By Knvul Sheikh
You’re in the middle of spin class or on the way to an important office meeting when you’re suddenly overcome by a racing heart, shortness of breath and an intense desire to escape. You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, or nearly one in five people, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health. But if you don’t want to pop a Klonopin or other drugs every time you’re under pressure, there are natural remedies that can help you reduce your anxiety. Bonus: These strategies will also benefit your overall health.
Eat a healthy diet.
Consuming regular meals of mostly whole foods will prevent blood sugar crashes and is the first step to help keep stress from ballooning. Good nutrition “is necessary for keeping your mind and body functioning at the optimal level,” says clinical psychologist Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at Stony Brook University.
Up your omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, tuna, sardines, nuts and flaxseed, can help alleviate anxiety. A 2015 review of recent research in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience found that Omega 3 supplements can help prevent anxiety disorders. So include them in your diet every day, especially when going through times of stress.
When you’re physically active, your brain releases endorphins that help elevate and stabilize your mood, improve your sleep and nourish your neurons. According to a 2013 study in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “exercise is associated with reduced anxiety in clinical settings..” Even one vigorous session can help reduce symptoms of anxiety for hours, and maintaining a regular schedule may significantly diminish them over time.
Mindful practices such as meditation are so effective at reducing anxiety that many psychologists now include this ancient Buddhist technique as part of mainstream therapy, says Gonzalez. For those who can’t sit still, he recommends mindfulness practices such as yoga or tai chi.
There’s a reason that “take a deep breath” has been the go-to advice for calming yourself down for eons. Deep breathing can help relieve anxiety and panic, which is probably why classes focusing on breathwork are popping up all over. “We tend to take really short, shallow breaths through our chest because we are always on the go,” Gonzalez says. “But breathing from the belly, like babies naturally do, tells your nervous system to turn on its relaxation mode.” Next time you feel like panicking, try this instead: Inhale slowly through your nose until your stomach sticks out. Then open your mouth and gently exhale, pulling your belly back in.
Record three things you’re grateful for, either on your cell phone or in a journal, every night. “This positive thinking shifts your mind away from fear and from the stuff that makes you anxious,” Gonzalez says. If your goal is to feel better, building yourself a treatment toolkit with a variety of interventions, such as giving yourself pep talks and making lists of things you’re worried about, can also be very helpful.
Try a herbal remedy.
A study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that patients with generalized anxiety disorder who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to those who took a placebo. Other studies have shown that consuming lavender supplements or simply sniffing lavender oil can reduce anxiety symptoms. But Gonzalez cautions that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so the potency can vary depending on the brand. Your best bet is to look for a label from U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International or ConsumerLab.com on the bottle, which are third-party verification organizations.