image by Matthew Bietz (lic)Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. Whether it is the fear of an upcoming public speaking situation, or experiencing discomfort before going into a doctor’s office, most people have felt anxiety at some point in their lives. The symptoms of anxiety are well-known and include increased heart rate and shallow breathing, sweating, cold hands, trembling, nausea and/or "butterflies" in the stomach, and a host of other symptoms.
Anxiety is a normal part of life and generally does not need to be treated unless it interferes with a person’s normal daily routine or prevents that person from fully experiencing life. Problematic anxiety occurs when the anxious response is out of proportion to an actual threat (for example, disabling anxiety that prevents a person from attending a social function) or the perceived threat is not real.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Anxiety
Multiple strategies exist for treating anxiety with alternative therapies. Many of these strategies are herbs that have been used by different cultures for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Scientists are just beginning to investigate whether these herbs work for anxiety in controlled studies.
The only well-studied herb that is presently supported for use in treating anxiety is Kava Kava. Other herbs, such as Valerian, Passionflower, Hops, and Chamomile all have a long history of safe use in the herbal community, but don’t have many high quality scientific studies to support their use. This does not mean that these herbs should not be used for anxiety, but that they should only be taken as recommended. Passionflower, Hops, Chamomile and other mildly calming herbs are especially safe when taken alone and not in combination with any other medications.
Complementary medicines for anxiety can be used for a range of anxiety states. Natural anti-anxiety medications can be used for anxiety and insomnia in response to a time-limited stressor (such as before a public speaking engagement, or a big event). Some CAM remedies can also be used just like prescription medications for severe clinical anxiety. More often, though, natural remedies are mild (such as hops and chamomile) and can be taken as a tea before a potentially stressful event or before going to sleep.
The following chart summarizes the common natural treatments for anxiety and the degree of scientific study to support their use:
Natural Therapies for Anxiety
These complimentary medicines have been well-studied for both effectiveness and safety issues and can be recommended on the basis of their scientific and traditional-use background.
These complimentary medicines have at least some clinical studies in humans to support their use along with a long history of traditional use. They can be recommended for use on the basis of their traditional use and their relative safety.
These complimentary medicines lack the support of good clinical studies in humans, but have been used traditionally, or have some studies that suggest that they might be effective. They can be recommended for use with the caution that they are not well-supported by research.
Oats (oat straw)
These are complimentary medicines that cannot be recommended for use because are harmful, not effective, or are too new to make a judgment about their safety or effectiveness.