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Other Therapies for Anxiety

Scott Olson, ND

The following information describes a variety of other therapies for anxiety. Most of these therapies are mildly sedating, and have been used for years as successful anti-anxiety and calming remedies. There simply isn't enough well-designed research to support their use as stand-alone treatments. Other therapies, like diet or acupuncture, may have a preliminary study supporting their effectiveness, but more research is necessary before fully recommending their use as anxiety treatments.

Herbs

There are many herbs that have been traditionally used for anxiety that are mildly sedating and calming. These herbs may be taken as a tea or in a pill form, and are often combined to enhance their calming effect (for example a tea may contain Skullcap, Hops and Chamomile).

     

  • Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
  • Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
  • Hops (Humulus Lupulus)
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
  • Oats (oat straw) (Avena sativa)

Most of these herbs are safe even in very large amounts. The most common way to use them is to make a tea on an as-needed basis; perhaps 2-3 times a day.

Diet

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant (substance that increases mental or physical processes such as heart rate and blood pressure), and should be avoided in people with anxiety. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, some stimulant medications (for example, No-Doz), and sodas. Always check the labels of food, beverages and medications to determine whether caffeine is an active ingredient. People with anxiety seem to be particularly susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine, such as dizziness, racing heart, and restlessness.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture literally means 'needle piercing" and is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomic points for therapeutic purposes. In addition to needles, acupuncturists can also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or electromagnetic energy impulses to stimulate acupuncture points. Treatment is designed to to balance the movement of energy (called qi) in the body to restore health.

Acupuncture is an effective treatment for general anxiety. This therapy is also effective for people who are very nervous before operations and dental procedures. Obviously, acupuncture will probably not work for people who have fear of needles; however, the needles used in this therapy are extremely small. Most people report that they feel nothing but a slight twinge when the needles are inserted.

The specific course and duration of acupuncture treatment depends on the nature and severity of anxiety symptoms. A typical course of treatment might involve ten to twelve weekly sessions.

Exercise

Exercise is a commonly prescribed supportive treatment for anxiety. Many people note a drop in their level of worry and anxiety during and after exercising.

Starting an exercise program is something that should be discussed with your health provider. Always start slowly and progress gradually. Most health practitioners suggest that exercising 20-30 minutes a day, three times a week, is a good beginning. Exercise should incorporate both strength (such as lifting weights) and cardiovascular training (anything where your heart rate in increased for an extended period such as walking, bike riding, running, swimming, etc.).

Yoga

Similar to exercise, yoga has shown some promise as a treatment for anxiety. Deep breathing and stretching can lead to feelings of contentment and calm on their own. Many yoga practices incorporate deep breathing, stretching, and strengthening exercises along with a mild cardiovascular workout.

Yoga can be practiced at home, or you can find a class at a local community/recreation center, gym, or yoga studio. There are forms of yoga that incorporate slow stretching and others that are more active. If you are thinking of trying yoga, visit a class a few times to determine which teacher and style would best meet your needs.