Anxiety – it’s a term we’ve all heard and an experience many of us know intimately. These feelings of unease, worry, or fear are more than common; they’re a worldwide phenomenon affecting millions. There’s a burgeoning interest in holistic, non-pharmacological treatment options. Partially due to a wave of mistrust in giant corporations, and partially due to a growing community of people curious about more gentle and sustainable treatments, the interest in supplements has grown so much that even us therapists are now evaluating whether this could be a viable option for clients.  

What are the Risks and limitations of Synthetic Drugs?

A traditional path for anxiety treatment may see the introduction of pharmaceutical drugs such as beta-blockers, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. However, although synthetic drugs are helpful, they are not a complete answer for all patients. Additionally, these medications can carry risks and potential side effects that people seeking treatment might find overwhelming or scary. These can range from mild to severe, with common issues including disturbed sleep, gastrointestinal discomfort, and at times even cognitive impairment. There’s also a possibility of dependency forming, particularly with long-term use, and withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of the medication. This is why alternative therapies may be appealing. 

Can Natural Supplements Help Anxiety?

While supplements are not a replacement for medical treatments or therapeutic strategies, research suggests they may positively influence mental well-being and provide supplemental support. 

Magnesium for Anxiety Treatment

In recent years, magnesium has gained a sort of cult popularity among holistic enthusiasts. From relaxing muscles to reducing anxiety, this little mineral has been said to do it all. Magnesium appears naturally in a variety of foods, so it’s something our bodies are already well acquainted with. Notable studies have found that magnesium deficiency (which is common in Western diets) is associated with increased anxiety behaviors. In 2012, a study showed that magnesium’s anti-anxiety effect is because of its ability to regulate the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenocortical) axis, a central stress response system. 

It’s possible (and preferable) to reach your recommended daily dose of magnesium through a diet with high-magnesium foods like:

  • Spinach
  • Black beans
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat

Supplementation can also be beneficial for those who are already deficient. It’s always advised, however, to talk to a doctor before starting supplementation to avoid overuse and potential side effects. High doses of magnesium have been known to cause diarrhea and may also interfere with the efficacy of other drugs.

Ashwagandha for Anxiety Treatment

Ashwagandha is another supplement that has found popularity in the West, but did you know that knowledge of its usefulness goes back centuries? It’s a traditional herb used in Ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of alternative medicine based on traditional Indian principles of natural healing. Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens are substances found in certain plants and mushrooms that may help your body cope with stress, anxiety, and fatigue and ashwagandha definitely fits the bill. There are several studies that suggest this powerful herb can help the body manage and reduce stress, which in turn reduces anxiety.

As with magnesium, Ashwagandha also comes with potential side effects such as upset stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

Exploring Other Supplements for Anxiety Treatment

The research does just end there. As I said, there is a growing interest in how these supplements can improve our lives, and several other supplements have grown in popularity, which led to actual scientific studies to determine their efficacy. This Includes:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A rock star in heart health, but did you know that they might also help elevate mood and lessen anxiety? Foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, and seafood are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids; however, supplements are also available for those who may want an easier way of tracking the amount they want to consume. 

2. Vitamin D: Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” there is a lot of research that makes a connection between low Vitamin D levels and mood disorders including depression and anxiety. This is why clients seeking anxiety treatment are often tasked with taking walks in the sun. It’s proven that the sun is our best friend!

3. Probiotics: Growing evidence points to a major link between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis. Improve your gut health and you may see a change in your overall mood.

4. B Vitamins: B-complex vitamins influence your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism. They also boost nerve health, which lowers the chances of anxiety and sadness.

Each of these natural supplements has its own body of research supporting its potential use, and like magnesium and ashwagandha, each has its considerations and potential side effects. It’s crucial to remember that while supplementation can be beneficial and may provide noticeable improvements, it should be seen as just another part of a broader approach to managing and treating anxiety. 

Combining Supplements with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, and Meditation

While the effects of supplements like magnesium and ashwagandha are noteworthy, they can be complemented by other proven non-pharmacological techniques such as mindfulness and meditation. 

Practicing mindfulness engages the brain’s attention and emotional regulation areas, helping to increase the brain’s ability to resist spiraling into anxiety. Furthermore, regular practice can reshape neural pathways and boost brain concentration, awareness, and decision-making. Like mindfulness, meditation also acts on brain structure, helping reduce stress and anxiety responses. By creating a sense of calm, it can help provide distance and perspective to anxieties, reducing their intensity and impact.

The Takeaway

This isn’t encouragement to stop your medication and immediately switch to supplements. Merely, I wanted to present you with other options if you’re curious about alternative approaches. While more human research on the efficacy of supplements for anxiety is still needed, current scientific insights present promising approaches for battling anxiety. I believe that when combined with CBT, the positive effects of these supplements can be increased for those looking to manage their anxiety more naturally.

If you’d like to explore these topics further, please check out sources of further expert information. Heavily integrating a broad spectrum of elements—supplements, traditional medicine, diet, relaxation, overall well-being—into your treatment plan can be beneficial to your journey towards better mental health. Always involve healthcare professionals in these decisions and educate yourself about potential remedies’ risks and benefits.

Managing anxiety can seem overwhelming, but remember that is often a team effort–no one expects you to deal with it alone. As we’ve seen, the path to relief can come from several directions – be it conventional medicine, natural supplements, or cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques in our exploration of holistic approaches.

If you’re curious to learn more about managing anxiety through the use of natural remedies as part of your mental wellness regimen or simply want to understand better how a truly holistic approach to dealing with anxiety may benefit you – I’m here to help. 

Feel free to book a free 20-minute consultation with me. I would be happy to discuss your concerns and see what comprehensive approaches we can take to help manage your anxiety.

Go Mindful Counseling

Go Mindful Counseling offers compassionate and effective phone therapy and online therapy for anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, stress, insomnia, and addictive behaviors (see the website for the full list of treatment options).  We provide cognitive behavioral therapy through in-person sessions, online video conferencing, and phone. Click below to schedule a free 20-minute consultation.

Margie Ahern
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