8 Natural Anxiety Relievers: Which Ones Work?

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8 Natural Anxiety Relievers: Which Ones Really Work; Which One Can Be Deadly

8 Natural Anxiety Relievers: Which Ones Really Work; Which One Can Be Deadly | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Just ask anyone who survived a natural disaster, or has health or financial problems or family issues: anxiety can get you down. Top it with an uncertain future, and it can be downright debilitating.

If it gets too bad, you go to a doctor or therapist, but what if there came a time you couldn’t get there. What natural anxiety relievers could help?

If you’re under some stress right now, you might even want to give a couple a test run so you’ll know what works in the future. Of course, always check with your doctor since none of these can take the place of expert medical care.

Good Anxiety Is Still Anxiety

First, know that, from your mind’s perspective, stress is stress. No matter if your anxiety is because you’re excited your family’s coming in or is related to the aftermath of a disaster, the brain sees it the same. It revs up your body’s energy to prepare you for that fight-or-flight response. Your muscles tense, your heart speeds up.

That extra energy, in moderation, can be just the thing to help you prepare for the holidays or run from, say, a wild animal or help you through a hurricane or tornado. But the energy surge is meant to be short term. In most modern-day situations, all it does is wear you out.

And whether it’s good stress or bad stress, it all adds up. You can’t sleep, you’re tired, your temper grows short. Even worse, this type of stress lowers your immune system, increases body inflammation (which wreaks all sort of havoc), and can lead to numerous health issues.

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Nature’s Anxiety Relievers

Now, I think all of you probably know that exercise, cutting back on sugar and caffeine (because you don’t need any more stimulants), and just saying no to too many Christmas parties can help. But there are some other good natural anxiety relievers with scientific proof to back them up. (There are also some iffy ones and one that’s downright dangerous.)

If you’re going to try any of these, take it slow. They can take several weeks to get to their maximum benefit. And try one at a time. Mixing them together can cause unwanted side effects, as can mixing them with certain other medications. Don’t mix them with alcohol, and always check with your doctor.

1. Fish oil (omega-3 supplements). In a study published last year in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, sixty-eight medical students were studied. Half of them took a placebo. Blood was taken on all at various times, including right before a big exam. The half that took 2,500 mg of fish oil daily had twenty percent less known-stress-producing chemicals in their blood.

2. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) capsules. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, fifty-seven people were divided into two groups. One group took a placebo. The other group took a 220 mg capsule of German chamomile. After a week they could take two capsules a day if they wanted, and so on, up to five capsules a day. After eight weeks the group taking the chamomile reported significantly less anxiety. As to whether other types of chamomile or forms or delivery (tea, oil) work as well, we don’t know, but they’re probably worth a try.

3. Magnesium and B vitamins. Blood samples in people with anxiety often show low B vitamins and magnesium levels, so it’s theorized that taking these supplements might help.

4. Valerian root. Some studies show valerian can help you sleep, but no really good study has been done. Also, the safety of regular use for more than six weeks hasn’t been established. The dose is to take 200 mg three or four times a day.

5. Passionflower. A small study showed 45 drops per day helped relieve anxiety as well as prescriptions sedatives, and with fewer side effects. Other studies have shown an effective dosage of ten to thirty drops three times a day. Drinking a cup of passionflower tea at bedtime has been shown to help you sleep. But its safety—especially when taking it long-term—is unclear.

6. Lavender oil. This aromatherapy has mixed results. Never take it by mouth. Occasionally it can irritate if put on the skin, and don’t apply it to adolescents since there has been evidence of breast enlargement in young boys (it apparently can trigger your body to increase its production of estrogen).

7. St. John’s wort. Mixed results here, also, on treating anxiety. And it can interact with many prescription medications such as blood thinners, birth control pills, and antidepressants, to name a few.

8. Kava. It has been associated with cases of severe liver damage and is not recommended.

Remember, these treatments are for mild anxiety or when you can‘t get expert medical help. I’ve seen too many who try to self-medicate, especially with alcohol or illegal drugs, which doesn’t solve the problem and leads to addiction. If the anxiety is ongoing or getting worse, therapists, psychologists, and medical doctors have stronger, proven options to help, such as prescription medicines, psychotherapy, and biofeedback.

Has anyone tried any of these? How did they work?

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Generalized anxiety disorder artwork courtesy Adams999 on Flickr.

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  • Amanda

    Many years ago I had a major panic attack and the paramedics were called in. The doctor made me take 2 weeks off of work and to not be in stressful situations. B6 really helped. Now whenever I have one (they can come out of the blue sometimes), I take B6 and eat chocolate. Apparently the B6 works on your central nervous system and the chocolate has something in it that soothes you. I actually used B6 to help me quit smoking. It took the edge off of my nicotine fits helping me get through them.. It’s been 26 years since I quite smoking.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Amanda.

  • Kelly Jackson

    I appreciated your exploration of Sunscreen. Now, I am confused about your “Kava causes liver damage” comment. I am writing to you from Bula Kava House in Portland, OR. What I have read is the following: Liver damage has been found only in cases of extraction by chemical means. Please see the book “Kava Nature’s Relaxant for Anxiety, Stress and Pain” -by Hasnain Waliji, Ph.D. And “Hawaiian ‘Awa Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure” -Edited by Ed Johnston and Helen Rogers -Association for Hawaiian ‘Awa -Hilo, HI Thanks for all your info sharing!

