best supplements for anxiety and stress

7 Best Supplements for Anxiety and Stress

Last modified on October 20th, 2023

There are some excellent supplements for anxiety and stress, and below, we talk more about what you might consider if this is something you deal with.

Understanding Anxiety and Stress

While there are similarities, anxiety, and stress are two distinct concepts.

Stress is any physical or mental demand that you experience. If you feel nervous or frustrated in any way, it can trigger stress.

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or worry, which can occur as a reaction to stress. Anxiety can also happen without any known trigger.

Symptoms of both anxiety and stress are similar and include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Appetite changes
  • Muscle tension Increased heart rate

The difference between anxiety and stress is that stress is tied to a particular trigger or situation, and when the situation gets better, the stress you’re experiencing does too.

There can also be chronic stress that some people experience, which is long-lasting and occurs because of ongoing pressures like family problems or a complex, demanding job.

Anxiety doesn’t tend to have a specific stressor.

Anxiety Disorders

Occasional anxiety is something that people can experience from time to time. It’s normal to worry about health or money, for example, occasionally. Anxiety disorders go beyond a temporary or situational worry or fear. If you have an anxiety disorder, your anxiety doesn’t go away and probably worsens with time.

If you have an anxiety disorder, the symptoms can impact every part of your daily life.

Commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety, and specific phobias.

Risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder include both genetic and environmental factors.

Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

If someone has an anxiety disorder, treatments tend to include talk therapy and sometimes medication. Usually, a combination of both can work.

If you’d like to try a natural supplement for anxiety and stress, like the ones listed below, it could be helpful for your symptoms. Talking to your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement is a good idea.

The supplements we discuss below for anxiety and stress meet certain criteria.

When we choose supplements for anxiety and stress to feature, they have to be backed by scientific research, they have to be high-quality products on an individual level, and they need to have a strong reputation.

1. L-Theanine

  • What Is it? L-theanine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in black and green tea and some mushrooms.    
  • The Benefits: As a supplement, L-theanine may help with stress and anxiety, and insomnia.
  • How much should you take? Follow manufacturer instructions, but usually, a good dose of l-theanine for anxiety and stress could be anywhere from 100-400 mg daily, usually in divided doses. Doses of up to 900 mg have been used safely in research for eight weeks.
  • Are there side effects? L-theanine is considered a safe supplement for anxiety and stress, but the FDA doesn’t regulate any supplements. If you were to consume very large amounts of L-theanine, you might experience symptoms like nausea or upset stomach.     

L-theanine is an excellent supplement for anxiety and stress. This amino acid can help you feel more relaxed, but it does so without necessarily causing drowsiness. At least five randomized controlled trials have shown that L-theanine can reduce stress and anxiety in people who experience stressful situations.

Additional benefits of L-theanine include helping with focus and attention, especially when combined with caffeine.

There’s evidence L-theanine can improve your immune function and decrease the prevalence of upper respiratory infections.

There are also associations between L-theanine and improving the anti-tumor effects of chemotherapy and the ability of chemo to fight cancer.

L-theanine may be beneficial for anxiety and stress because it’s thought to affect certain levels of brain chemicals, including serotonin and dopamine. These brain chemicals influence mood, emotions, cortisol, and sleep quality. When these chemicals are out of balance, they can change your mood or your levels of stress.

2. Ashwagandha   

  • What Is it? Ashwagandha is a medicinal plant-based supplement that’s used frequently in Ayurveda and has been for thousands of years.   
  • The Benefits: Ashwagandha has numerous benefits, including its ability to help with anxiety symptoms and improve your sense of well-being.
  • How much should you take? A dose of around 500 to 600 mg of ashwagandha daily for 6-12 weeks tends to help many people with anxiety.     
  • Are there side effects? Ashwagandha is considered safe for most people, but it could interact with thyroid, blood pressure, and blood sugar medications. You should also be careful if you have an autoimmune disease and avoid it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Ashwagandha is one of my favorite supplements available for so many reasons, and it’s a supplement that I take daily. If I could choose one herbal supplement that I feel has the most mental health benefits, it would be ashwagandha.

As far as being one of the best supplements for anxiety and stress, ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that your adrenal glands produce in response to stress. In studies, doses taken daily of 125 mg up to 5 grams for one to three months have lowered cortisol levels by 11-32%.

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years and is one of Ayurveda’s most important herbs. Ayurveda is a traditional form of medicine focused on natural healing.

It’s considered an adaptogen, so taking ashwagandha can help your body better cope with the effects of stress. It’s thought to control certain stress mediators and can reduce the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or the HPA axis. This is a bodily system that regulates your stress response.

Along with reducing stress and anxiety, ashwagandha may improve sleep quality, boost athletic performance, and relieve symptoms of other mental health conditions besides anxiety, like depression.

In men, ashwagandha may help improve fertility and testosterone levels.

For people with diabetes or high blood sugar levels, there’s some evidence that ashwagandha may have benefits, probably because of a compound called withaferin A. Withaferin A has antidiabetic activity, and it also stimulates cells to take in glucose from the bloodstream.

