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We’re a nation of stressed-out, frazzled folks trying to go about our best lives. Anxiety is a natural part of life, but when it’s experienced too frequently and gets in the way of living life, it becomes a serious problem, serious enough that it’s considered a psychological disorder. Chronic anxiety is an unpleasant part of daily life for over 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is the body’s response to stress, particularly about a situation that may be a threat to us. As such, it can be helpful, but when worry and dread become a bigger problem than what’s provoking it, it’s a good idea to look for some relief.
Anxiety harms a person’s mental and physical condition by keeping our “flight or fight” systems stuck in gear. Unlike an emergency reaction, low-level anxiety can lurk beyond our immediate awareness, but it’s there, causing us to stay too alert all the time, which slowly erodes our ability to cope. As our coping becomes less and less effective, the effects of low-level anxiety get worse and worse.
These negative feelings translate into a deep sense of unease that causes the body’s fight-or-flight system to stay on alert all day, every day. Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include:
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
People “store” their stress and anxiety differently and so experience it in different ways. Most people have a combination of the following symptoms.
- Persistent fatigue. Feeling tired when you’ve not exerted yourself results from the body and mind always being keyed up. Anxiety keeps our muscles tense and they can clench painfully by the end of the day. Tense muscles contribute to persistent fatigue
- Restlessness. Anxiety causes an “always-on” effect to the nerves that control muscles, making them feel tense and restless. People describe themselves as being jittery and on-edge.
- Gastrointestinal Problems. Gastrointestinal problems are very common with anxiety. Cramps, constipation and diarrhea may occur with or without Irritable Bowel Disease, which occurs in people with and without anxiety. Anxiety makes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) much worse.
- Insomnia caused by persistent worry keeps people from falling asleep or staying asleep. Anxiety can also contribute to early-morning waking. Insomnia naturally makes fatigue worse.
- Persistent and excessive worry. Dread and worry are the constant companions of people suffering from anxiety. In Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), people are consumed with worry, even though there’s nothing definite in their environment or lives to rationally worry about. Although this seems irrational, it’s important to understand that a degree of irrationality goes along with chronic anxiety. Even when people with anxiety can identify a troublesome cause for their dread, it’s out of proportion to the threat or to the likelihood of the threat becoming real.
- Panic Attacks. Panic attacks involve out-of-nowhere terrifying episodes that feel like death is imminent. A panic attack isn’t at all the same as simply being scared. A panic attack is incapacitating and usually painful. A person experiencing a panic attack suffers chest pain, has trouble breathing, experiences sweats, a racing pulse, and trouble breathing. People often pass out during a panic attack.
- Brain fog and trouble concentrating. Brain fog refers to a sense of not quite fully being a part of one’s activities. People with anxiety also have trouble concentrating, which leads to errors, that adds to frustration. Anxiety keeps the body’s fight-or-flight system up and running, at least at a low level, all the time. This drains our physical and mental energy.
- People with anxiety may start avoiding what makes them nervous. Social anxiety leads to people refusing to be involved in social interactions, either in general or in certain kinds of interactions, like public speaking. People don’t become avoidant of social situations out of shyness or a desire to be alone. Anxiety is the cause and leads to social isolation.
Can Supplements Relieve Anxiety?
Although we feel anxiety throughout our body, it begins in the central nervous system. Neurons, specialized cells in the brain are responsible for all our vital life functions, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. These nerve cells communicate with each other by the production and transmission of chemicals that turn on or turn off cellular activity. These neurotransmitters must be present in exquisitely precise amounts. Our bodies make neurotransmitters from amino acids in the foods we consume, but it’s possible to produce too little. Supplements help make sure that those levels are just right for the nervous system’s best performance.
Find Your Best Supplement for Anxiety
There are a lot of supplements for anxiety out there. We’ve checked the best and reviewed them for you. They include:
If you’re looking for the single best supplement for anxiety, don’t miss GABA! Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a vital brain chemical that acts to tamp down over-excitement in the nervous system. It calms and soothes the brain’s organic circuitry when things get too fraught by slowing or shutting down the action of certain nervous pathways in the brain. It also helps in the production of serotonin, one of the brain’s first-line chemicals that assist us in having a good mood. GABA isn’t found in many foods, so adding a supplement to your diet is the way to go.
A single 500 or 750 mg tablet is usually sufficient for anxiety relief.
