Do you suffer from anxiety, or care about someone who does? If so, this article is for you. These 14 research-backed anxiety remedies can alleviate and prevent this menace of the mind. Learn how to free up your mental energy with a more realistic and positive mindset.
Note: This article has been updated to include additional anxiety research as well as links to guided practices targeted to anxiety relief.
Anxiety is a Thief
It’s normal to feel anxiety sometimes. But when it’s persistent, frequent, and/or out of proportion to real danger, it’s a thief. It robs us of our happiness, contentment, courage and confidence. It makes us focus on everything that could go wrong instead of all that’s going right. And, it blinds us to the potential for positive outcomes we could be fostering. That is, if we weren’t wasting our energy on worry and angst.
What’s worse, anxiety leaves us feeling like we can’t cope. So, when something does go wrong, we feel overwhelmed and powerless. It can cripple us at precisely the moments we most need to access our inner source of strength and wisdom. It’s not only an ineffective way of interacting with life circumstances, it can be harmful.
Anxiety is the Most Common Mental Health Condition in the U.S.
If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the U.S., affecting over 40 million people aged 18 and older. While that may not be much comfort, it can offer some perspective.
Over 40 million is a whole lot of people. And those are just the people accounted for in studies. That’s an awful lot of worrying going on, when you think about it. How likely is it that all that wracking of the nerves is actually producing something useful? That it merits all the mental energy it’s eating up? Not that probable, really.
So if the widespread anxiety of 40 million people isn’t serving a purpose, it’s safe to say yours probably isn’t either. Consider how often your anxiety truly helps you. Does it tend to produce a solution? How frequently does it turn out to be warranted? If your answer is rarely, then it begs the question…
If anxiety’s not useful, why do we experience it?
What Causes Anxiety?
Science hasn’t pinpointed a singular, precise cause of anxiety. However, the general consensus describes it as an over-stimulated fight-or-flight response to life circumstances. In other words, this helpful survival instinct is reacting to non-life-threatening situations as if they were, in fact, threatening. Not so helpful anymore.
It’s kind of like seasonal allergies. Our noses overreact to histamines in the air. They get all excited to protect us from pollen or ragweed or pet dander. But their efforts produce an array of symptoms that leave us feeling more sick and miserable than we would have if they’d just done nothing. Because there is no real danger from these particles to begin with. (Interestingly, studies have drawn correlations between allergies and anxiety, as well as other mood disorders. You can learn more about this connection here.)
Anxiety arises when we don’t know what’s going to happen. And since we don’t know, the possibility that something bad will happen looms heavy in our minds. It triggers our fear responses, a situation that feels like it can’t be remedied until whatever is going to happen actually does happen. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in.
Anxiety can also be caused by medical issues, such as heart conditions, diabetes, thyroid issues, substance abuse, and chronic pain. It can be heightened during alcohol withdrawal and can be a side-effect for some medications. Additionally, it can be connected to trauma, prolonged stress, and other mental health conditions (i.e. depression, personality disorders, etc.) So, if you suffer from significant or persistent anxiety, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional to address any of these potential underlying issues.
Anxiety & The GABA / Glutamate Connection
One field of study producing promising insights for anxiety remedies is neuroscience.
Neuroscience studies have found anxiety disorders to be rooted (at least partly) in problematic brain circuitry. In other words, certain neurotransmitters aren’t firing optimally, and this results in overly or chronically anxious responses to environmental and internal stimuli. Key players in the neuro-circuitry of anxiety include GABA and Glutamate.
Glutamate plays an excitatory role. It stimulates the nervous system. On the other hand, GABA has an inhibitory effect, which means it calms the nervous system, or limits neurotransmissions that would excite it. Current neuroscience draws a connection between anxiety disorders and a disharmony between GABA and Glutamate. Basically, these two neurotransmitters aren’t dancing together the way they should be. They’re out of balance.
Thankfully, there are a number of effective anxiety remedies that can help control, alleviate, and prevent anxiety symptoms.
Proven Anxiety Remedies You Can Try Today
Sometimes, just labeling what we’re experiencing as anxiety, rather than letting the feeling whip us into a flurry of worried thoughts, can be helpful. It can interject logic into the situation, helping us take effective action. We can choose to do something we know actually works to alleviate anxiety instead of simply stewing in it. Or worse, adding fuel to its fire.
