Before sharing natural remedies for anxiety we need to understand well the concept of stress and anxiety as there has been much confusion over its meaning. With a better understanding of its mechanism of action, we will be better prepared to prevent and manage it.
Hans Seyle coined the term in 1936. He defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Seyle noted, in numerous experiments, that laboratory animals subjected to acute but different noxious physical and emotional stimuli (blaring light, deafening noise, extremes of heat or cold, perpetual frustration) all exhibited the same pathological changes of stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue and enlargement of the adrenals. He later demonstrated the development of illnesses in animals with long term exposure such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Later popular culture used the term stress loosely and confusion arose, up to a point when physicians concluded in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal that, “Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.”
Below we will see exactly what is anxiety, how stress triggers and acts on our physiology and its causes. One of the many causes for chronic anxiety is high levels of neuro-toxins in your body which affects neurological function. Toxicity is so prevalent in modern lifestyle that we need effective detox methods to address many different illnesses that this chemicals can cause. A while back we published an article about recent research on natural detoxification methods for neuro-toxins.
What Is Stress
Actually stress is the physiological response the body gives to any demand the mind subjectively perceives as excessive. Stress would be the deterioration that the personal perception of these experiences produce on the body, not the situation in itself.
These experiences, called “stressors”, produce different reactions in different people, when the reaction is one of deterioration the situation is then known as “distress”. When the reaction is positive, it is called “eustress” for example when it motivates to accomplish more and challenge yourself. In popular culture stress is associated with “distress”.
How Distress Triggers in The Body
Reactions to stressors are automatic, our body prepares to fight or fly unconsciously. When this reaction happens often is called distress and often damages the body.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
The ANS is a division of the peripheral nervous system that supplies smooth muscle and glands so it influences the function of internal organs. It acts mostly unconsciously and regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination or sexual arousal. It is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response.
The ANS has two branches:
- Sympathetic nervous system. This is the “fight or flight” system.
- Parasympathetic nervous system. The “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system.
- Both systems have “opposite” actions where one activates a physiological response and the other inhibits it.
This distress reaction begins when the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system fires by the action of the hypothalamus, a small area just above the brain stem, which acts as an integrator for autonomic functions, receiving ANS regulatory input from the limbic system which controls emotions and behavior.
The hypothalamus then secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone or factor (CRH) or (CRF) also Corticoliberin. A peptide hormone that triggers a chain reaction: it activates the pituitary gland which secretes adrenal-corticotropin (ACT) that makes adrenal glands secrete cortisol, Adrenalin and Noradrenalin.
This hormones lowers immune system action which is why we tend to be more vulnerable to diseases under distress reactions. The hypothalamus makes our body secrete ß-endorphins which have a pain lowering effect. Under distress our body our pupils grow letting more light enter, we have goosebumps to increase our sense of touch. Blood flows to the limbs and muscles and out of the digestive system increasing blood pressure. And since hypothalamus controls subconscious processes this happens even is there’s no real danger for which to react.
This chain of reactions are very useful if there is a real danger as we are more physically prepared to fight or fly and we can do feats of strength or speed we couldn’t under normal conditions. The problem comes when this altered state becomes normal in the daily life.
Distress produces another undesired effect, the withdrawing of blood from the brain frontal lobes. These areas are in charge of rational thinking and this withdrawing impairs cognition similarly to a lobotomy does. This was useful when in the stone age someone was attacked by a predator as cognitive abilities weren’t needed. The reaction was to fight, fly or lose consciousness so the predator wouldn’t be interested in the prey.
Nowadays this distress triggers in work situations and what worked in the past acts against us in the present. Not only makes us unable to think when we most need to be rational but rises blood pressure, disturb digestion and lower immune system action. Some people end up accustoming to this distress and eventually addicted to it which is why they end up developing chronic illnesses.
For these reason natural remedies for anxiety must address this subconscious process, we will see that there are two ways to control our reaction to distress, through conscious breathing and with the help of plants.
Coherent Breathing. Controlling Our Reaction to Stressors
As we have seen distress makes our autonomous nervous system go into an uncontrolled state, pumping hormones into the bloodstream. One of the most natural remedies for anxiety is coherent breathing (CB) that makes our body go into a neutral state, between the distressed and relaxed states. It is a breathing technique and one the simplest natural remedies for anxiety that stops the chain reaction that triggers a distress response in our bodies.
The CB state is a more fluid condition than deep relaxation. When you inhale body physiology moves slightly to a sympathetic state, when exhaling it moves slightly to the parasympathetic state so you move from one state to the other alternatively. This makes it easy for a person to move from this neutral state to one state or the other. Is more fluid than deep relaxation techniques in that the latter requires more time for the practitioner to get out of this relaxation state and be active again making CB perfect to practice while at work unnoticed, not having to stop daily activity.
This technique has also a positive effect on blood circulation having a direct effect on cardiovascular health, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia and poor peripheral circulation.
How We Can Practice Coherent Breathing
Coherent breathing is considered among natural remedies for anxiety because is a really simple technique without any use of chemicals.
