19 of the Best Herbs and Supplements for Natural Anxiety Relief (Backed by Science)

Most people experience anxiety at one time or another.  Whether it’s a bad case of butterflies before your next dental cleaning or loss of sleep because you’re worrying about work.

Having anxious thoughts every now and again is normal, but if it’s stopping you from making the most out of your life, it’s time to do something about it.

What the experts say: “Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric illnesses in the United States, with approximately 30% of the population experiencing anxiety symptoms in their lifetime.” Aviva Rom MD [1]

Anti-anxiety medications can be addictive and have unpleasant side effects. So if you want to know how to reduce anxiety naturally to improve your overall sense of well-being, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are a number of effective options.

Modern medical research has revealed that there are a number of safe, effective herbs for anxiety relief — many of which have been used for centuries, dating back to our ancient ancestors.

In this article, we’ll combine ancient wisdom with modern medical research to share the very best herbs and supplements for natural anxiety relief. Once you’ve learned about these natural remedies, we’ll share some proven lifestyle habits that can help bring you the relief you’ve been looking for.

So, if you’re looking for natural anxiety relief, read on. We may have the answer for you.

 

leaning on balcony

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Before we get started, a short primer on anxiety.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is characterized by feelings of tension and worried thoughts. This psychological condition can also result in physical changes such as increased blood pressure. [2]

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) define the most common anxiety symptoms as:

  • Nervousness or irritability
  • A sense of impending danger
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation, sweating or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems [3]

What are the Long-Term Effects of Anxiety?

We all feel anxious sometimes. In fact, it’s helpful to have a rush of adrenaline every now and again to get you through a difficult situation. But long-lasting chronic (routine and long-lasting) anxiety is not healthy.

Chronic anxiety can result in stress which means there’s too much cortisol (the stress hormone) racing around your system. This can affect you emotionally and physically, increase your risk of heart disease, digestive and bowel problems, immune system deficiencies, respiratory issues, insomnia, and depression. [4]

 

What Causes Anxiety?

In order to treat your anxiety symptoms, it’s important to understand the root cause.

While your source of anxiety may be different than mine, the APA cites these factors as the most common causes of anxiety:

  • Past or childhood experiences – such as abuse, neglect or the loss of a parent
  • Lifestyle choices – such as long working hours, stress, and financial problems
  • Physical and mental health problems – including living with an ongoing medical disorder, or mental health issue such as depression
  • Drugs and medication – side effects from meds for physical or mental disorders, or from recreational drugs or alcohol [5]

Indeed, there are many factors that can lead to anxiety, but whatever the root cause may be, rest assured there are plenty of proven options to help give you the relief you’ve been looking for.

 

How to Get Rid of Anxiety

Traditionally, anxiety has been treated with drugs such as the benzodiazepines Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.

These drugs can be highly addictive and some people experience a wide-range of side-effects. There is also evidence to show they can impact your cognitive function in the short and long term. [6]

Also – although these drugs may help reduce your symptoms in the short term, they don’t address the cause of your anxiety so they may not be a long-term fix.

If you’re considering trying an anti-anxiety medication, make sure to consult with your doctor. These medications may be the best option for some individuals, but if you’re looking for safe, natural alternatives to overcoming anxiety, then keep reading because we’re about to dive right into the very best options.

 

What are the Best Herbs for Anxiety?

All the anti-anxiety herbs in this list have been rigorously tested and proven to be effective treatments.

Herbal supplements that help with anxiety are often available as essential oils, but sometimes they are taken orally as a capsule or a herbal tincture. A tincture is a concentrated extract of the herb which can be taken directly, dropped into water or added to health drinks for convenience.

 

jasmine

Lavender

Lavender is known for its beautiful flowers and fragrance and is widely used in aromatherapy. But did you know that it’s proven to be one of the best herbal remedies for anxiety?

Studies have shown that the effects of lavender are comparable with benzodiazepines – but without the side effects. Scientists think that lavender may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by acting as a mild sedative on the central nervous system and promoting relaxation. [7]

A 2005 study found that being exposed to the scent of lavender reduced anxiety in dental patients. [8]

Lavender is available as a pill or essential oil to promote calm during the day and aid sleep at night.

It is commonly taken as tea, but if you prefer you can take a dose of lavender oil (80 mg a day), drop it into a diffuser, pop a few drops on your pillow or a relaxing bath or anoint your temples and wrists.

If you are pregnant, you should only use lavender externally, although it is safe to take it internally while breastfeeding.

