Many of us lead fast-paced lives and live out of sync with natural rhythms by going to sleep late, waking early, working long hours, not taking enough rest and leisure time, and eating when we’re not hungry. However, for the over 14 million Americans who suffer from anxiety, there is a pervading sense of unease and even fear that diminishes their quality of life.
Typically, people feel tension, worry, irritability, frustration, or hopelessness. The sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) is activated, causing symptoms such as poor concentration, fatigue, poor sleep, and restless, irritable, feeling tense or on edge, and muscle tension. People may also notice changes in physical health such as headaches, jaw pain, dry mouth, chest tightness, poor digestion, irritable bowel, acne, sexual dysfunction, and heart palpitations.
Other areas may be impaired
The combination of chronic stress, poor sleep, poor diet, use of stimulants such as coffee, and long work hours can deplete the body and lead to condition holistic doctors call “adrenal fatigue”. Decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, fatigue, dark under-eye circles, weakness, frequent colds and flu, thin skin, and accelerated aging, and the feeling burned out characterize it. In traditional Chinese medicine, this condition is called kidney deficiency.
Conventional treatments center on anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax or BuSpar. Anti-depressants may also help. These are best used as short-term strategies. Counseling can help address underlying issues.
Eliminating coffee should be the first step. There is significant clinical evidence showing that it can be all that is needed in some cases. Other foods that may worsen anxiety in excess are refined sugar honey, maple syrup, and cow’s milk products.
Nutritional Supplements & Vitamins
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – GABA is an amino acid that is known to play a role in the physiology of anxiety. Prescription drugs for anxiety such as Valium and Xanax work by affecting GABA receptors in the brain. However, the degree to which orally ingested GABA supplements can reach the brain is unknown.
Other nutritional supplements used for anxiety include pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B complex.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb that is used widely in Europe for nervous anxiety, tension, agitation, and insomnia. Native to Polynesia, kava appears to work in a similar way to prescription benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Valium, with similar effectiveness.
Kava does not appear to cause mental drowsiness unless taken in large doses. Nevertheless, it is best to use caution until you know the extent of its effects on you. The benefits are often noticeable within weeks, but some people notice improvement after as little as a week. People who have had dystonic reactions from antipsychotic drugs or who have Parkinson’s disease, as case reports indicate that kava may interfere with dopamine, should not use kava.
People taking benzodiazepine such as Valium should only take kava under the strict guidance of a qualified professional.
Valerian is an herbal tranquilizer that is best known as a remedy for insomnia. It calms the nervous system, balances mood swings, and is not habit-forming. One study found that it might have calming effects during stressful situations. It can be blended with other herbs such as hops or passionflower. Children, pregnant or nursing women, should not use Valerian.
People with serious health conditions, or who are taking prescription drugs for mood or neurological disorders should consult a qualified professional before taking Valerian.
- Lemon balm
These calming herbs are frequently recommended for anxiety.