Anxiety is a state of apprehension, tension, and uneasiness in response to a perceived threat. Although anxiety is considered a normal response to temporary periods of stress or uncertain situations, prolonged, intense, or inappropriate periods of anxiety may indicate an anxiety disorder.
There are several distinct types of anxiety disorders, each with its own set of risk factors, symptoms, and/or treatment options. They include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder
Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but some people are uneasy so often — or have scary episodes called panic attacks — that anxiety interferes with their normal life. Taking B vitamins, certain minerals, and calming herbs may help.
Rapid heartbeat and breathing.
Excessive perspiration, chills, or hot flashes.
Muscle tension, headaches, and back pain.
Low sex drive.
Inability to relax.
When to Call Your Doctor:
Do not replace prescription anti-anxiety medications, such as alprazolam, lorazepam, or diazepam, with herbs or supplements without talking to your doctor. Cutting back suddenly can be dangerous.
Anxiety symptoms can mimic those of a serious illness, or may be caused by certain medical conditions or drugs. See your doctor to rule out these as possibilities.
Reminder: If you have a medical or psychiatric condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
What It Is:
When faced with a potentially dangerous situation — a large barking dog, for example — anxiety is a healthy response. Your brain, sensing the danger, signals for the release of hormones to prepare your body to defend itself. Muscles tense, heartbeat and breathing rate increase, and the blood even becomes more likely to clot (in the event of injury). In some individuals, this response is set in motion even when there is no obvious threat. Such a reaction can be bad for your health, causing exhaustion, poor concentration, a sense of detachment from yourself or your surroundings, headaches, stomach problems, and an increase in blood pressure.
Anxiety disorders come in two basic forms. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition that involves a recurring sense of foreboding and worry accompanied by mild physical symptoms. A panic attack, on the other hand, comes on suddenly and unexpectedly, with symptoms so violent that the episodes are often mistaken for a heart attack or another life-threatening condition.
Panic attacks are surprisingly common: About 15% of Americans will suffer at least one in their lifetime. And as many as 3% of adults have these attacks frequently.
What Causes It :
Some scientists think that the central nervous systems of people with anxiety disorders may overreact to stress and take a longer time than most to return to a calmer state. Anxiety may begin with an upsetting event — an accident, divorce, or death — or it may have no identifiable root.
There may also be a biochemical basis for anxiety. Studies have shown that people who are prone to panic attacks have higher blood levels of lactic acid, a chemical produced when muscles metabolize sugar without enough oxygen. Other research suggests that anxiety may be the result of an overproduction of stress hormones by the brain and adrenal glands.
How Supplements Can Help :
In many cases, herbal and nutritional remedies for anxiety can be used in place of prescription drugs, which may be addictive and have other unpleasant side effects. Several studies have shown that the herb kava is very useful for anxiety-perhaps as effective as prescription drugs; it reduces symptoms such as nervousness, dizziness, and heart palpitations. In addition, people with anxiety should add calcium, magnesium, and a vitamin B complex supplement, plus extra thiamin. These nutrients are important for the healthy functioning of the nervous system, especially for the production of the key chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters.
Valerian, known as a sleep aid, can be used at low doses throughout the day for a calming effect. Try this herb if kava doesn’t work for you. Even if you’re taking kava during the day, you can have a nighttime dose (250 to 500 mg) of valerian if you have trouble falling asleep. St. John’s wort can be added to kava or valerian if you are depressed as well as anxious. At least a month is needed before the full effect of St. John’s wort will be felt; the other supplements begin working immediately.
What Else You Can Do:
Cut out caffeine, alcohol, and excess sugar, which may trigger anxiety.
Do aerobic exercises regularly. They burn lactic acid, produce natural feel-good chemicals (endorphins), and enhance your use of oxygen.
See a therapist to develop more positive ways of coping.
Chamomile makes a pleasant floral tea that will relax you without making you sleepy. It contains apigenin, which animal tests show affects the same brain receptors as anti-anxiety drugs, yet it’s nonaddictive. Chamomile can be used with kava or other botanicals.
Breathing techniques can often help you manage a panic attack. Inhale slowly, to a count of four; wait, to a count of four; exhale slowly, to a count of four; and wait, to a count of four. Repeat until the attack subsides.
Individuals with anxiety symptoms may be uniquely sensitive to caffeine, several studies indicate. Try reducing your caffeine intake — do it slowly to minimize withdrawal symptoms such as headaches — and see if it eases your anxiety.
Vitamin B Complex
St. John’s Wort
Dosage: 250 mg 2 or 3 times a day as needed.
Comments: Look for standardized extracts in pill or tincture form that contain at least 30% kavalactones.
Dosage: 600 mg of each a day.
Comments: Take with food; sometimes sold in a single supplement.
Vitamin B Complex:
Dosage: 1 pill, plus extra 100 mg thiamin, each morning with food.
Comments: Look for a B-50 complex with 50 mcg vitamin B12 and biotin; 400 mcg folic acid; and 50 mg all other B vitamins.
Dosage: 250 mg twice a day.
Comments: Should be standardized to contain 0.8% valerenic acid. May cause drowsiness; take at bedtime for insomnia.
St. John’s Wort :
Dosage: 300 mg 3 times a day.
Comments: Should be standardized to contain 0.3% hypericin.
Source:Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs (Reader’s Digest)