Anxiety can be a walking nightmare. Living with it can inhibit enjoyment of day to day life and cause chronic health conditions due to your body being in a constant adrenaline state. Some anxiety medications can cause undesired side effects and don’t actually fix the problem. They are more of a temporary band-aid to help you get through until your next bout of anxiety or panic attack. Implementing healthy life style changes along with these herbal remedies for anxiety may help get you on your path toward a less anxious life.
Green tea is technically considered a “tea” and less of an “herbal remedy” but regardless, it helps with anxiety. In the first post of this series (Avoiding Triggers) I mentioned the importance of staying away from caffeine, but this is where I make an exception. Green tea is high in L-theanine. L-theanine essentially boosts GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) in your brain.
Without GABA you would feel constantly anxious, all the time! SO, this Neurotransmitter (GABA) acts to calm down those nerve impulses. (source) Again you can take this as a supplement, but I try to limit how many supplements I take at a time. We just don’t really know if it acts the same in the body, or what the long term side effects could be.
So I say, just try the tea. It’s cheap, (has so many benefits!) and it’s enjoyable! You can actually drink black and oolong tea as well to get the benefits since they are made from the same leaves. Green tea just tends to have less caffeine and more antioxidants.
If you’re trying to get larger doses, you could always try some matcha. It has 4-5 times as much L-theanine per cup. If you’re interested in getting your own matcha, do your research. Many are contaminated with heavy metals. Domatcha is one of the more reputable brands. It’s the one I buy. It’s pricey but amazing quality, and a tiny bit goes a long way. One tin has lasted me quite a while, but I don’t drink it very often simply because I prefer other herbal teas. My husband likes it, but he’s strange and puts it in his morning oatmeal.
If you find that you don’t like to drink matcha, which surprisingly I don’t even though I love green tea, you can simply sprinkle a bit into smoothies or hide it easily into other foods.
Herbal Remedies for Anxiety
Herbal bitters are herbs that aid the digestive system. They literally do this simply because they taste bitter. The bitterness stimulates our salivary glands and the rest of our digestive system. This counters those anxious feelings we get by activating the GI tract. The body figures if we are activating the stomach, then there must be no immediate threat or danger. This is part of our fight or flight response.
Basically, when our body feels like there is danger, it activates our fight or flight response. Our body shuts down functions that aren’t necessary for a fight (a way to help us defend ourselves) such as the digestive system. If you stimulate your digestive system during times of anxiety, it sends a trigger to our brain that says “if we’re sitting around eating, there must be no danger.” Your body starts to go back to its “normal” state, reducing the feelings of anxiety. Eating or drinking these bitters usually help in the moment, not to mention have other wonderful effects on the body as well, but that’s for a whole other article.
The most common, and most pleasant, bitters that you’ve probably heard of are
- Milk thistle
These are great in tea form. They are all pretty tasty, with the exception of the dandelion tea. However mixed with other herbs it gets better tasting, and really it’s not that bad, just kinda tastes like dirt. It’s what I refer to as an “earthy” taste. The whole point is to have that bitter taste anyhow, and over time you’ll probably grow to actually enjoy it.
If you need a bit of a quicker fix during your most anxious times, you may want to try a bitter tincture. These tinctures are alcohol extractions of the bitter herbs. The herbs literally soak in alcohol for a few weeks or even months. The alcohol absorbs many of the beneficial nutrients of the herbs and then it’s strained off. Leaving you a concentrated version of the herbal properties. They are much stronger than the teas, so much less is used. You can get a Milk thistle tincture or Dandelion tincture. This tincture by urban moonshine is an all organic mix of bitters in tincture form. A mix is beneficial because the herbs often work synergistically causing a greater effect with a smaller amount of herbs. This one even has orange peel extract making it still bitter, but often a bit easier to tolerate taste wise than others.
If you are avoiding alcohol (it’s a really small amount) you can try a glycerite tincture instead. These are made by extracting the herbal properties with a sugar base. You can get the same bitter herbs above but in glycerite form. Such as this dandelion tincture.
Another one of my favorite herbal remedies for anxiety is Ginseng. Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It’s known to have too many benefits to list here, so I’m going to just focus on the anti-anxiety effects. One study (source) suggests that ginseng can have similar effects as diazepam, a popular anti-anxiety medication. (As a cancer nurse, I’ve given a lot of diazepam & can tell you, it’s some strong stuff. It can also )It goes on to state that ginseng isn’t effective in a single dose for acute anxiety, however when taken regularly in divided doses it helps significantly decrease stress overall.
Per livestrong.com “Healthy adults may take 200 milligrams of standardized dried extract up to three times daily. Adults may alternatively take 1 to 2 grams of fresh root or 1/2 to 2 grams dried root once daily. Panax ginseng tincture is administered as 1 to 2 teaspoons, while fluid extract is administered as 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons up to three times each day.” They also recommend only taking it for two or three weeks and then to break for two or three weeks. You can find Ginseng Panax tincure here.
You can find Ginseng Panax tincture here. Make sure you are getting Ginseng Panax, as it is considered the most potent.
Lemon balm has been used medicinally since medieval times. It’s a nervine and mild sedative. One study showed healthy individuals who took 600mg of Lemon balm daily noticed a significant increase in “calmness” levels. However, they also reported a decrease in their “alertness” levels, which could be good or bad. It tends to work better when combined with other herbs such as chamomile and valerian root. Lemon Balm is a staple in our household.
We make a kid-friendly bedtime tea that the whole family drinks up every night. It contains lemon balm, chamomile, and catnip. They work together to aid digestion after dinner and promote a calm, relaxed state. Basically priming everyone for bedtime. Learn how to make it here. (FYI, super easy) You can get lemon balm tea bags here or loose leaf lemon balm (my personal choice, you can read about why you should switch to loose leaf herbs here.)
Passion flower is another herb that works on anxiety because of (again) it effects on GABA levels in the body. It calms the activity of the nerves in the brain. It works best when used in combination with other anti-anxiety herbs. You can get organic passion flower here.
According to calm clinic DO NOT take passionflower if you’re pregnant, as it can stimulate uterine contractions. It’s also suggested to restrict use to less than 2 months at a time.
The Heavy Hitting Herbal Remedies for Anxiety
there was a significant reduction in anxious behavior when valerian extract or valerenic acid exposed subjects were compared to the ethanol control group. The evidence supports Valeriana officinalis as a potential alternative to the traditional anxiolytics”
This study was done on rats, and the “stressor” was a maze, but the results are still promising. Valerian is most known for its ability to help induce and promote sleep. You can get valerian root as a stand alone herb, or you can make a tea with a combo of other anti-anxiety herbs. It’s another one of those herbs that work better when taken regularly for a couple weeks. According to NYU Langone Health, the dosage for anxiety should be 120- 200mg, 3-4 times a day.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that Kava Kava
has been used as a ceremonial drink in the Pacific Islands for hundreds of years. Some people report its effects are similar to alcohol.”
Kava is known as a powerful anti-anxiety herb. However, UMM also warns that Kava could potentially cause harm to the liver. I have never personally used Kava Kava, and the more information I find on it, I wouldn’t personally use it unless under the close supervision of a trusted Herbalist or Naturopath. The evidence shows that it does help reduce anxiety and promote “feelings of calmness.” Which makes it a great candidate to try if all other remedies have not worked. Again, this is one that really needs to be supervised by a trusted medical professional, so they can monitor your liver and ensure no harm is caused.
This is part 3 (Best Herbal Remedies for Anxiety) in a 3 part series on Dealing with Anxiety
Part 3: Dealing with Anxiety: Best Herbal Supplements for Anxiety (You are here.)