    • Kelly Jackson

      Dear Dr. Hubbard! That is great you are able to answer! I appreciate your many abilities! Navigating this Interwebz thing is right up your alley. I have gone to great lengths to learn what you have mastered in the media department!

      Wonder if you have a link to the choices we can make as part time workers fully involved with community, that have no health insurance? Do you have any links to writings that you have shared?

      Best to you! Thanks for all of your good work!

      Kelly Jackson
      Portland, OR

      p.s. I do use http://www.ewg.org! Thanks for confirming that I have a lot of catching up to do on your pages! :)

      • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        Kelly, have you check out the rest of my website? I have written posts, videos, and ebooks. Thanks

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Kelly. My understanding is, about 10 years age, the FDA wrote a warning that Kava was found to be associated with liver damage in humans in some observational studies. Since observational studies are weak. (For instance, someone might find people with liver damage drink more coffee than those who don’t. Since that’s only an association of more coffee and liver cancer–possibly coffee drinkers drink more alcohol that’s the real culprit–the scientists would then do studies looking for a specific chemical in coffee that can be proven to cause damage. Those studies are what you’re alluding to.
      In sunscreen, http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com/2013/06/05/sunscreen-danger/ the approach has been different. They started with specific chemical in some sunscreens that may cause skin cancer in mice. But they’ve never shown any association with actual sunscreen causing cancer in humans. Even if it does, it appears much more risky to not use sunscreen if you’re out in the sun a lot. A good compromise would be to use a sunscreen recommended on the Environmental Working Group website.

      Back to Kava, the risk of associated liver damage is rare but can be fatal. I’m sure more studies will be done and, perhaps, Kava will be deemed completely safe. The current knowledge doesn’t support this. After full disclosure of the most up-to-date findings, it will be up to the individual to decide if the risk is worth the benefit.

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  • http://survivalmedicineblog.com Rev.Laura Bradley, RMT, CCA, MH

    Hi! what you mention are good to relieve day to day, very mild or occassional anxiety and are great to SUPPORT the central nervous system and soothe it, but there are better herbs available known as adaptogens that are cheaper and more helpful for long term use…however, in my own experience both as a homeopathic and master herbalist they will not work to relieve mild to severe anxiety. There are additional herbs to consider such as mulungu and powdered GABA. Both effect the central nervous system much the same way as benzo’s or alcohol does and as such should be used with caution in certain populations. Magnolia Bark is another one to consider. There are also homeopathic remedies to consider, such gelsemium (great for panic attacks btw). There is also Lion’s Tail or Motherwort…however, women of child bearing age should avoid both as they can disrupt the menstrual cycle.
    Kava will NOT work unless properly prepared in the traditional way, although long term use of the dried powder will work LONG TERM, not in the short term. And btw…you would literally have to drink several gallons of properly prepared kava drink in order to begin to see side effects…this is a myth.
    One other thing that is not mentioned by you…most people WILL NOT receive the full benefit of passionflower, german chamomile nor valerian unless it is taken via tincture drops or decoction (strong tea). Capsules, pills and powders for many herbs do not do as well as the afore mentions methods…the digestive system of human beings just can’t extract as well as alcohol or boiling.
    Many herbs will help to put you to sleep if you take enough, but in situations where anxiety is high enough for doctors to prescribe anti-anxiety medications or sleeping pills you will most likely find yourself wide awake in a couple of hours.
    Anyway, what you mention are great starters but for those with real anxiety problems, they will not work.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Rev. Laura, for your experienced opinions.

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  • Sheila Israel

    Don’t take St. Johns Wort if you are photosensitive, suffer from sensory processing disorder or are visually sensory defensive. It makes it worse. Sensory defensiveness is one of those conditions which is often either mistaken or misdiagnosed as an anxiety disorder.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Shelia

  • Jill

    I’ve heard St John’s Wart is liver toxic, so those with Hep C should avoid it. What are your thoughts? Risk vs benefit?

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Jill, St. John’s Wort is metabolized in the liver and can slow down the rate other medications (quite a few) that are metabolized in the liver. Before anyone takes St. John’s Wort they should check into drug interactions and talk to their doctor. Before anyone with Hep C takes any medication, supplement, herb, they should talk to their doctor. Bottom line is, if I had Hep C, I would not take any more medicine metabolized in the liver than I had to. If I needed something for depression, I would go to the doctor and follow his/her advice.

  • Mark Owen

    The thing of it is, everyone is so uptight about everything, relax and let the chips fall where they may. I almost lost my house last year, oh well I ll just have to get another one. I lost my job 3 years ago, so what, I took an early retirement c’est la vie. Just roll with it, the world is supposed to be ending soon, there is nothing you can do about it anyway, live with it and die gracefully. I have been prepping and came to realize I will just have to make the best of it with what I have! I an not a rich man, so I will make the best with what I have, good luck to you and smile you will never get out of this world alive anyway!

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Mark, good points. Most people worry about many things they can’t do anything about.

  • Frank

    I take B2 and calcium/magnesium daily to control migraines, but they don’t do that much for anxiety.

    I’ve taken Valerian Root to help me sleep and it works well. I recommend taking as little as possible though.

    St Jons Wart is one to be careful with. It it basically a natural version of Prozac and if you don’t do well with Prozac (like me) I highly suggest staying away from it.

    The greatest drug against anxiety? Learning to focus your mind on something positive. Works better than anything.

    Although sex is a close second ;-)

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Frank.