Anxiety is a little like rain. Depending on your environment, you may have more or less of it, but all humans are hardwired to experience some. That’s because anxiety, which often functions as a mild form of fear, can help keep us safe. Being aware of a threat is how we take care of ourselves—when we sense a storm approaching, for example, we seek cover…and when a person seems menacing, we walk the other way.
When anxiety is out of control, however, it can take over, making us feel that we are completely unsafe. This type of anxiety needs treatment. In my clinical experience, it’s unwise to completely quash the stress response that drives anxiety—there are times, as described above, when anxiety protects us. That’s why I look for therapies that help a person simply gain control over anxiety. Best natural remedies for easing anxiety—the herbs can be combined, if needed, but try them in the order listed below…*
• Chamomile. Chamomile calms the nerves, reduces irritability and lessens the muscle spasms, headache and abdominal pain that can accompany anxiousness. My advice: Because caffeinated beverages can ramp up anxiety, substitute chamomile tea throughout your day (if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, you may get headaches for up to three days—drinking lots of water and taking aspirin will help). Or if you’re feeling anxious, take 60 drops of chamomile tincture in two ounces of water four times a day, at least 30 minutes before or after a meal. For additional stress and anxiety reduction, add one to two drops of concentrated chamomile essential oil to a hot bath at night. Caution: Avoid chamomile if you are allergic to plants in the ragweed family.
• Gotu kola. This herb has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Gotu kola is known for its ability to restore health to brain and nerve cells by promoting blood circulation to the brain, which has a calming effect. Typical dose: Try 60 drops of gotu kola tincture in two ounces of water, twice daily away from meals, during a period of anxiety.
• Walking. From time immemorial, walking, more than any other activity, has been used to curb anxiety. I encourage my patients to walk outside—and at approximately the same time each day. Breathing fresh air and having an established routine enhance the calming and relaxing effects of walking. But no matter where or when you walk, 20 minutes daily will reduce anxiety.
• Storytelling. Whether you’re telling stories or listening to them, this is an effective and powerful treatment for anxiety. Why does this help? When we listen to, tell or invent tales, we see the commonalities of our joys and our struggles. This helps us to feel less alone—a common trigger for anxiety. My advice: Attend book or poetry readings…join a book club…listen to stories on CD or via podcasts (such as those at SelectedShorts.org/podcast/…or write stories and read your work out loud to friends and family. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the calming effects of this age-old practice.
*Check with your doctor before using these remedies—especially if you take medication or have a chronic medical condition. Seek professional care if your anxiety persists.