For many people, alternative anxiety treatments can bring relief from their symptoms when medical approaches (like using anti-anxiety medications) have failed. Not everyone responds to well to prescription drug treatment for anxiety. The side effects and potential withdrawal symptoms can sometimes outweigh any perceived benefit from the drug, especially over the long-term.
Alternative anxiety treatments have the benefit of not relying on habit-forming medications, and many have been thoroughly researched in universities around the world to determine both effectiveness and safety. Although the medical community in the United States continues to focus on medication as a cure for anxiety, there is a growing movement among doctors and researchers toward a more natural or holistic approach to this common emotional problem.
Contrary to popular misconception, anxiety is not a disease or “medical disorder.” Anxiety is in fact an emotional state, most commonly associated with an impending feeling of doom, apprehension, insecurity and worry. These feelings can produce very real physical anxiety symptoms. The most common of these are dizziness, breathing difficulties (hyperventilation), rapid heart beat, chest pains, and upset stomach or nausea.
To calm the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety, and its more acute cousin: the panic attack, there is growing evidence that alternative treatments are often as effective as pharmaceuticals, without the potential for harmful side effects. We’ll briefly review five well-documented alternative treatments for anxiety.
1. Diet Changes to Reduce Anxiety. It is well known that caffeine can contribute to anxiety; as can excessive amounts of sugar or alcohol. Many anxiety sufferers find relief from their symptoms by simply modifying their diet. Eliminating stimulants such as caffeine and replacing them with herbal teas (for example) can make a great difference over the course of a few weeks. Chamomile Tea and Skullcap tea are two herbal blends that have long been reported to have soothing affects.
2. Natural Herbs and Supplements. St. John’s Wort has received a great deal of attention in the media for its calming effects, and has been researched extensively to ensure that it is safe to use. This natural herb has also been shown to be an effective treatment for moderate depression. Melatonin is another supplement that has long been used to combat sleep disorders and insomnia. There are now several studies that suggest melatonin may also be an effective anti-anxiety treatment.
3. Guided Visualization Techniques. Evidence suggests that using visualization techniques to change the emotional state can be as effective as many prescription drugs for anxiety. These techniques can be used independently, or while listening to a guided visualization CD or tape, to assist the user in “visualizing” more peaceful harmonious feelings throughout the body. The combination of soft relaxing music and gentle guidance can be quite relaxing, and when used consistently, can help to reduce both physical and emotional anxiety symptoms.
4. Breathing Exercises. Proper breathing techniques can contribute to a more peaceful, relaxed state of well-being. As hyperventilation is a common problem among anxiety sufferers, practicing controlled breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety symptoms, and reduce the chances of hyperventilating in a high anxiety situation.
5. Relaxation Techniques and Exercises. Research suggests that practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi can help reduce anxiety. Practicing meditation has also been shown to calm the mind, promoting feelings of well-being. Tai chi in particular can be beneficial, as it encourages mindfulness and controlled breathing.
Each of these alternative anxiety treatments can be beneficial in its own right, and many natural health practitioners suggest using one or more of these treatments simultaneously, in order to affect the greatest change in the user’s emotional state and eliminate the “mental environment” that allows anxiety to flourish. Remember, it is important to talk to your doctor before using natural anxiety treatments, taking herbs or supplements, or beginning an exercise program.