The relaxing effects from a cup of green tea come from an amino acid called l-theanine. If you’ve ever wondered what makes green tea so relaxing, it’s due to an amino acid called theanine (l-theanine). It increases levels of GABA, dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are all critical chemicals the brain uses for cellular communication.
By increasing, GABA levels, theanine also boosts dopamine, which helps increase a sense of well-being and calmness. Serotonin is often low in people with depression and anxiety disorders. Restoring an average level of serotonin helps reduce anxiety. Theanine may be taken at an average dose of 200 mg twice a day. It starts to work within 30 minutes and produces an effect that lasts 6 to 8 hours.
L-theanine may be taken as a powder, drops or capsules.
The B vitamins are essential for the health of our nervous system. They’re water soluble, meaning our bodies cannot store them in our fatty tissues and thus have to be replaced every day. All the B vitamins are required to keep your nervous system working well. They’re also essential for converting food into energy, which is critical because nerve cells need a staggering amount of energy to work well. In fact, about 25 percent of your body’s nutrient-rich blood supply is being used by the brain at any given time. The B vitamins work together to help produce red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Functions of the B group include the following:
B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B7 (biotin) are all responsible for converting the foods we eat into energy for our cells. B6 (pyridoxine) is essential for the production of neurotransmitters and red blood cells, and B12 is required for the proper functioning of the entire nervous system.
Because there are several important B vitamins, taking a supplement is both a cost-effective and efficient way to get all the B vitamins you need. You can find B complex vitamins in capsules, tablets, liquid or gummi forms.
Dosages for B complex vitamins vary. Take them according to the packaging directions or as prescribed by a physician.
Vitamin D deficiency is common throughout the world. A deficiency in vitamin D is known to cause some forms of depression. There’s also good research that shows a deficiency in vitamin D may result in some kinds of anxiety disorders. Vitamin D is important for the proper regulation of our moods, as well as the good health of the brain and the body’s nerves. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, but the necessary amount of sunlight can be hard to get for those in far northern locales. Note that there are two forms of vitamin D: D2 and D3. D3 is the form that’s most commonly found in supplements and is far more effective than D2.
Take 400–800 IU of vitamin D3 a day, although a higher dosage may be necessary if you live where there’s a lack of intense daily sunlight.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water sea fish and contain two specific fats, EPA and DHA, that help reduce anxiety and depression. These fats are polyunsaturated fats that don’t carry the health risks other fats do. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in joints and in blood vessels, especially the tiny blood vessels like those found in the brain. A large study published in September 2018 demonstrated solid and systematic evidence that omega-3 fatty acids reduce anxiety in people with clinical anxiety disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available in capsule form, with a typical dose ranging from 1500 mg to 2000 mg once or twice a day.
For thousands of years, valerian root has been a go-to solution for delivering sleep and relief from anxiety. It is a medicinal herb derived from the roots of a daisy-like plant that grows as a wild perineal throughout North America. Valerian is thought to be safe for short-term use by healthy adults and has shown effectiveness in lowering levels of anxiety and depression in some populations. Like other good supplements for anxiety, valerian works by improving the levels of GABA in the brain while reducing the activity of over-energized nerves.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given valerian root the label GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”) but it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor if you plan on taking in for more than one month.
The usual dosage of valerian root for anxiety is 200 mg once a day. It may take up to a week to become effective. Note that valerian is often sold or accompanied with melatonin to treat insomnia. For anxiety, it’s important to take valerian without melatonin. It’s a good idea to start with a small dosage of valerian to prevent sleepiness. Valerian may make any anti-anxiety agent or medication over-sedating, so use caution when finding your ideal dosage.
Like valerian, chamomile has been a favorite supplement for reducing anxiety for thousands of years. Many people get the benefits of chamomile by drinking it as a tea, although it’s easy to find in capsule form. It’s been found to be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety in several studies. An effective starting dosage is 700 mg twice a day, although greater doses may be used.
Ashwagandha is found in the Ayurvedic medicinal tradition and is used to fight a variety of ills, including anxiety. Ashwagandha comes from an herb common to India and has been used for 3000 years in treating fatigue and anxiety. It contains a complex array of chemicals called withanolides, which fight and reduce inflammation by reducing the levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is necessary for the body’s fight-or-flight response, but most people generate too much cortisol, which can lead to inflammation that affects the production of essential chemicals within the body.
Ashwagandha can be taken easily in capsule form. 300 to 600 mg a day has been shown to be safe and effective.