Anxiety has grown to epidemic scale in the United States with over 40 million people suffering. Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s total mental health expenses.
Every year, millions of anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Ativan are prescribed making them some of the most commonly prescribed medications. They belong to a group of drugs known as the benzodiazepines.
The exact mechanism by which benzodiazepines function is not completely understood, but it’s thought that they increase levels of the calming neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) or boost GABA receptor sensitivity. Other drugs that belong in this group, widely known as “benzos,” include brand names such as Centrax, Dalmane, Klonopin, Librium, Paxipam, Restoril, Serax, Tranxene, and Valium.
These drugs can eliminate anxiety or a panic attack in its tracks. Relief is experienced shortly — often within an hour — and typically lasts 11 to 20 hours. While these drugs might at first seem like a wonder if you are suffering from anxiety, there are many reasons to avoid taking them if at all possible. As the Chinese proverb says, “The bigger the front, the bigger the back.” And these drugs have a very big back.
The Downside Of Anti-Anxiety Drugs
Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan come with a large number of side effects. They include feeling drowsy, dizzy, weak, confused, or unsteady. Other reported side effects are depression, disorientation, headache, mental confusion, irritability, aggressiveness, memory loss, and problems with sleep. Long-term use can raise your risk of dementia. One research demonstrated that the more benzodiazepines you take altogether, the bigger your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Anti-anxiety medications are created for short-term use — a few weeks or months at best — since they are very addictive. After four to six months they typically stop functioning which is normal for any addictive substance. People develop a tolerance needing more and more to get the same effect.
While it often takes months for people to develop an addiction, for some it can happen much quicker — in as little as a few weeks. Once you are addicted, giving up these medications is really difficult. In fact, they are right up there in the “top 10” most difficult addictive substances to kick along with heroin and cocaine.
If you do decide to give up taking Xanax, you can expect to feel some quite strong withdrawal side effects, including anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, muscle tension, and irritability. You are right if you noticed that these sound a lot like all the reasons you decided to take it in the first place. But it can be much worse. Some users experience depression, nausea, blurred vision, sweating, hallucinations, delusions, and seizures.
There are particular groups of people who should never take these drugs. You should not take benzodiazepines if you are pregnant, over 65, or prone to addictions. You should never take them if you drink alcohol or take other drugs, either prescription or recreational. Benzodiazepines send over 100,000 people to the emergency room every year. Over 80% of these visits are due to interactions with other drugs or alcohol. In some situations, these interactions can be fatal.
And finally, these drugs don’t work for everyone. A minority of those who take them experience paradoxical reactions and feel more anxious, impulsive, and aggressive.
Natural Alternatives To Anti-Anxiety Medications
If you believe that these drugs, sometimes referred to as “mother’s little helper,” don’t sound very useful, you are completely right. Thankfully, there are many natural alternatives to anti-anxiety drugs.
Here are some natural alternatives to Xanax, Ativan, and other prescription anti-anxiety medications. Most of these have been demonstrated to be effective without side effects in scientific research, while all have a substantial and often long history of use in traditional and alternative medicine.
with niacin, picamilon gives a workaround to get GABA into your brain. This “new and improved” form of GABA gives prescription-strength benefits for anxiety, depression, raised blood pressure, and migraine headaches. It has nootropic qualities and is popular among college students who use it to enhance concentration and memory. It’s believed to particularly help with social anxiety.
Kava (Piper methysticum)
should for sure be on the top of any natural anxiety relief list. This conventional tea has been safely used as an integral part of the South Pacific culture for over 3,000 years. When tested against the antidepressants Buspirone and Opipramol, kava was found to be just as effective for anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as the prescription medications. Kava functions, in part, by boosting GABA.
You may come across warnings that kava can lead to liver damage, but this is a bogus scare. Decades ago, kava was implicated in a handful of liver-related deaths, yet 85 studies failed to definitively connect them to kava. The NIH concluded that the risk of liver damage from taking a kava supplement is less than one in one million, making it several order of magnitudes safer than Xanax.
, previously known as vitamin B8, is found in high concentrations in the brain. All major neurotransmitters rely on inositol for relaying messages between brain cells. Inositol makes an effective natural anti-anxiety remedy.
One research found it worked as well fluvoxamine, a popular selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication, for treating panic disorder. Fluvoxamine is used to treat a range of other mental issues, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and major depressive disorder (MDD). Research participants who took fluvoxamine felt nausea and fatigue while those who took inositol reported no side effects.
Inositol is also a great choice for women having mood swings, depression, and anxiety associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Women who take inositol often have great improvement in PMS and PMDD symptoms.
Inositol is found in most foods but in very small amounts. The average diet contains 1 gram of inositol. If you are taking inositol for therapeutic purposes, you’ll need to take up to 18 grams daily. Since most inositol pills and capsules contain 500 mg, this would require taking a lot of pills. Instead, consider taking inositol powder which can be taken with water.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Unfortunately, the name
reminds people of caffeinated cola drinks or kola nuts, but nothing could be further from the truth. Gotu kola is actually a relaxing herb and an essential part of some Asian cuisines. Yogis use it as a meditation aid since it’s thought to promote balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Research demonstrates that gotu kola can enhance calmness, contentedness, and alertness by 100% and lower symptoms of anxiety and depression by 50%.
