Anxiety is one of the most common ailments in the United States. More than 40 million Americans over the age of 18 — or 18.1% of the population — suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). That makes it the most common mental illness in the U.S.
Anxiety can cause different symptoms in different people. It also is associated with other conditions, including depression.
Yet, according to the ADAA, only 36.9% of people with anxiety receive treatment.
Medical options for anxiety include therapy, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). But you can also tackle anxiety in other ways.
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Holistic Treatments for Anxiety
Holistic therapies that take a mind-body approach to treatment are used for many different types of conditions, including anxiety.
People who have anxiety can use one or more of these natural treatments along with more conventional treatments like therapy or medicines.
Mindfulness techniques aim to help you focus on the present moment. In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to things such as your breathing and how you feel physically and emotionally in that moment. You also do not judge what’s happening as good or bad — it simply is.
Mindfulness helps reduce anxiety because you focus solely on the moment — not the cause of your anxiety.
UPMC’s Center for Integrative Medicine offers a Mindfulness-Based Anxiety Reduction Group that includes mindfulness meditation, yoga, and group discussion.
Nutritional and herbal supplements
Many cultures have used nutritional and herbal remedies for centuries to treat various conditions. Some supplements have shown positive signs in people with anxiety.
Herbal supplements such as passionflower and kava show some effectiveness in people with anxiety or related conditions, according to a report in Nutrition Journal. So do nutritional supplements such as magnesium.
Hypnosis can help you relax and refocus your mind on something besides your anxiety. You can also access your subconscious and potentially reprogram old thoughts and beliefs. It is typically more effective when combined with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness meditation.
While hypnosis has been effective in helping with anxiety-related medical conditions (i.e. headaches or irritable bowel syndrome) and with anxiety (i.e. over an upcoming test or medical procedure), more evidence is needed to show its benefit for general anxiety disorder.
Please note: You should see only a specially trained and certified therapist for hypnosis.
Another mind-body treatment for anxiety is exercise. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins in your brain, which act as painkillers. It also boosts your ability to sleep.
Studies have shown that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than people who don’t regularly exercise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different age groups should get a minimum amount of weekly physical activity.
- Children 3 to 5 years old should have physical activity every day, with active play from a variety of activities.
- Children and adolescents 6 to 17 years old should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. At least three days a week, they need vigorous activity such as running or soccer, muscle-strengthening activities such as climbing or push-ups, and/or muscle-strengthening activities such as jumping rope or gymnastics.
- Adults 18 to 64 years old should have at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking. They also should have at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities.
- Adults 65 and older should have at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking, and at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. They also should take part in activities to improve balance.
The patterns of breathing, meditation, and movement in yoga can help focus your mind and relieve anxiety, letting your mind relax as you pay attention to physical sensations, rather than emotions.
One sign of an anxiety or panic attack is rapid or shallow breathing. You can fight anxiety with deep breathing.
Focusing on breathing deeply can help both your mind and your body to relax, which can help with anxiety. Find a quiet place where you can focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly, feeling the breaths as you do.
There are several different deep-breathing exercises you can try, with belly breathing the most common.
A full night of sleep can help calm anxiety. While trouble sleeping can be a sign of anxiety, lack of sleep can be a trigger. Be sure to give your body and mind enough time to rest and recoup.
The recommended amount of sleep varies by age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
The foods you choose to fuel your body can help relieve feelings of anxiety.
When your blood sugar drops too low, such as when you skip a meal, your body tries to balance out your system. But the “fight or flight” hormones released in the process can cause irritability and jittery feelings.
To prevent this, eat regular, balanced meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate plan provides individualized guidelines and more specific recommendations.
On the other hand, caffeine-rich substances, such as coffee and chocolate, can trigger or increase anxiety. Each body reacts differently. Pay attention to how your system responds to various foods to better understand how diet can affect your anxiety.
For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Facts and Statistics. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety
Esther M. Blessing, Maria M. Steenkamp, Jorge Manzanares, Charles R. Marmar, Neurotherapeutics, Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
Harvard Health Guide, Treating Anxiety Without Medication. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/treating-anxiety-without-medication
HelpGuide, Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/anxiety-disorders-and-anxiety-attacks.htm
HelpGuide, Benefits of Mindfulness. https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders/
Shaheen E Lakhan and Karen F Vieira, Nutrition Journal, Nutritional and Herbal Supplements for Anxiety and Anxiety-Related Disorders: A Systemic Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2959081/
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UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.