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What are holistic ways to help anxiety?


Many people want to know if there are things that can help anxiety that don't involve traditional western medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Let's explore different holistic methods that may be helpful for anxiety. As always, please consult with your provider or pharmacist prior to starting any new diet, supplement, or exercise regimen.

So what is anxiety anyways?

Anxiety can feel like a really vague term. We tend to use the word anxiety a lot in our culture in casual conversations. So what is the actual definition of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)? The criteria are as follows:

  • Excessive anxiety and worry over a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive

  • The worry is very challenging to control

  • The anxiety and worry goes along with at least three or more of the following symptoms:

- Edginess or restlessness

- Tiring easily, feeling more fatigued than usual

- Impaired concentration or feeling like your mind is going blank

- Irritability

- Muscle tension

- Difficulties sleeping

What causes anxiety?

Good question! Anxiety is complex and we don't know the exact cause. We think that it is likely due to a number of things. The following are likely factors:

  • Genetics: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) tends to run in families.

  • Biology: Our brains and chemistry likely play a role in anxiety as well. Chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and dopamine likely play a role in anxiety and depression.

  • Environment: Our environment and the stresses we have in our life likely play a large role in anxiety disorders

So what can I do to help anxiety that isn't traditional medication?

There are very effective ways to manage anxiety without the use of medication. First, lifestyle changes are paramount in helping with your day to day anxiety. Some helpful things to look at changing:

  • Diet: Diet is underrated in helping to manage any psychiatric disorder, but especially anxiety disorders. Research has indicated that the microbiome and inflammation can be large influencers of anxiety. Specifically, research has shown that avoiding artificial sweeteners, gluten, and adding omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and turmeric to your diet all can be beneficial. To start, we recommend focusing on eating a varied diet and focusing on "eating the rainbow" of whole foods. This means eating foods of all different colors- such as spinach, carrots, raspberries, blueberries, garlic. It's important to eat the rainbow of whole, unprocessed foods. Unfortunately, skittles do not count.

  • Avoid mind altering substances: This includes caffeine! Stimulants especially can cause a large exacerbation of anxiety. Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and illicit drugs is important to not aggravate anxiety symptoms.

  • Meditation: Studies have shown that mindful meditation can ease anxiety, depression, and pain. Meditation can seem intimidating or we may feel like it simply just won't work for the level of anxiety that is being experienced. Neither of these are the truth-try giving it a try through one of the many free guided meditation apps such as Headspace or Calm!

  • Exercise: Exercise is such a large component of mental health. One study has shown that being physically active halves the risk of developing clinical anxiety over time. Starting small, with a walk or a 10 minute yoga session is a great place to begin. In the long run, we aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise 3-5 days per week to help significantly for depression and anxiety symptoms. Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as an antidepressant in some cases.

  • Sleep: Getting good sleep is essential for your mental health. Check out our previous blog to learn more:

So what about supplements?

Supplements also can play a role in treating anxiety but it is best to use supplements under the guidance of a qualified provider. It is important to know that some supplements may interact with other medications. Supplements may also not be appropriate for you if you have certain underlying psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Certain ingredients in supplements could precipitate worsening of psychiatric illnesses in some individuals. Most supplements also have not been studied in pregnancy or breastfeeding so it is safest to avoid the use in these cases. Due to these factors, ask your healthcare professional prior to starting any supplement.

Supplements that may be helpful for anxiety:

  • Silexan: Silexan is a lavender oil preparation that has some studies showing efficacy in anxiety. Silexan is actually a medication in Germany and has been used for many years to treat anxiety. Silexan works through the serotonin 1-A receptor in the brain which is involved in depression and anxiety. Studies did not find significant side effects over the placebo and it is not addictive. It was studied at doses of 80mg and 160mg.

  • Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a herb that has been shown to be helpful for some individuals with anxiety. It likely works through it's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also impacts the GABA receptor in our brains. The downfall is that Ashwagandha interacts with many common medications.

  • L-Theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid and some studies have shown that it could help with stress and sleep. Other studies have shown that it is not very helpful for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. Studies suggest that doses of 200-400mg could be useful for some stress.

  • Magnesium: Some studies suggest that magnesium could be helpful for anxiety. A recent study in 2018 supported that magnesium might play a role in controlling neurotransmitters in the brain. The most credible studies usually include magnesium lactate or magnesium oxide. Studies have not landed on a dose since research hasn't fully supported taking magnesium for anxiety but doses of 75-360mg have been studied. There are side effects that can occur with magnesium so talk with a doctor before starting.

It is important to point out that the gold standard treatment for anxiety disorders is psychotherapy and potentially psychiatric medications. However, the holistic approaches listed in this article can be helpful adjuncts to your care or can be used in milder forms of anxiety. Work with a mental health profession to find a treatment plan best for you.

Contact Northern Oak Wellness today to schedule a holistic psychiatry consult:



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