Arctic Root (Rhodiola rosea)
As you can guess from the name,
(also know as Rhodiola rosea) is found mostly in cold areas of the planet. It was used traditionally in Chinese medicine to boost physical stamina and decrease fatigue due to stress. One way Arctic root functions is by enhancing the activity of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Arctic root eliminates symptoms of anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. It can also aid fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome patients dealing with stress and anxiety that often accompany these disorders.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
is an Indian Ayurvedic herb also known as tulsi, which means “the incomparable one.” Holy basil is considered to bestow its users with a long and healthy life. Holy basil fights anxiety by reducing levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol. It gives great relief to those with generalized anxiety disorder and related stress and depression.
Studies support the conventional belief that this revered herb offers a wide array of healing traits. It is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It protects the liver, the heart, and the nervous system. It has anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties. It can also help with other brain-related disorders, including depression, memory loss, insomnia, and migraine headaches. With all of these benefits, holy basil is thought to be one of Ayurvedic medicine’s most vital healing herbs.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
is one more essential herb in the Ayurvedic healing tradition. Its name literally means “smell of horse,” which is pretty accurate because it smells like a horse and is said to give the strength and stamina of one to those who take it. Ashwagandha lowers anxiety and depression without leading to drowsiness. It functions, in part, by raising levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin while reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One research showed that taking ashwagandha lowers cortisol by an impressive 27%. It is very useful for those with the anxiety disorder agoraphobia.
The efficacy of ashwagandha for anxiety is based more on the reported success of conventional use than scientific evidence. According to naturopathic doctor Dr. Peter Bongiorno, author of How Come They’re Happy and I’m Not, “Most of the understanding we have about ashwagandha is based on its substantial anecdotal history and animal studies. But more clinical studies are being done.”
Anti-anxiety drugs are known to function by raising the neurotransmitter GABA and you can use GABA supplements. But they typically don’t work since GABA is too large a molecule to come into the brain. A comfortable way to solve this issue is by using GABA’s precursor taurine.
is an amino acid found in high concentrations in the brain, where it acts very much like GABA. It has a calming effect if you suffer from anxiety, stress, insomnia, or an overstimulated mind.
is a significant mineral that’s often missing from the modern diet because of magnesium-depleted soil and water. According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, magnesium deficiency can be a major contributor to anxiety and panic attacks. She says that when you are experiencing stress, your body makes adrenaline, which leads to a range of physical effects, all of which consume magnesium.
After decades of researching magnesium, she has demonstrated the connection between anxiety and magnesium to be so strong that she flatly states, “To put an end to anxiety, magnesium must be replaced.” Note that there are many forms of magnesium and some are more bioavailable than others. Magnesium oxide, for instance, is a popular, cheap form, but research demonstrates that its fractional absorption (bioavailability) is only 4%. Dr. Dean advises magnesium citrate as a great all-purpose magnesium supplement. You also might want to look into magnesium oil which is applied topically, especially if you are susceptible to oral magnesium’s laxative effect.
Switch To Green Tea
People around the planet are in love with caffeine. Over 80% of Americans drink coffee daily and millions more get their caffeine from energy drinks, soda, and tea.
But one of the best tips to lower anxiety is to go caffeine-free. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s compendium of mental health conditions, recognizes four caffeine-induced disorders. The connection between caffeine and anxiety is so strong that one research concluded that, “Assessment of caffeine intake should form part of routine psychiatric assessment and should be carried out before prescribing hypnotics” and that, “Decaffeinated beverages should be provided on psychiatric wards.”
If you aren’t ready to go completely caffeine-free, think of replacing coffee with green tea. Its modest amount of caffeine is offset by the compounds l-theanine and EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). These relaxing compounds have the unique ability to alter your brainwave patterns to induce a mental state similar to that reached during meditation.
Even More Alternatives
Just as no one prescription medication works for everyone all the time, no one natural remedy is effective for everyone as well. These aren’t the only natural alternatives to prescription anti-anxiety drugs by a long shot. If you try these and they don’t work, don’t get disappointed. There are many other alternatives to try.
Other supplements to think of include B complex vitamins, chamomile, valerian, bacopa, ginkgo, ginseng, and oregano oil. The appropriate use of calming essential oils, especially lavender oil, can soothe away stress and anxiety.
And lastly, not all natural alternatives to Xanax, Ativan, and anti-anxiety drugs are physical substances that you ingest or apply — some are things you do. Physical exercise, breathing exercises, meditation, and mind-body healing techniques like biofeedback, hypnosis, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) should be considered as well. These techniques can help you address the root cause of your anxiety, ultimately freeing you from the need to take anti-anxiety pills of any kind.