It consist in an inhale, exhale cycle with a fixed time. You can start using six seconds for the inhale and exhale phase. You can adjust the time to be comfortable for your level, the key for this technique to be effective is time coherence, not how long each phase is.
In the beginning of your training another approach is to focus only on the exhale phase. Only impose an occasional six second exhalation, then relax and let your breathing do what it wants for a few breaths. Gradually you will be able to add more and more six second exhalations relaxing and letting your ANS and heart rate to gradually move into the coherent state.
Once you’re able to feel relaxed and make each exhale six second long then focus on the inhale phase with the same procedure you did with the exhale phase.
After five minutes of doing this practice, even in the beginning, you will notice it is gradually easier to move into a relaxed or parasympathetic state. The objective will be to train your mind to balance its ability to move to a parasympathetic state rather than a sympathetic one, which is what it has accustomed to.
There are many Android or iPhone apps that help to practice this technique using a metronome like sound for the inhale and exhale phase. They may not appear under coherent breathing but under Pranayama apps which is a yogic technique that produces some results varying the time of the inhale, exhale and retention phases.
These apps often makes you maintain a breathing rhythm making you push through feeling of strain that often occur in the beginning. These types of natural remedies for anxiety won’t induce the same result we are trying to achieve with coherent breathing but if you find an app that lets you customize the inhale-exhale time you can use it to help you with the six second phases. The key here is to gradually accustom your body to these periods of time as we’ve explained. Only use the app as a support and do not push through feeling of strain, do not force yourself to keep with the rhythm, let your body adjust.
Exception for Practicing Coherent Breathing
Some people with anxiety disorder may find the relaxation response training can trigger feeling of anxiety and find they’re unable to practice this technique. For example a person with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should address this problem first before engaging in CB practice.
For these type of disorders there is a promising treatment based on the drug propranolol, a beta blocker medication used to treat high blood pressure and other cardiovascular dysfunctions. Is not among natural remedies for anxiety as it is of synthetic origin but its results can only be described as amazing.
For PTSD, phobias and performance anxiety, propranolol works inhibiting the action of Norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that enhances memory consolidation. Individuals given propranolol immediately after trauma recall experienced fewer stress-related symptoms and lower rates of PTSD than respective control groups who did not receive the drug.
Due to the fact that memories and their emotional content are re-consolidated in the hours after they are recalled/re-experienced, propranolol can also diminish the emotional impact of already formed memories; for this reason, it is also being studied in the treatment of specific phobias, such as arachnophobia, dental fear, and social phobia.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety. Herbal Solutions for Stress
Nature’s flora offers a selection of plants that promotes the natural function and balance of the nervous system. Their action is caused by the synergy of each plant components with the addition of a lack of negative side effects at correct dosages. They are divided by their action:
- Adaptogenic plants which increase our resistance to stressors.
- Tonic and revitalizing plants which increase our energy to help us to better deal with stressing situations.
- Relaxant and balancing plants which modulate the response of the ANS making it milder.
We recommend to make a detox treatment to help the excretion of metabolic waste generated by our ANS and glandular system.
Tonic and Revitalizing Plants
Also known as wild celery, it has sedative properties. Its content in archangelicin balances the nervous system and is good for intellectual demanding and illness recovery periods.
It has digestive, tonic and carminative properties (promotes the expulsion of gas and prevent its formation). It also promotes bile secretion, is antiseptic and analgesic. Topically is good for nerve and rheumatoid pains.
One of the most effective natural remedies for anxiety and against exhaustion in times of physical or intellectual demand and in cases of chronic fatigue, during the recovery period after illnesses and in the elderly. Is good against muscle spasms and promotes the elimination of body fluids.
Applied locally is good for rheumatism, antiseptic and wound healing.
It is a nervous system stimulator which is good in cases of chronic fatigue, asthenia (psychosomatic weakness), low blood pressure. It has carminative and anti-spasmodic properties.
The root of eleuthero or Siberian ginseng acts in a similar way to ginseng. It stimulates physical and intellectual activity, it promotes immune function, is anti-oxidant, anti-coagulant and mildly lowers blood sugar.
Its root has many properties, but only if collected after five years, when the plant has an optimal content in nutrients. If collected before or combined with stimulator substances like coffee or red tea it induces anxiety and insomnia.
Ginseng has anti-depressant, anti-anxiety effects. Also balances the immune system, has antioxidant properties, promotes a healthy liver function, is an aphrodisiac and promotes tissue growth (is anabolic).
The root also regulates and promotes menstruation because of its content in phyto-estrogens, mildly lowers blood sugar and cholesterol and it promotes the dissolving of blood clots. It should not be taken for long periods of time in fertile women because of its estrogenic properties.
Relaxant and Balancing Plants
It has a mild sedative and balancing effect on the nervous system. Is useful for anxiety, hyper-excitability, palpitations and headaches caused by distress.
California poppy is highly variable with over ninety synonyms. Some botanists accept two subspecies, one with four varieties. Eschscholzia californica is native to the coast of San Francisco Peninsula.
It is sedative, good against emotional instability, stress, spasms and promotes sleep.
