Alternative Medicines for Anxiety

Anxiety is the body and mind’s response to a dangerous or distressing situation. Everyone experiences some degree of anxiety at some time. However, anxiety can occur persistently, often triggered by vague notions of a threat, and interfere with normal activities. When this happens, it’s called an anxiety disorder.

Meditation for Anxiety. Meditation can help people with anxiety by making them calmer and less vulnerable to stress and tension. People performing meditation exercises take an active role in their treatment, teaching themselves how to quiet or clear the mind. Various clinical studies have shown that during meditation the body is altered in ways that are beneficial for people with anxiety: For example, the rate of metabolism drops and blood pressure decreases. Studies have also revealed anxiety-reducing results with transcendental meditation (TM), a type of meditation used in Ayurvedic medicine. Meditation can be performed several times a week (even daily) or just before an anxiety-provoking situation, such as giving a speech. Here’s a sample meditation that can be practiced every morning:

  • Sit on the floor (use a cushion, if needed) with your legs crossed, keeping your spine straight. Try to eliminate as many noises and distractions as possible, including unplugging the telephone.
  • Select one word or sound that is pleasant or meaningful to you (sometimes called a mantra). Mentally repeat your selection, over and over again.
  • Try to do this for about 20 minutes. If your mind wanders off to another thought, gently return it to the process of repeating your word or sound.

Homeopathy for Anxiety. Homeopathic medicine is particularly promising for psychological conditions such as anxiety. Treatment stimulates the ability of the mind and body to return to a healthy state. Homeopathy uses highly diluted doses of natural substances, which would bring on anxiety symptoms if given in full strength to a healthy person. The substances are from plant, mineral, and animal sources. The classical homeopath individualizes a remedy for each patient, depending on the particular symptoms and the general state of physical and emotional health. Here are some characteristics of anxiety to consider and report to a practitioner:

  • Does a specific activity (anything from taking a test in school to meeting new people) bring on an anxiety attack?
  • How do you react to other people during an attack? (Insecure or overly confident?)
  • Which physical symptoms are present along with the feelings? (Pronounced heartbeats, dry mouth, digestive upsets, others?)
  • What makes the anxiety better or worse?
  • Are there certain times of the day or night when the symptoms are worse or better?

Common remedies for anxiety include argentum nitricum, gelsemium sempervirens (for test anxiety), lycopodium (for performance anxiety), aconite, arsenicum, kaliphos, and phosphorus.

Herbal Medicine for Anxiety. Several herbs have the ability to act on the nervous system, bringing on states of relaxation and tranquility. Others can relax tense muscles, ease stress-related headaches, soothe an upset stomach, or encourage sound sleeping. Kava kava, a member of the pepper family, can induce calm feelings and ease muscle tension. It’s available in tincture and capsule form. Skullcap, an herb that was used extensively in Native American medicine, may ease emotional tension and headaches, as well as improve sleep. It is commonly used in capsule form, as a tea (made with the fresh herb), or as a tincture. Valerian root has a calming, sleep-inducing effect for most people. (A few people experience the opposite effect.) The herb should be taken in low doses before bedtime. It can be taken as a tea made with fresh or dried root, but the taste and smell are rather unpleasant; extract and capsule form may be easier to tolerate.

Some other herbs that can be helpful include: chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, St. John’s wort, vervain. These herbs generally perform their functions without major side effects or the threat of withdrawal symptoms that pharmaceuticals carry. However, herbs should be used only to provide short-term or occasional anxiety relief. Successful anxiety treatment requires learning to cope in the long term by reducing stress and other anxiety triggers.

Hypnotherapy for Anxiety. Hypnotherapy holds that people with anxiety can learn to release tension and effectively respond to stressful situations if their minds are prepared to do so. During a hypnotic trance, the subconscious mind is given gentle, positive suggestions, which are selected according to what situations and circumstances trigger an anxiety attack.

Examples of these suggestions may include:

  • “I feel better about myself each day, and other people notice this.”
  • “Meeting with my boss is not a bad thing; communication makes my job more enjoyable and generally easier to do.”

The treatments can be guided by a hypnotist or done by the person with anxiety (called self-hypnosis). Here’s a sample self-hypnosis session for someone experiencing anxiety attacks before speaking in public:

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, focusing on each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Imagine you are boarding an elevator on the top of a skyscraper.
  • The door closes, and you slowly travel downward.
  • Look up at the digital sign that displays each floor number as you go down.
  • Focus on each number as it appears on the display. As the numbers count backward, you are going into a deeper and deeper state of relaxation.
  • Imagine exiting the elevator and entering a comfortable room, decorated just the way you would decorate it. Walk around the room as much as you want.
  • When you’re ready, find an inviting chair and sit down.
  • In your head, repeat to yourself: “I look good and feel confident as I stand at the podium. I am prepared to talk about something I know very well and enjoy talking about. I’m speaking to people who admire me and are genuinely interested in what I have to say.”
  • When you feel comfortable leaving your hypnotic state, count from ten to one, suggesting to yourself that you will emerge relaxed and confident.

Other Anxiety Therapies

  • Aromatherapy for Anxiety — Essential oils from benzoin, lavender, and marjoram may be helpful.
  • Biofeedback Training for Anxiety — Several types of biofeedback, including electrodermal activity and finger pulse, can teach a person to prevent anxiety and panic attacks. The training is typically coupled with relaxation techniques.
  • Bodywork for Anxiety — Massage, dance therapy, and other forms of bodywork can reduce stress and improve the sense of well-being.
  • Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization for Anxiety — Mental exercises can bring a relaxed state similar to that of hypnotherapy.
  • Nutritional Therapy for Anxiety — Treatment may include dietary changes (such as eliminating caffeine and food additives) and nutritional supplements (such as calcium and magnesium).
  • Yoga for Anxiety — Postures and breathing exercises may improve energy levels, boost blood circulation, and ease tension.
  • Qigong for Anxiety — Exercise and mental techniques, part of traditional Chinese medicine, can improve breathing and reduce stress.
For more information on anxiety and alternative medicine, see: