Anxiety is on the increase! Which is not surprising really. In this article I’m going to discuss orthodox treatment (what your GP would prescribe) and (not versus!) natural treatment options for anxiety. Here goes …
So, what is anxiety?
According to the NHS website, anxiety is “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fearful thoughts that can be mild or severe”. Chronic anxiety can be a fear of the unknown, vague, irrational feelings of dread.
I consult with many people living with anxiety. Frequently they are worried about adapting to the way we to have to live.
Did you know: Anxiety is the main symptom of a group of anxiety-related disorders which include phobias and panic attacks?
Symptoms vary from person to person. When anxious I am restless and find it difficult to sit for long. My concentration is poor and I find it difficult to focus. Other symptoms are sleeping poorly, going to the loo more often, pounding heart, butterflies in your stomach, racing, uncontrollable thought, irrational fears, sweating or hot flushes. Phew!
How common is anxiety
There are an estimated 3 million people in the UK with a diagnosed anxiety-related disorder. 1.6 million people at work have symptoms of a mental health condition such as anxiety, stress or depression. Personally, I think this is underestimated. I see many people with borderline anxiety disorders that are not seeking the help they need.
I have found that sensitive people are more likely to be anxious Ask for help … don’t suffer in silence!
What is the cause of anxiety
Anxiety can be triggered by various life circumstances:
- Past traumas
- Difficulties with current circumstances
- Physical problems, e.g. Pain, mobility difficulties or dissatisfaction with your appearance.
- Mental health challenges
Let’s look at some anxiety drugs – the standard treatments in orthodox medicine.
Benzodiazepines for anxiety
Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs. This means they alter the way you think and feel by changing how your brain cells communicate. In the UK I2 million prescriptions are written yearly for the most commonly prescribed Benzodiazepine, Diazepam, also known as Valium.
Benzodiazepine addiction and abuse
These drugs were introduced to the pharmaceutical industry in the 1960s. They were soon widely prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. By 1975 the highly addictive nature of benzodiazepines had been acknowledged by the medical community. In response, their usage was reduced to a maximum of four weeks to prevent patients becoming dependent on them. Despite this, the abuse of and dependency on benzodiazepines is common. There are currently 1.5 million Benzodiazepine addicts in the UK.
Ironically, symptoms of long-term use are the very symptoms they were created to alleviate … anxiety, depression and insomnia. Hmmm … not ideal.
Beta-blockers for anxiety
Beta-blockers have a different action to Benzodiazepines. Beta-blockers help to alleviate anxiety symptoms by reducing blood pressure and heart rate.
They are designed to give rapid relief for brief, short-term anxiety. They are often prescribed for phobias and performance anxiety i.e. public speaking or sitting exams. They reduce the nervousness, sweating, trembling, quivering and quaking these events can cause. We’ve all been there.
Now, let’s turn our attention to plant remedies for anxiety – my chosen method!
My experience with anxiety
When I was 19, I drifted into a City job as a legal secretary. I was shy, quiet and sensitive. I was working in a stressful, aggressive competitive environment that did not suit my personality. I hated it! I began to develop physical signs of stress, insomnia, anxiety and a strange rash on my neck and chest started to appear. Distressed and upset, I went to see my GP. He offered to prescribe me anxiety drugs and a steroid cream. I declined, feeling this would not get to the root of my problem.
Quite by chance I found the number of an herbalist and went for treatment. He was calm, attentive and intuitively understood my situation and what was needed. He prescribed nervine and sedative herbs (more about that later).
A few days later I was visibly calmer and more relaxed. The stressful environment did not go away, but I was somehow able to detach myself from it and deal more effectively with challenges at work and in my personal life. It was that experience that motivated me to practice herbal medicine… but enough about me.
Treating anxiety with natural medicine
I’m often asked which are the best herbal remedies for anxiety. In my experience an effective herbal treatment for anxiety will contain herbs with different actions.
Each herb has a specific action on the body. Some have several – this is what makes them so unique. Here are some of the actions we need to treat anxiety:
Adaptogens – Tonics
We all need resilience to withstand life’s challenges. Adaptogens and tonics promote stamina by increasing physical and mental endurance. This is a more in-depth article on the value of adaptogens.
Nothing to do with hypnotism … I promise! This is an old-fashioned word for herbs that promote sleep without disagreeable side effects.
Nervines strengthen the nervous system. They are calming and uplift your mood. Rich in nutrients, they correct mineral deficiencies by strengthening nerve tissue and their protective sheaths.
Relaxants – sedatives
These herbs relax the central nervous system. They reduce tension, excitability, restlessness and hyperactivity. Relaxants – sedatives promote calm, facilitating restful sleep.
Actions of some anxiety-relieving herbs
|HERB||Adaptogenic / Tonic||Hypnotic (induces sleep)||Nervine||Relaxant / sedative|
*Passionflower has been used successfully for withdrawal from Valium and benzodiazepine addiction.
**Valerian relieves high anxiety as effectively as benzodiazepines, without creating dependence. It has been used to assist withdrawal from Valium and other benzodiazepine addictions.
Create your own herbal formula for anxiety
Now it’s your turn … to create your own bespoke formula.
First, decide what actions you would most benefit from. For example, if you have problems sleeping then choose an herb with a strong hypnotic action.
Two ticks indicate that this is the main action of that herb.
So, for example, if your main problem is insomnia then choose one or two herbs with a strong hypnotic action, i.e. California poppy, Hops (this is a bitter herb!), Lavender, Passionflower or Valerian.
If your main problem is low mood or you are mildly depressed then choose one or two herbs with a strong nervine action, i.e. Lemon Balm, Oatstraw or Vervain.
If you are restless and agitated, then choose a relaxant / sedative herb. You could make a tea blend with hypnotic, nervine and relaxant/sedative properties by combining Passionflower, Lavender and California poppy. The combinations are endless!
If your energy is low add an adaptogen i.e. Siberian ginseng or Astragalus. Astragalus also helps to increase white blood cells, boosting the immune system.
In the end your final tea blend could look like this:
Example of an anxiety tea blend formula
Lavender ½ t
Passionflower ½ t
Oatstraw ½ t
Siberian Ginseng ½ t
Put ½ teaspoon of each herb into a cup. Pour on boiling water and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and drink with a little honey or sugar if desired.
Drink a cup as needed.
Finally, here are some strategies that I’ve also found useful in treating anxiety.
Take an honest look at your life. Identify the situations and events that make you anxious. Are any of these within your control? Do you have bad habits that are contributing to the way you feel? Be brutally honest with yourself. If so, then decide to make some changes.
Make time for your Worries
This is a technique that may seem counterproductive, but it really works!
Worrying can be distracting and interfere profoundly with your day to day life experience. Postponing your worrying to a designated time is a proven, effective technique. It allows you to manage and have better control over your fears and anxieties. You can find the technique in this useful pdf Postpone Your Worry
Mindfulness is the same as meditation. It has been repackaged for a new generation with a cool, trendy name. In time, practicing mindfulness will allow your mind to focus on the present, the here and now and not the past or the future. There is incredible power in being able to focus on the present. Learn to concentrate, instead of allowing your thoughts to jump around like a wild buck rabbit in mating season.
There is a useful NHS website about mindfulness. It has lots of useful information on where to get help on a range of mental health problems.
I hope this information is useful to you in some way. Drop me a comment below and let me know.
If you need more help overcoming anxiety, send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org