Flowers and fruits of hawthorn are one the most effective natural anxiolytic known. It is a sedative of the sympathetic nervous system. Useful for people affected by anxiety with an oppression sensation on the chest, difficulty breathing or dyspnoea, tachycardia and insomnia. It balances blood pressure, is a muscle relaxant, mild anti-spasmodic and anti-oxidant.
Sedative and sleep inductor. Is a tonic and appetite stimulant, preparing the stomach to receive food, increasing gastric juice secretion. Effective in cases of anxiety, insomnia and headaches of nervous origin.
It can cause nausea if a person ingest a high dose. A person can’t take hop for long periods of time as it has an anti-androgenic and estrogenic effect. It is one of the natural remedies for anxiety you must take with caution as in developing children could cause gynecomastia or man-boobs.
St. John’s Wort is a natural antidepressant it doesn’t cause sedation nor addiction, it doesn’t interacts with alcohol. This makes that this plant doesn’t impair working activity, driving abilities or machinery use.
Used in states of emotional instability, anxiety, mild or moderate stress and depressive states.
While taking hypericum one has to avoid sunbathing. This plant makes skin more sensitive, especially pale skin people.
Its root have a depressor effect over the central and autonomous nervous system (CNS) and (ANS), is an anxiolytic that relaxes the muscles and is an anti-convulsive as well.
It has a moderately psychotropic effect due to the elevation of dopamine levels it produces. It induces sleep.
Sedative and balances the CNS and ANS. Effective for any psychosomatic illness, asthenia, anxiety, sleep disturbances, dizziness, exhaustion and palpitations.
It is not recommended for children, pregnant or breast feeding women due to the hormonal effects its consumption produces. In those cases there are better options to choose as natural remedies for anxiety.
It is effective for different kinds of nervous alterations. This plant has a tonic effect, improving muscle performance. Also has anti-Candida albicans activity and an anti-oxidative effect.
In addition verbena is a good anti-spasmodic, reduces stomach pain, menstrual cramping, anxiety and fever.
Lime-tree belong to temperate zones. Farmers collect their flowers mid-summer in dry weather to better preserve its properties.
It is sedative, anti-spasms, promotes sweating, fluid excretion, bile secretion, immune system activity and lowers blood pressure. Its action makes it specially effective muscle relaxant because not only acts over the central nervous system but over the liver promoting its detoxifying effect which is fundamental for a good muscle and overall relaxation.
Lime blossom is good against stress, insomnia, liver illnesses, migraines and colds.
It originates in Peru and Brazil. Its action is mild and without risk of toxicity or side effects unlike other sedative plants. This flower doesn’t impair your working abilities or produces sleepiness unlike happen with synthetic sedatives like benzodiacepines making it one of the most safe and effective natural remedies for anxiety.
Passionflower is useful against anxiety, stress, insomnia, irritability or anguish. Thus it helps in states of depression, neurosis, mood alterations caused by menopause.
Also is good against muscle spasms so is useful in cases of tachycardia, palpitations, gastrointestinal spasms, facial twitches and stress related difficulty to breathe.
Its mild effect is useful against headaches and migraines, muscular tension, vertigo caused by cervical tension, nausea, stress vomiting, etc.
A very effective plant in cases of children who are hyperactive and have trouble sleeping at night producing a calm and relaxing sleep.
Its active part reside in the grains and chaff. It may surprise some readers that oats are among the list of natural remedies for anxiety and this is because besides B group vitamins, lecithin, enzymes, mineral and trace elements it contains an alkaloid, avenin, which balances the nervous system. Is useful for depression, physical and mental exhaustion, during convalescence, digestive dysfunctions, anxiety and insomnia.
Its flowers are sedative and anti-spasmodic. Also it is good for anxiety and irritability and doesn’t have side effects or induces addiction like other plants.
Fortunately is one of the plant that can be safely administered to children as a relaxant as it is a mild sedative that promotes sleep.
Also its anti-spasmodic effect make it useful to treat headaches induced by artery spasm, menstruation pains caused by uterus spasms or digestive problems caused by intestinal tube spasms.
It is a plant that can grow up to two meters with small and plentiful flowers. In addition it tends to grow in fresh and moist places at the edges of forests.
Fabio da Colonna wrote in 1592 that this plant was responsible of curing his epilepsy. The first French Empire doctors used valerian to reduce fever when quinine was not available.
In 1966 researchers discovered the sedative components of valerian; the iridoids, including valepotriates: isovaltrate and valtrate.
These iridoids are fragile and this make valerian as a tincture or extract not effective. Thus experts recommend using the whole root, ground and/or dried.
Germany has researched valerian properties in depth. In addition to its sedative properties it has anti-tumor effects.
Also some doctors use it to cure tobacco addiction because it gives tobacco a bad taste. It is among the most effective natural remedies for anxiety and for muscle spasms. Besides being a sedative, it has also a very mild hypnotic effect so it is good for stress, insomnia. Also balances the appetite, menopause alterations and palpitations.
A person must not take valerian more than eight days due to its action over the central nervous system.