Researchers have discovered a number of things that can help prevent, reduce or eliminate anxious reactions. The following 14 anxiety-fighting remedies have proven to be effective. I’ve included links to relevant studies that support each one:
I’m starting with mindfulness because it’s my favorite on the list. This time-honored practice has proven to be effective for cultivating inner peace and easing the suffering that anxiety produces. In recent decades, western science has come to accept it as a highly effective approach for managing a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety. It’s even formed the foundation for several counseling theories.
What makes mindfulness such a valuable tool for fighting anxiety is that it has a cumulative and lasting effect. Meaning the more and longer you do it, the more your natural state becomes calm, accepting, and resilient. The complete opposite of anxiety. But this study shows the anxiety-reducing benefits of mindfulness can be attained after just a single, introductory mindfulness session.
Additionally, meditation – which is a mindfulness practice – has been linked to GABA processes and thus relieves anxiety.
Try This: my mindfulness-based Guided Meditation For Anxiety. It uses an open-eyed technique that can be especially helpful when you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms or if you tend to feel anxious when meditating.)
Another of my favorite anxiety remedies, yoga has stood the test of time as a tool for maintaining physical and mental health. (3,000 years, to be exact.) Like mindfulness, it has recently experienced a surge in research and acceptance in western healthcare, including mental health.
When practiced mindfully, yoga can be a mindfulness session, allowing you to reap the benefits of both techniques at the same time. Yoga focuses on deep, consistent breathing. This, combined with movements and postures that release tension from the body and balance energy centers along the spine, has an incredibly calming effect.
Because it’s body-based, it naturally grounds you. It draws your awareness from your racing, nervous thoughts into your body and the present moment. Numerous studies have shown yoga to be an effective tool for alleviating anxiety, in addition to depression and other mood disorders. Additionally, studies have shown yoga increases GABA, leading to improved mood and decreased anxiety.
Try This: My Restorative Yoga sequence offers a calming anxiety remedy you can access in the comfort and convenience of your own home. It’s suitable for both beginners and longtime practitioners. If you want a more active practice, try this Yoga For Anxiety sequence.
Personally, I don’t need a scientific explanation for why or how being in nature calms me down. It just does, always has. But I’m a nature-lover, and I know not everyone is.
For those of you who aren’t sure about it, researchers have found that taking a walk in nature does in fact reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Turns out it lowers activity in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. That’s the part that tends to ruminate over negative or anxious thoughts.
The sound of nature, or even nature’s silence, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Plus, being close to nature has a built-in grounding effect. Grounding is the opposite of anxiety, so anything we can do to get grounded can be an effective anxiety remedy.
If yoga’s not for you, or you have another exercise you also enjoy doing, it can calm your anxiety too. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, has been shown to be very effective in reducing anxiety.
There are a number of reasons why researchers think this may be. These range from simple distraction and self-efficacy to lower reactivity of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). You can learn more here.
The bottom line is, moving your body reduces anxiety, so get moving. Not only when you’re having acute anxiety, but on a regular basis for prevention.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Anxiety isn’t just a mental phenomenon. It lives in our bodies, manifesting itself as tightness or aches in the chest, shoulders, or back. It can be felt as racing heart, short breath, shakiness and fatigue. Progressive muscle relaxation targets anxiety directly in the body. Research supports its usefulness as an anxiety remedy.
It’s fairly simple to learn and do. All it takes is 10-20 minutes, during which you lie or sit in a comfortable position and take a little time to tense (on your inhale) and then release (on your exhale) each muscle in your body.
Starting at your feet, curl your toes and arches, activating your foot muscles as much as you can. Then, release them and feel the relaxation. Move on to your lower legs and repeat the same process. Continue upward, one muscle group at a time, finishing with your face muscles.
This physical relaxation doesn’t only remedy anxiety through your body. Because you’re focusing your mind intently on what’s happening in your body, your anxious thoughts fade into the background.
Try This: my guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be used at the end of your yoga practice for Savasana. You can also use it before going to bed to support sleep, or anytime you want to release tension, anxiety & stress from your body.
The yoga system has long touted the mental and physical health benefits of breathing techniques. Research now substantiates them as an effective remedy for anxiety and stress. In fact, breathing techniques have become common therapeutic interventions used by counselors to help clients cope with stress and anxiety.
While a variety of breathing patterns may be recommended, they typically include two basic components. First, diaphragmatic breathing. This means allowing the belly to expand with the breath, contracting the diaphragm, and deepening both the inhale and exhale. Second, lengthening the exhale longer than the inhale. This naturally produces a relaxed state.