The same compound targets the body’s inflammatory pathways and can reduce inflammatory proteins.

Finally, ashwagandha may improve memory and brain function. In one review of five clinical studies, there was evidence that taking ashwagandha could enhance cognitive function in some populations, including older people with mild cognitive impairment.

3. Lavender    

  • What Is it? Lavender comes from the beautiful purple flower.       
  • The Benefits: Lavender can reduce anxiety by affecting the fight-or-flight response, and it doesn’t have a sedating effect but is calming.
  • How much should you take? If you’re taking the Lavela supplement recommended above, follow the dosage instructions from the manufacturer. I believe Lavela is the best lavender you can take for anxiety, and I use it. In some studies, around 80 grams of lavender oil in capsule form taken for six weeks has effectively reduced anxiety symptoms.  
  • Are there side effects? The FDA says that lavender is generally recognized as safe, but you should follow the product’s dose guidelines that you’re using. Be careful not to use more than the manufacturer indicates because it can cause drowsiness and nausea.   

I linked to Lavela above, and I’ll also link to it here because I have personal experience with this lavender supplement and find that it’s excellent for stress and anxiety. Lavender has a history of use going back to Medieval times, and it’s calming without being sedating, so you can use it any time of day.

Lavender essential oil and capsules are beneficial for anxiety and restlessness, agitation, depressive symptoms, and problems with sleep.

In one study, lavender aromatherapy helped reduce anxiety in women during labor, and in a separate study, lavender and orange aromas reduced anxiety in dental patients.

Lavender can help improve your mood, reduce adrenaline levels, regulate your breathing and lower your heart rate. It affects the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls processes associated with anxiety, like hormone secretion, heart rate, and breathing rhythm. Lavender can help by bringing these processes back to a state of neutrality.

Research shows lavender might be beneficial as a complementary treatment for mild to moderate depression and can reduce stress levels. Oral lavender taken for six weeks in one study was shown to improve the mental health and quality of life of 50 people with PTSD.

Clinical studies show the most effective way to get the benefits of lavender is to take it orally. Oral supplements like Lavela use lavender essential oil. The oil has to be high-quality and not contain synthetic substances or additives, which is why I recommend Lavela.

4. Chamomile    

  • What Is it? Chamomile has a long history of use, especially in tea. It’s part of the Asteraceae plant family, and it’s been used for centuries for varying health conditions.   
  • The Benefits: Chamomile may have anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties and help improve sleep quality.    
  • How much should you take? There’s not one specific dose of chamomile for anxiety, but in research, doses of anywhere from 500-1,500 mg have been used for long-term periods.  
  • Are there side effects? Chamomile, consumed as a tea or a supplement, is typically considered safe for most people, but you shouldn’t use it if you have an allergy to plants in the daisy family. The safety of chamomile hasn’t been established in people with liver or kidney disease, pregnant or nursing women, or young children. There aren’t reports of any toxicity or life-threatening reactions to chamomile.

Chamomile tea is one of the most popular beverages people worldwide like to have, especially in the evening before bed. Chamomile is an herb and it comes from the Asteraceae plant family, which is a family of daisy-like flowers.

Chamomile is caffeine-free, so people sometimes use it as an alternative to green or black tea. It’s packed with antioxidants, and research also shows benefits of chamomile for anxiety are meaningful. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, chamomile is possibly effective for anxiety.

A study in 2009, which was the first controlled clinical trial of a chamomile extract, found it had a modest anti-anxiety effect for people with general anxiety disorder. In this study, participants took 200-1000 mg of chamomile daily for eight weeks.

In 2016, a study found that taking 500 mg of chamomile extract three times a day for 12 weeks significantly reduced generalized anxiety disorder symptoms that were moderate-to-severe in intensity.

Along with having anti-anxiety effects, chamomile extract may have antidepressant properties.

For some people, it’s easier to use chamomile as an extract, like the one we linked to above, because they can add it to anything rather than having to take the time to brew a cup of tea. You can also get a more concentrated amount of chamomile from an extract.

Other potential benefits of chamomile include its ability to prevent Helicobacter pylori, which is the bacteria that contribute to stomach ulcers. Chamomile can reduce muscle spasms associated with GI disorders like inflammatory bowel disease.

Chamomile may also benefit from diabetes, eczema, oral health, and insomnia.

5. Magnesium   

  • What Is it? Magnesium is one of our body’s most abundant minerals, and it also has a number of health benefits and plays an integral role in bodily functions.
  • The Benefits: There is evidence that magnesium may be a natural treatment for anxiety and stress, including anxiety during PMS, postpartum anxiety, and generalized anxiety.
  • How much should you take? The recommended amount of magnesium daily for adults is between 310 and 420 mg. Your age and gender do affect how much magnesium you need. If you’re taking it as a supplement, you may notice anti-anxiety effects at a dose of between 75 and 360 mg daily.
  • Are there side effects? Magnesium is something we need, but you shouldn’t take too much. If you take more than 350 mg of supplemental magnesium daily, you could experience digestive upset and diarrhea. More severe but rare magnesium overdose symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and cardiac arrest. These aren’t likely side effects if you get a lot of magnesium from diet alone.    