There is some evidence that lavender can have estrogenic effects, so if you have a history of estrogen receptor positive cancer, consult with your doctor beforehand.

Other potential side-effects of taking lavender orally include headaches, constipation, low blood pressure, and an increase in the sedative effect of other supplements and medications. [9]

The average dosage in supplement form is 400 mg, either taken once or split across two capsules a day.

 

curcumin

Curcumin

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is known to contain phytochemicals that have a powerful inflammatory effect and have been shown to reduce the symptoms of both anxiety and depression. [10]

This bright yellow herb is often used in Indian dishes, but can also be added to soups and stews and taken as a tea or a supplement.

To get the best health benefits of curcumin, you really need to use a quality supplement as you’d need to eat a lot of curry to get a high enough dosage, and curcumin is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream unless it has been optimized for absorption.

While curcumin is safe for most people, it can inhibit some drugs such as anticoagulants, aspirin and Warfarin, and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or diclofenac. It’s also not recommended for people with some health conditions such as diabetes, iron deficiencies or bleeding conditions. It is not recommended for pregnant women.

If you have an existing health condition always consult with your doctor before starting any program of supplementation.

A regular dosage of curcumin is 500 mg daily, but studies have shown that taking 500 mg twice a day is effective for anxiety. [11]

 

medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi are adaptogens – a class of herbs with a long history in Chinese traditional medicine that help you adapt to stress by regulating the response of the adrenal glands.

Reishi is one of the best calming herbal medicines and is particularly useful if you take it at night to aid sleep.

One study found that the use of reishi reduced symptoms of anxiety in patients with breast cancer. [12]

While you are unlikely to experience side-effects from taking reishi, it should be noted that there is very little safety data available. It is not advised to take reishi while pregnant, breastfeeding, if you have a bleeding disorder, low blood pressure or are about to have surgery. [13]

The normal dosage is 3-9 g dried mushroom in capsules, or 2-4 ml tincture in water, 2-3 times a day.

 

ashwagandha

Ashwagandha

The ancient Ayurvedic remedy, ashwagandha – translates as “smell of horse” – is another adaptogen, traditionally used to treat anxiety and aging, and to boost energy.

Studies have suggested ashwagandha could reduce the symptoms of anxiety. [14]

This may be because it works with your adrenal gland to balance anxiety hormones, help you to relax, and promote sleep.

A 2012 study of 64 people compared supplementing with 300 mg of ashwagandha or placebo for 60 days. The results showed that the study group had significantly improved anxiety scores and reduced cortisol levels over the control group. [15]

If you are prone to insomnia, ashwagandha can help you sleep if taken at bedtime.

Ashwagandha can be taken in capsules (500-1000 mg twice a day) or 2-4 ml tincture twice daily.

 

chamomile

Chamomile

A well-known gentle and effective anxiety remedy, chamomile can help treat digestive problems, reduce anxiety, improve your mood, and promote healthy sleep.

A 2012 study reported that chamomile had a positive effect on subjects with mild symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). [16]

Chamomile is safe while breastfeeding and pregnant. If you take blood-thinning drugs, consult your doctor before taking chamomile as it might interact with them.  Also be careful if you have an allergy to plants such as daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums, as chamomile can cause an allergic reaction. [17]

Human studies suggest that the average daily dose is 350-500 mg, either taken once or split across two doses a day. The benefits can be enjoyed either in tablet form or in a calming mug of chamomile tea.

 

lemon balm

Lemon Balm

Known as “the gladdening herb” because of it’s mood-enhancing properties, lemon balm is a cousin of lavender. It has been used for centuries to calm anxiety and for its sedative properties.

Studies have shown that lemon balm can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, reduce stress and promote sleep. [18]

Lemon balm can be taken on its own – an average daily supplement contains 500 mg – but is normally included in herbal tea preparations. It can make you sleepy, so it’s a good idea to take it at night. [19]

 

passionflower

Passion Flower

Native to Peru, passionflower has long been used as a herbal remedy for anxiety. The results of clinical trials have confirmed that passion flower could be a very effective anxiety treatment.

One study carried out in 2017, found that passionflower was as effective as Midazolam, a prescription anxiety medication, in patients having third molars (wisdom teeth) extracted. [20]

Passionflower is generally safe, but as it’s a sedative it’s best to use it at night, especially to help you sleep after a busy day. Passionflower shouldn’t be used in conjunction with any other sedative drugs, supplements or herbs.

