Many people experience moments of anxiety. Stress and worry are natural emotions that can arise for several reasons. Difficulties with work, school, health, money, or family can create anxious feelings. For most people, episodes of anxiety are brief and pass when circumstances change and the stressful situation abates.
However, other people have persistent anxiety that doesn’t go away. The feelings of fear, panic, and worry may be overwhelming. Anxiety can be so significant that it can interfere with normal activities and affect quality of life. Receiving a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is the first step to finding an effective treatment plan to manage your symptoms.
The American Psychiatric Association notes there is no cure for anxiety disorders but treatment with medication, talk therapy with a qualified mental health care provider, or a combination of those methods can provide significant relief.
Yet, there are other methods of anxiety therapy in addition to prescription medications and talk therapy. Lifestyle changes, gut-brain probiotics, and alternative or complementary therapies may help you manage your anxiety symptoms.
Medication for Anxiety
Medication is a common and effective treatment for reducing anxiety. Although it does not cure the condition, it can reduce or alleviate troublesome symptoms. Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, can be used for short-term treatment, but they may become less effective over time. Doctors may also prescribe beta-blockers, which are drugs commonly used for high blood pressure. They can quickly reduce the symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, or trembling.
Antidepressants can provide longer-term help in managing anxiety symptoms, though this type of medication may take time to become effective. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are generally considered relatively safe and effective for treating anxiety. The drugs are thought to increase the amount of available serotonin in the brain, which can have a positive effect on mood.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that focuses on identifying unhelpful patterns of thinking and learning new ways of reacting to thoughts and situations. The core principle is that certain unhelpful reactions and behavior patterns can be identified and changed.
CBT treatment for anxiety may include discussing your feelings, finding out what triggers anxiety, and discussing how to change your thinking about triggering stimuli. Your therapist may also help you learn new ways to relax the mind and body, especially when dealing with anxiety. Some CBT providers will offer exposure therapy where you learn to manage anxiety through role-playing or controlled exposure to triggering stimuli.
Like all forms of mental health treatment, you should look for a qualified provider who has experience treating anxiety.
Nutritional Support for Anxiety
Many products at the health food store may make claims about helping mood or improving mental health. However, these claims may not be backed by research, and you may find yourself wasting money on things that don’t help.
Also beware of substances that may cause harm to your health. For example, kava can improve your mood; however, in rare cases, it has been linked to liver damage. It’s unclear what a safe dosage is, so discuss it with your doctor before taking kava.
Safer alternatives that may help with anxiety include:
- Vitamin D: A study from 2019 showed that vitamin D, in addition to standard anxiety treatments, may reduce anxiety symptoms. After three months, participants who had been taking vitamin D reported less anxiety compared to participants receiving only standard care.
- L-theanine: L-theanine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in green tea and some mushrooms. A 2020 review of published research noted multiple studies that suggest that L-theanine can reduce stress and anxiety. However, more research is needed to fully support these results.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): Cannabidiol (CBD), which is derived from Cannabis plants, is one of the trendiest products in wellness. Unlike THC, a cannabis derivative that makes people feel high, CBD doesn’t cause an altered mental state. Proponents suggest it can help with pain management, insomnia, and mood disorders. A 2015 review of published research suggests that CBD has the potential to help with anxiety, but there is no conclusive evidence.
Additionally, certain gut-brain probiotics may play a role in reducing anxiety. A 2022 study suggests that the probiotic PS128 (the active ingredient in Neuralli) may improve the efficacy of citalopram, an SSRI. Study participants who took PS128 along with citalopram for two months reported a greater decrease in anxiety compared to participants taking citalopram alone.
Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety
According to the Mayo Clinic, making some lifestyle changes may help to ease anxiety symptoms.
- Diet and exercise: Eating a balanced diet and being physically active may improve how you feel overall. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet may help brain function. Additionally, regular exercise can reduce stress and help the release of endorphins — hormones that promote a sense of well-being. Your doctor or mental health care provider can help you establish a diet and exercise routine if you are unsure what may work for you.
- Sleep: Sleep deprivation and feeling fatigued can increase or exacerbate anxiety. You can improve your sleep quality by having a regular bedtime and wake-up time, sleeping in a cool dark room, and avoiding screens for an hour before bed. Plus, taking melatonin may make it easier to fall asleep and reduce the likelihood of anxiety causing insomnia.
- Healthy relationships: Talking openly to loved ones about your anxiety can help them understand your situation. They may be better able to support you if they know what you’re feeling and what helps you feel better. Try to stay connected to people who are supportive and understanding by socializing, texting, emailing, or talking on the phone.
Avoid Anxiety Triggers
Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and some recreational drugs can increase symptoms of anxiety. Reducing or eliminating these items from your routine may help reduce the frequency or severity of anxiety.
If certain activities, locations, or situations provoke anxiety it may be beneficial to avoid them or only engage in them in limited circumstances. Keeping a journal of anxiety symptoms and daily activities may help identify triggers. Working with a qualified mental health care provider can also help you gain insight into your anxiety triggers and develop strategies to manage them.
Alternative Therapies for Anxiety
Research suggests there may be benefits of using alternative treatments or complementary therapies for reducing anxiety. These methods may be used as part of a holistic approach to dealing with mental health that includes medication or talk therapy. However, they should not replace those treatments entirely.
A study published in 2021 concluded that yoga can be a useful complementary treatment alongside cognitive behavioral therapy. In another 2021 report analyzing 20 controlled trials, the authors note that acupuncture therapy appeared to help generalized anxiety disorder more than control treatments, and that it was generally safe, with a low incidence of side effects.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that has been beneficial in treating PTSD and other effects of trauma. The therapy involves following guided instructions for moving your eyes to desensitize your response to certain emotions. A 2021 meta-analysis of EMDR concluded that it appears to be successful for panic disorders and phobias.
Biofeedback therapies use sensors to monitor physiological functions, and help individuals learn to change stress-related metrics such as heart rate and blood pressure. While at least one small study suggests that biofeedback may help generalized anxiety disorder when guided by a health care practitioner, more research is needed to consider its use to be evidence-based.
Self-Care for Anxiety
Making your mental health a priority can help you manage anxiety disorder. Self-care can be an important tool for relaxing when anxiety symptoms spike. In addition, making time for yourself may reduce stress, therefore reducing the likelihood of a flare-up.
The Mayo Clinic suggests self-care methods such as:
- Journaling: Keeping a journal of your mood and daily activities can provide an emotional outlet and help you recognize patterns that make you feel better or worse.
- Meditation: Engaging in meditation, breathing exercises, or conscious relaxation may help to calm your mind. Meditation apps may also help you learn to focus and relax your mind.
- Support groups: Some people find it helpful to meet with others who have similar anxiety disorders. Support groups offer camaraderie, social interaction, emotional support, and advice.
Before you begin any new treatment for anxiety, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide which treatment options are best for you.