitter balance, disrupting mental health. And alcohol has been shown to interfere with good sleep.
Do Do Chamomile tea
Not much research has been done about chamomile’s effects on anxiety, but a small 2016 study did show that “oral intake” of pharmaceutical-grade chamomile helped with anxiety symptoms, with few side effects. Speaking of teas, you might also want to try these teas with L-theanine in them:
- White tea
- Yellow tea
- Green tea
- Dark tea
- Black tea
Do Less Caffeine
TalkSpace, a mental health information website, cautions that caffeine might contribute to your anxiety. The shakiness and rapid heartbeat that can come from caffeine intake can confuse your body, and in some cases cause it to think that it has more reason for concern than it actually does.
Do These Foods
The best foods for anxiety are the ones that naturally contain the minerals and vitamins you need. The foods are less expensive than supplements and more tasty! For magnesium, the Cleveland Clinic recommends 400-420 mg a day for men and 310-320 mg a day for women. The foods most rich in magnesium are:
- Pumpkin seed kernels, 1 oz.=168 mg
- Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz.=80 mg
- Spinach, boiled, ½ cup=78 mg
- Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz. 74 mg
- Pumpkin seeds in shell, 1 oz.=74 mg
Good food sources of L-lysine are:
- Meat, specifically red meat, pork, and poultry
- Cheese, particularly parmesan
- Certain fish, such as cod and sardines
- Soybeans, particularly tofu, isolated soy protein, and defatted soybean flour
- Fenugreek seeds
As to how much you need of L-lysine on any given day, Mount Sinai hospitals recommend you speak to your doctor to find out.
B-complex vitamins include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate or folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). The experts at the National Institutes of Health recommend that adult women consume daily:
- B1: 1.1 mg
- B2: 1.1 mg
- B3: 14 mg NE
- B5: 5 mg
- B6: 1.3 mg
- B7: 30 mcg
- B9: 400 mcg DFE
- B12: 2.4 mcg
Men should consume:
- B1: 1.2 mg
- B2: 1.3 mg
- B3: 16 mg NE
- B5: 5 mg
- B6: 1.3 mg
- B7: 30 mcg
- B9: 400 mcg DFE
- B12: 2.4 mcg
Many foods contain B vitamins, say the experts at Healthline, so it’s easy to get enough from your diet if you’re taking in these foods, among others:
- Meat (poultry and red meat)
- Fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
- Dark green vegetables
- Whole grains and cereals
- Kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas
Vitamin D, on the other hand, can’t be found as easily in foods. You’re best off taking vitamin D supplements, with the occasional glass of orange juice or cow milk fortified with vitamin D.
Why on earth does physical activity help anxiety? Turns out, there are lots of reasons. Harvard Medical School lists some:
- Body movement decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
- An increased heart rate changes brain chemistry and increases the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin and GABA.
- Exercise in general activates the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for executive function. In a way, it’s the amygdala’s parent, telling it to calm down or else.
To some, the words “breathing exercises” evoke images of heavy breathing and hyperventilation. In reality, breathing exercises are much calmer than that. They’re helpful because, when done right, they:
- Ground you in the present moment, allowing you to slow down, concentrate just on slow, full breaths, letting the past and future go, if only temporarily
- Provide more oxygen to the brain than your anxiety-starved lungs are allowing
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The goal of progressive muscle relaxation is similar to that of breathing exercises, and both are usually done in the context of meditation. By systematically tensing particular groups in your body, then relaxing them and focusing on that sense of relaxation, you can release tension. You can choose which muscle groups (e.g., neck, shoulders, forearms) and how many, but follow these guidelines to get the full benefit:
- Find a quiet space and plan for ~15 minutes of quiet time.
- Plan on doing this every day. For the first couple of weeks, do it twice a day in the morning and evening. This practice will make your relaxation routine become more natural, so that you can use it whenever you feel anxious or panicky.
- Ideally, keep track of your levels of overall anxiety before you start and when you’re done, as well as your level of concentration during the exercise.
- Start by tensing your feet, bending your toes over as far as they can go. Notice the tension, how it feels in your feet. Hold that for 10 seconds. Then release, and focus on the feeling of relaxation in your feet for 20 seconds.
- Then tense your lower legs by stiffening them and pulling your feet toward your body. Hold that for 10 seconds. Then release, and focus on the feeling of relaxation in your legs for 20 seconds.
- Move progressively up your body using that same routine. You may want to add your thighs, gluteal muscles, stomach muscles, chest, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and even your mouth, eyes, and face.
Whole mindfulness-based stress reduction 8-week, practitioner-guided programs exist. But in case those aren’t an option for you, you can do your own meditation exercises to reach a state of mindfulness. Mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive [or judgmental] of what’s going on around us,” according to Mindful.org. The site also provides instructions for 5-minute breathing meditations.
Many books have been written on ways to relieve anxiety, from both clinicians and fellow sufferers. Their purposes are generally to help you change your thought patterns. Some are better than others at explaining how in a clear, compassionate way. A few we recommend are:
- The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristen Neff and Christopher K. Germer
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution by David A. Clark, Aaron T. Beck
If someone said to you, “just focus on the good things in your life and the anxiety will go away,” you might think they had no idea what they were talking about. However, gratitude has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression when practiced consistently over time.
As you can see, you do have a lot of natural anxiety remedies available to you. But, as mentioned, they might not be enough in and of themselves. Let us be clear, if they don’t cut it for you, that doesn’t mean you’re broken. It just means you’ll need to bring in a professional to help you, and in that there is no shame. In fact, therapy and medication are often the most effective options.
How to Treat Anxiety When Natural Remedies Alone Aren’t Enough
There are many different kinds of therapeutic “modalities” for anxiety, but the most popular are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. The dictionary defines CBT as “a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders.” In other words, it helps you catch your most troubling thoughts and replace them with ones that are more realistic, logical, self-compassionate, and helpful. Exposure therapy usually includes some kind of incremental exposure to situations or elements that trigger your anxiety. Its purpose is to help you gain confidence in your ability to handle the anxiety that the exposure causes.
As we’ve mentioned, many anti-depressants double as anti-anxiety medications and vice versa. There are several kinds of these medications. The ones we recommend–either SSRIs or SNRIs–work by keeping certain kinds of neurotransmitters bouncing around between synapses longer. Talk with your doctor about your medication options.
The Short of It
Congratulations! You’ve learned about a variety of natural anxiety remedies to keep at your disposal. Take the next step now and tell your problems who’s boss by doing those things that’ll put you back on track to feeling normal.