The average daily dose is 500 mg, taken once daily or split across two tablets.

rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola Rosea

The native Alpine plant rhodiola – golden root or roseroot – is another adaptogen herb that has been used for centuries to calm the nerves, control stress, and treat anxiety.

Although more research is needed, one study, reported in Phytotherapy Research, found that supplementing with rhodiola once a day for 14 days reduced symptoms of anxiety, stress, anger, confusion, and depression and improved overall mood. [21]

The usual dosage is 500 mg, either taken once a day or split across two tablets.

valerian

Valerian

Better known as a sleep remedy, there is some evidence that Valerian root can benefit people with anxiety and stress by promoting relaxation.

A small study of 36 participants with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, found that valerian was an effective anti-anxiety treatment, but concluded that large-scale studies are needed to confirm this. [22]

Although valerian has been used since Roman and Greek times, there have been no long term safety trials, so scientists don’t yet know the effects of taking it for long periods. Because of this. it’s usually recommended to take it for a few weeks only.

Valerian has been shown to cause headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness in some people.

Valerian root has a very distinctive (unpleasant) smell, so it is usually taken in supplement form. The average daily supplement is 500 mg, either taken once or split across two tablets.

kava

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum)

Kava Kava, a plant native to the Pacific islands, is often sold as a rescue remedy for people experiencing panic attacks or raised levels of anxiety because of an event such as flying or an exam.

A study published in 2016 suggested that kavain, the major constituent of kava kava, targets the GABA receptors that manage anxiety, relaxing muscles, helping you focus, and promoting the body’s natural defenses against stress. [23]

A 2011 study suggested that combining kava kava with HRT works better than HRT alone in the treatment of menopause-induced anxiety. [24]

Another study, published in Phytomedicine, found that kava kava was as effective as the anti-anxiety meds Buspirone and Opipramol in treating patients with generalized anxiety disorder. [25]

Kava kava can affect people differently and take time to work, so start with 3-5 drops and wait half an hour before taking any more.

Some years ago, the FDA issued warnings about the use of kava kava because there was some evidence that it caused liver damage. The evidence has since been questioned and kava kava is now considered safe, but it’s a good idea to seek advice from your doctor if you have a history of liver disease. [26]

Kava kava can be taken as a capsule or a herbal tincture. The average daily dosage in a supplement is 250 mg either once a day or split across two tablets. You should not drink alcohol while taking kava kava.

bacopa

Bacopa Moniera

Another Ayurvedic remedy, bacopa is a herb that studies have shown can reduce levels of the stress-hormone cortisol and improve mood. Scientists say that bacopa can protect neurons and help keep your brain healthy. [27]

The average daily dose of bacopa is 500 mg, either taken once a day or split between two tablets.

 

st john's wort

St John’s Wort

This herb is usually associated with depression, but according to one study it may also be useful for general anxiety as well as depression-related anxiety symptoms. [28]

The average daily dosage of St John’s Wort is 300 mg, but it should not be taken alongside other anti-anxiety meds.

 

 

Natural Supplements for Anxiety

Herbs aren’t the only method of treating anxiety naturally. You might want to consider the following supplements which have been proven to be effective anxiety remedies.

B-Complex Vitamins

B-complex vitamins are vital for a healthy brain and nervous system. Increasing your intake may help reduce symptoms of anxiety by beating stress, balancing blood sugar, and stabilizing your mood.

Vitamin B12 is particularly effective for treating chronic stress, mood disorders, and depression. Studies show that supplementing with B12 can improve concentration, boost energy, and promote a healthy nervous system. [29]

The usual daily dose of B-complex vitamins is 1,000 micrograms daily.

Vitamin D

People who live in cooler climates are often deficient in the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D. This hard-working vitamin is essential for the absorption of other nutrients from your diet and a deficiency may cause anxiety. [30]

Vitamin D tablets can contain 1000-2000 IU, which can be taken in one dose, or split up during the day.

Fish Oil

Omega-3 essential fatty acids such as DHA and EPA are antioxidants and essential to the health of your brain cells. Increasing the amount of oily fish you eat or taking a quality fish oil supplement daily could help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

In one study, medical students who were given 2.5 mg omega-3 supplements per day had less anxiety in an exam that the control group. [31]

It is possible to get enough fish oil by eating oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines 2-3 times a week but you must make sure the fish is wild-caught and additive free. Alternatively, fish oil supplements contain up to 2000 mg of omega-3 oils.

supplements

GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an essential amino acid for the brain as it calms the nervous system and helps you to relax. Medicines such as Valium work by triggering the GABA in your brain. GABA is also used to promote sleep.

