Mental health problems are much more prominent than most people think. Nearly 70% of Americans are on some kind of prescription drug, half of which take 2 or more prescription pills.
An estimated one in four Americans will experience a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, in a given year, making antidepressants the second most common prescription in the United States, explains Dr. Jennifer St. Sauver (1,2). Unfortunately, commonly prescribed antidepressants such as Benzodiazepines have serious side effects (3):
- Mood changes (such as hallucinations, thoughts of suicide)
- Slurred speech or difficulty talking
- Loss of coordination
- Trouble walking
- Memory problems
- Yellowing eyes or skin
Before you rely on these drugs, here’s a list of 10 natural herbs for anxiety that you should try first.
Passionflower is an exotic, sweet smelling flower with sedative activity (4). Traditionally, it’s used as a tea to ease anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria (5).
Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.
GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed (5).
It’s as effective as oxazepam (Serax) in treating symptoms but has a less negative impact on focus and cognitive ability than the drug (5).
Rhodiola is a herb used in Chinese and and Scandinavian traditional medicine to reduce stress, treat fatigue and promote happiness (6).
It works by decreasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system that controls rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shaking, dizziness, and nausea.
It also stimulates the release of serotonin, the hormone responsible for happiness and relaxation. (6)
Lavender is used in aromatherapy and natural healing to treat mild to moderate depression and nervous disorders (4).
It also has neuroprotective properties that also stabilize mood and help manage neurological disorders (7).
Lavender is safe to use on the skin and ingest, so you can enjoy these benefits by adding a few drop of essential oil to your bath, drinking it as a tea or placing a pouch of dried flowers in your pillow case.
Commonly used in ayurvedic medicine Ashwagandha is specifically known to help agoraphobia (anxiety triggered by large crowds and open spaces) (8).
A 2012 study of 64 volunteers randomized study found that the herb substantially reduced serum levels of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone. Ashwagandha can be taken in supplement form, but it’s more relaxing as a tea.
There’s nothing better than a warm cup of chamomile tea to help you sleep or to help manage an anxiety attack.
Several studies have found that the flower has meaningful antidepressant activity, as measured by Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D) questionnaires, when compared to a placebo (9).
Its active compounds, apigenin, luteolin and α-bisabolol, promote relaxation by gradually lowering blood pressure (10).
The scent of vanilla instantly promotes relaxation in most people. One study found that vanilla-like scents were associated with 63% less anxiety than administration of humidified air alone (11).
It’s no wonder that vanilla is often used in candles, creams and spa products.
Valerian root can be taken in pill or tea form to treat insomnia, anxiety disorders and headache.
The herb can smell a little strong, so it’s best to take it quickly and wash away the taste with a spoonful of maple syrup or molasses (4).
8. St. John’s Wort
St-John’s wort is easily available in health food stores and can even be grown in your backyard.
According to a peer review by physician Klaus Linde of the Munich Technical University, the herb is just affective as antidepressants like Prozac, but has fewer and less harmful side-effects (12).
However, St-John’s wort is know to interact with prescription medication like birth control, so you should consult your doctor or naturopath before use.
9. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a pleasant, almost citrusy leaf that is used to ease anxiety and improve the quality of life of patients with severe dementia.
It also increases attention, memory functions and calmness. It’s an incredibly easy crop to grow, so it’s more cost effective and safer than drugs (4).
Rosemary is as delicious as it is neuroprotective. It can be smelt or ingested to enhance memory and cognitive performance while easing nervous tension.
The essential oil can also be used to wean yourself off antidepressants or painkillers like morphine (4).
Remember that it’s always important to consult a naturopath or doctor before self-medicating, even if it’s done with natural substances.
While these herbs for anxiety offers great temporary treatment options, the best way to manage your anxiety is by following a healthy lifestyle, exercising, meditating and getting counselling.