You can try a specific breath count. For example, the 4-7-8 pattern calls for an inhale to the count of four, a hold for the count of 7, and an exhale to the count of 8. People breathe differently, though. Not everyone is able to hold or extend their breath for the same amount of time while remaining comfortable. Any breathing pattern that is diaphragmatic and slows the breath, with an emphasis on extending the exhale longer than the inhale, works.
This technique utilizes the fundamentals of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven in countless studies to be effective in treating anxiety. To get the most from this option, working with a counselor who uses the CBT method is best. However, you can use cognitive restructuring whenever anxious thoughts come up to test their validity and explore alternative interpretations and outlooks.
CBT identifies a number of cognitive distortions that people can tend toward which limit and distort our perceptions. Catastrophizing is one of the big culprits when it comes to anxiety. When we catastrophize, we assume the worst possible outcome is actually going to happen and begin to react as if this is a certainty.
Another one is filtering. That is, focusing on the negative details of a situation while filtering-out the positive. Emotional reasoning can also be problematic. This happens when we assume that just because we feel a certain way, whatever we’re feeling or thinking must be true.
Cognitive restructuring involves recognizing you are seeing a situation through a distorted lens. The goal is to widen that lens, so you can see other possible factors and interpretations. For example, if you’re late for work one day and catastrophizing the situation, you might fret over the possibility of losing your job. Cognitive restructuring could involve asking yourself the following questions:
How realistic is it I will lose my job? What’s more likely to happen? You might also affirm yourself by acknowledging that everyone is late to work now and then. Life happens. You’re only human.
Follow up by acknowledging the actual outcome when it happens. Compare it to the fears you had catastrophized. How realistic were they?
Over time, as you implement this technique, you may start to notice how frequently you catastrophize and be able to simply label it to find relief. As in, Wow, there I go catastrophizing again. That’s not realistic thinking.
Eat Foods That Help Anxiety
This article provides a list of 9 foods that help reduce anxiety. They include brazil nuts, fatty fish, vitamin D, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, turmeric, chamomile, yogurt, and green tea. Some of the key nutrients these foods include can be found in other foods as well: selenium, anti-oxidants, omega-3, tryptophan, potassium, zinc, flavonoids, and healthy bacteria. Green tea is especially noted for its L-theanine content, which we’ll talk more about next.
This supplement is an amino acid found mostly in tea leaves, such as green tea. It’s been shown to produce impressive results for reducing anxiety and providing a calming effect.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerves in the brain. Specifically for the benefit of anxiety, it blocks the excitatory glutamate neurotransmitter. As I mentioned previously, the GABA system has been connected to anxiety and stress. Studies have shown it to increase alpha waves (calm brain state) and decrease beta waves (stimulated brain state) and to produce calmness while reducing anxiety. GABA can be taken in supplement form as a helpful anxiety remedy.
This supplement contains strong anti-histamine properties. More and more recent research has drawn connections between histamine responses and mental health conditions, including anxiety. Quercetin has been shown to produce anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects.
With CBD becoming widely available across the U.S., its benefits are being explored and accessed by more and more people. It’s important to note CBD, unlike its parent plant cannabis, does not contain the psychoactive component THC. This means taking this supplement will not result in a high effect. It has, however, been shown to reduce anxiety.
This battery-operated, cranial-electric stimulation unit delivers micro-currents of electricity to the ear lobes via small ear clips. While this may sound unusual, studies have shown that it actually works. We used these devices at our neuro-science & mindfulness-based addiction treatment center to great effect. Many of our clients reported reduction in their anxiety symptoms after use.
It does require a prescription from a healthcare professional to order online. It can be prescribed as an anxiety remedy.
Moderate Social Media
This is a prevention tactic, backed by ample evidence now surfacing on the effects of increased social media use over recent years. Studies have found that not only is there a correlation between high levels of social media activity and anxiety, but inversely, that reducing social media use has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
Not all of these anxiety remedies will work for everyone. Some may be more suited for you than others. The key is trying them out and finding what works for you. Maybe it’s one shot that hits the spot, or more likely, a combination of two or three of these approaches. Whatever you do, don’t just suffer through it. You deserve a life full of joy and adventure. Don’t let anxiety steal that from you.
My Guided Meditation for Intentional Wellness can help you set the intention at the start of each day to make choices that align with what’s best for your health and happiness. That includes choosing to support yourself through healthy thoughts, activities, foods, and supplements. It’s a free download, and you can learn more about it here.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Which anxiety remedies stand out the most to you?