We’re learning more and more about the powerful role that magnesium can have in our life and also the negative effects of deficiency.

Magnesium is an important mineral that appears to help with anxiety. Numerous studies have shown the potential benefits of magnesium for anxiety, and this might be the case because it can improve brain function and regulate neurotransmitters.

Researchers have identified that magnesium could help with particular brain functions that reduce stress and anxiety. Magnesium affects the hypothalamus in the brain, which regulates your pituitary and adrenal glands. These are responsible for how you respond to stress.

There are different types of magnesium because it’s often bound to other substances, so it’s easier for your body to absorb it. For anxiety, studies focus on using magnesium oxide or magnesium lactate. However, it’s unclear which type of magnesium supplements for anxiety and stress would work best.

That’s why I use Bioptimizers Magnesium Breakthrough supplement. It has seven forms of magnesium, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re targeting the right or best type for anxiety. Magnesium Breakthrough is also designed to pass through the digestive process and be absorbed rapidly.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, people consistently are shown not to get enough magnesium from their diets alone and have low levels.

Along with the potential of magnesium as one of the best supplements for anxiety and stress, other benefits include helping with pain and migraines, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes, improving sleep quality, and lowering blood pressure.

You might notice an overall improvement in your mood if you start taking magnesium, too, especially if you’re deficient.

 6. Saffron   

  • What Is it? Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and it’s also used as a supplement with many mental health and physical benefits.
  • The Benefits: The potential benefits of saffron include improving mood, memory, and libido, as well as potentially helping symptoms of anxiety and depression.  
  • How much should you take? While you should follow the instructions of the saffron supplement manufacturer you choose, in studies, doses of anywhere from 20 to 100 mg daily have been used. For example, in one study of saffron as an antidepressant, 30 mg twice daily was used for six weeks.
  • Are there side effects? Saffron is generally considered safe, and large doses of up to 1.5 grams a day may be used without significant side effects, but more than 5 mg a day can have toxic effects. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor about saffron because high doses can lead to miscarriage.

Saffron is an excellent supplement for your mental health and well-being. It also happens to be something I use daily. Saffron is often called the sunshine spice, not only because of its color but because of its positive effects on mood.

In studies, saffron supplements are more effective than placebos in helping with symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression. In one study, 30 mg of saffron daily was as effective as conventional depression treatments like Fluoxetine without the side effects.

Similarly, saffron may help with anxiety symptoms. This may be because it can improve inflammation and protect brain cells from oxidative stress.

Along with potential mental health benefits, saffron might have cancer-fighting properties. In test-tube studies, saffron has been shown to suppress the growth of or kill colon cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone. This has been found with several other cancer cells, including bone marrow, lung, breast, and prostate.

Saffron taken in doses of 30 mg daily may help with PMS symptoms in women ages 20-45, including cravings, pain, and headaches. Even smelling saffron in one study helped reduce PMS symptoms, including anxiety, and decreased cortisol, the stress hormone.

Saffron may be an aphrodisiac that can boost your libido in both men and women.

There’s also the potential that saffron can reduce your appetite and help you lose weight.

7. Valerian

  • What Is it? Valerian is a medicinal plant used medicinally since ancient Rome and Greece.  
  • The Benefits: Valerian is used for anxiety and depression, PMS, menopause symptoms, headaches, and insomnia.   
  • How much should you take? While it depends on the specific product you’re using of valerian root for anxiety, you might take 120 to 200 mg three times a day, with the last dose being correct before bed. You could take it before bed if you find it too sedating.  
  • Are there side effects? Most research suggests valerian is safe for short-term use by most adults. Taking very high doses, you could experience side effects like headaches, stomach upset, or mental dullness. Some people feel drowsy in the morning after taking valerian the night before at high doses.  

Valerian has a long history of being used medicinally, and it’s a common ingredient with proponents who say it helps with anxiety, nervous tension, and insomnia. For centuries it’s been used to help things like nervousness, stress, and insomnia.

The herbal supplement versions of valerian are usually made from the rhizome root.

Researchers believe valerian might be one of the best supplements for anxiety and stress because it can increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory brain chemical, meaning it has a calming effect on brain activity.

Prescription drugs like Xanax similarly increase your brain’s GABA levels.

If you’re thinking about trying valerian for anxiety, you might want to take a lower dose than you would if using it for insomnia to avoid daytime sleepiness.

The FDA says valerian root is generally recognized as safe but has mild reported side effects. These possible side effects can include headache, stomach upset, restlessness, and dizziness.

Final Thoughts—The Best Supplements for Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety and stress affect so many people every day, but there are lifestyle changes as well as potential supplements that can help you with these symptoms. Remember, this isn’t medical advice, and you should speak to your doctor about any questions.

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Ashley Sutphin Watkins
Ashley Sutphin Watkins is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's a medical content writer, journalist and an avid researcher of all things related to health and wellness. Ashley lives near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee with her family.
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