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Herbal Remedies to Treat Anxiety

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 27 Feb 2012 | comments*Discuss
Herbal Remedies Anxiety Depression

Most of us suffer from anxiety from time to time. When the experience is a mild one, we may seek natural ways – often in the form of herbs - to relieve our symptoms. Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to help reduce feelings of nervousness, quell tension, and get rid of nervous anxiety experienced during social situations.

Herbs used to treat anxiety are usually either adaptogens, meaning they boost the body during a time of stress, or natural sedatives, which work by promoting relaxation of the nervous system.

Combined with a B-Vitamin complex and Vitamin C, many people find they are useful in treating issues ranging from social anxiety to panic attacks, often accompanied by mild physical symptoms.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety, for the most part, comes in two basic forms. One is chronic anxiety, which usually involves a sense of foreboding, worry, stress or tension, with mild physical symptoms. These can range from a headache to a stomach upset.

The other form anxiety can take is a panic attack, which can come on without any warning whatsoever. Panic attacks can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms such as heart palpitations and shortness of breath can be frightening as they can mimic more serious conditions such as a heart attack.

Research has shown that most herbal remedies are ineffective in treating panic attacks, however, although they can be helpful in treating some of the symptoms, such as anxiety and generalised depression, which accompany them.

Types of Herbs

Here are some of the most common herbs used to treat anxiety:

  • Catnip. Tea made from this plant from the mint family relives anxiety, working in particular to relieve tension headaches. Also acts as a mild sedative.
  • Fennel. This liquorice-tasting plant can help to relieve stomach upsets caused by anxiety. Also soothes and calms, which is why a special tea is often given to babies who suffer from wind or colic.
  • Valerian. Has an immediate effect to calm the nervous system. Is relatively safe although very high doses can actually increase anxiety levels.
  • Passion Flower (or Passionflower). Used as an old folk remedy to treat people suffering from anxiety and insomnia. Can interfere with certain medications, and also cause side effects such as rapid heartbeat and vomiting.
  • Bach Flower Remedies. Named after the English homeopath Edward Bach, these remedies are specially formulated to treat what ails you. Typical ingredients for fear, anxiety and worry, for example, include white chestnut, larch and agrimony.
  • Kava. Minimizes mild anxiousness, but if the wrong part of the plant is used can cause damage to the liver. Not recommended unless under direct supervision of a qualified medical professional.
  • Rhodiola rosea. Gives the body occasional support from anxiety during moments of stress. In some tests, has been shown to improve mood.
  • St John’s Wort. Capsules made from this pant have been known to ease depression in particular, as this plant increases levels of natural dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Warning: can interfere with prescribed antidepressants and other medications, and can have mild side effects.
  • Motherwort.Gets its funny name as was historically well-known for treating conditions of the womb, such as irregular menstrual cycles and trauma during pregnancy. Now used to treat people who are anxious as is thought to be able to be effective in treating heart and nerve conditions.

A Word of Caution

Herbal remedies can be fantastic, but they can sometimes interfere with other prescribed medications and/or with other herbs, either causing dangerous side effects or affecting their efficacy. Depression or serious anxiety may call for more serious treatment than that which an occasional herbal remedy can supply. If you have ceased to find enjoyment in everyday things, suffer from serious insomnia, find yourself entertaining suicidal thoughts or have any anxiety symptoms that last for six weeks or more, see your GP at once.

Additionally, some symptoms mistaken for simple anxiety could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, and therefore also require prompt medical attention.

People with some medical conditions should stay away from many herbal remedies, as well as children, pregnant women, and people with kidney or liver disease. And always consult a qualified medical professional before taking any herbal medications at all.

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