Studies suggest supplementing with GABA may help reduce symptoms of anxiety. [32]

The average daily dose of GABA is 500-750 mg daily, either once a day or split into multiple tablets.

L-theanine

L-theanine is the amino acid found in green tea. It is known to slow down a your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Unlike many anxiety treatments, L-theanine is not a sedative so it can be taken during the day without making you feel sleepy.

One study reported that subjects who were prone to anxiety had reduced symptoms when they took 200 mg L-theanine before a test. [33]

A 2011 study found that L-theanine can calm patients with schizophrenia. [34]

In order to get the average daily dose of 200 mg, you’d need to drink between 5 and 20 cups of green tea a day, which is why many people opt to take a supplement instead.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral for a healthy brain and one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. Some studies suggest that up to 75% of people are deficient in magnesium. [35]

Anxiety is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium has a whole host of benefits for your brain including:

  • Helping your nervous system to relax, resulting in better sleep
  • Reducing inflammation which can cause anxiety as well as a range of other health problems [36]
  • Stimulating GABA receptors [37]
  • Restricting the release of stress hormones and stopping them from entering the brain [38]
  • Promoting neuroplasticity – the ability for brain cells to heal, regenerate and form new neural connections throughout life – very important for the treatment of anxiety disorders [39]
  • Keeping blood sugar stable – fluctuations in blood sugar can cause anxiety [40]

The average daily dose of magnesium is 200-400 mg.

Look for forms of magnesium such as citrate, diglycinate, or gluconate for best absorption (avoid magnesium oxide and magnesium chloride, as they often have unpleasant gastrointesinal side effects).

5-HTP

The neurotransmitter 5-HTP (5-hydroxytrytophan) is essential for the production of the happiness-hormone, serotonin and can help calm anxiety by reducing symptoms such as moodiness, headaches, and insomnia.

Studies have suggested that supplementing with 5-HTP may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. [41]

The average daily dose of 5-HTP can range between 50 and 200 mg. You should not take 5-HTP in conjunction with any other anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants.

 

flowers

Other Ways to Reduce Anxiety Naturally

As well as finding an effective homeopathic remedy for anxiety, you might benefit from these techniques to reduce your symptoms.

Exercise

Feel energized, release endorphins and work through your stress by getting regular exercise. [42]

Take a deep breath (or three) – Deep breathing can fill your body with oxygen, slow your heart beat, and reduce blood pressure. Try Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 technique – exhale completely, breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold for 7 and breathe out through your mouth for 8. Repeat three times. [43]

Practice meditation

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. [44]

The best thing about meditation is it can be practiced anywhere at any time and is a good way to calm anxiety quickly. If you need help getting started, download a mindfulness meditation app.

Eat a brain-healthy diet – An anxiety attack might be a sign your blood sugar is dropping. Eat healthy, energy-boosting snacks such as walnuts, whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or a boiled egg which is full of energy-busting choline. Make sure you eat a balanced diet full of brain-foods like omega-3 rich fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, and healthy whole foods.

Take a warm bath or jump in the sauna

Raising your body temperature can ease aching muscles and reduce anxiety by altering the neural circuits that control mood, including boosting the happiness-hormone serotonin. [45]

Spend time in nature

Studies prove what the Japanese have always known, taking a forest-bath – Shinrin-yoku – or spending 20 minutes walking in the woods can boost your mood by reducing the amount of stress hormones coursing around your body. [46]

Get a good night’s sleep

Insomnia can be both a cause and a symptom of anxiety. [47] Busy workloads, demands of family and social lives, and constant interruptions from cell phones and devices, can all make a good night’s sleep seem like an impossible task.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Switch off devices an hour before bedtime and ban them from the bedroom, avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day and engage in calming activities before bed such as a warm bath or listening to music.

Detach from Screens and Social Media

Technology and electronic screens are vying for our attention at every second of every day. Remaining “plugged in” and paying too much attention to the flashy social media posts of others can distort your sense of self-worth and leave you constantly comparing the real life you live to the lives of those on the internet. Take some time every day to put down your phone, shut the laptop, and allow yourself to rest during moments of quiet solitude. Sitting with your own thoughts while sheltering yourself from digital inputs is a powerful way to declutter the mind of anxious thoughts.

herbs for anxiety

Conclusion

Anxiety is different in every single person. There are a wide range of causes, symptoms, and treatments so it’s important to find out what works for you.

Science shows that natural herbs for anxiety work effectively, as do quality supplements and other lifestyle techniques.

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