10 Foods and Herbs to Calm Your Anxious Mind

Thursday Jun 4 | BY |
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Regular intake of some foods and herbs may help tame symptoms of anxiety.

Most of us face anxiety in our lives every now and then. It tends to come at certain times, showing up when we need to make a speech, teach a class, present a new idea to the boss, or meet the new in-laws for the first time.

It’s not comfortable, but it usually dissipates within a short time, leaving few if any lasting effects.

There’s another type of anxiety that’s even more concerning, though. It follows us on a daily basis, like little ants constantly crawling up our backs whispering words of fear in our ears.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or at least, be very uneasy.

We’re All Really Anxious

Doctors write about 50 million prescriptions for Xanax, the leading anti-anxiety drug, every year. A 2012 study reported that sales of antipsychotic drugs (used to treat mental distress and disorder) increased by $2.1 billion between 2010 and 2011. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds, in particular, grew 16 percent between 2002 and 2006.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults.

According to an article in Today, “Over the past three decades anxiety disorders have jumped more than 1,200 percent, with as many as 117 million adults in the U.S. reporting high levels of anxiety.”

Seems we’re an anxious bunch.

And who could blame us? The world is moving faster than ever before, and we’re exposed to increasing amounts of information suggesting that disaster looms around every corner. We worry about work, family, money, health, and in the process, suffer from symptoms like fatigue, irritability, brain fog, insomnia, restlessness, digestive ailments, and stress overload.

It’s no wonder many turn to the relief that prescription drugs can offer.

Still, if there were a natural solution, that would be preferable, right? Most drugs have side effects like drowsiness, skin problems, constipation, memory problems, and more. They can also be extremely addictive.

In this post, we examine the foods and herbs that can help encourage a calmer body and mind.

Note: The rest of this post deals with natural treatments for normal anxiety, generalized anxiety, so-called “functional anxiety,” and low-grade anxiety. Conditions like social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and other diagnosed conditions are more serious mental disorders that require the attention of a psychiatrist.

5 Foods that Help Calm Anxiety

Our world today seems to thrive on anxiety. High achievers and incessant doers are seen as among our most successful, yet they often neglect their health as they dash between deadlines, work harder every day to maintain their positions, and take care to look great doing it.

Then there’s the other side of the coin—people who struggle with anxiety because of employment difficulties, dashed retirement accounts, aging parents, and loved ones fighting wars overseas.

Whatever’s causing our anxiety, most of us would like it to back off, even if just for a short time.

We’ll start with food. These five items have actual anxiety-fighting powers:

  1. Salmon: Insert any food high in omega-3 fatty acids, here. Studies have reported that they can keep you calm. In 2011, for instance, researchers found that omega-3 supplementation reduced anxiety symptoms even among healthy young adults. An animal study that same year found similar results, with participants fed omega-3 supplements exhibiting lower anxiety levels compared to control animals. Other sources of omega-3s include tuna, trout, herring, anchovies, and sardines.
  2. Yogurt: The key here is probiotics. We have evidence that gut microbes affect mental health, and that supplementation with probiotics may help lower levels of anxiety. A 2011 study, for instance, found that anxious animals given probiotics not only displayed lower levels of anxiety, but also had decreased levels of stress hormones in their blood and an increased amount of neurotransmitters in the brain that curb anxiety. (Read more here.) Other sources include kefir, miso soup, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, and poi.
  3. Dark chocolate: Anxious chocolate-lovers rejoice. Reaching for that square of dark deliciousness may help you feel calmer. A 2013 study looked at the effect of polyphenols in cocoa on cognition and mood in healthy humans. Participants consumed a chocolate mix drink with varying amounts of these polyphenols once daily for 3 days. Those consuming the drink with 500 mg of the polyphenols had significantly increased calmness and contentedness compared to placebo.
  4. Green tea: In addition to all its other health benefits, green tea may help ease anxiety. It contains an amino acid called “L-theanine,” which studies have found has some anti-anxiety effects. It’s classified as a “relaxant,” and is believed to help people concentrate better when experiencing anxiety.
  5. Turmeric: Is there anything this versatile spice can’t do? A 2014 study found that 1,000 mg a day had an antidepressant activity in animals. A more recent 2015 study found that curcumin, the main compound in turmeric, boosted levels of DHA in the brain and reduced anxiety-like behavior in rodents. Researchers noted that the spice could be particularly helpful in vegans and vegetarians who may not be getting enough DHA from food sources, and who may be feeling anxious as a result.
5 Herbs that Help Calm Anxiety

In addition to foods, we also have several herbs that when taken regularly, may keep generalized anxiety under control.

  1. Chamomile: Chamomile tea or chamomile extract may be worth a try. In a 2009 study, researchers gave patients with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder chamomile extract (220 mg) or a placebo for eight weeks. Over half of those on the chamomile experienced significantly reduced (by greater than 50 percent) symptoms.
  2. Passionflower: This herb may work as well as some of the benzodiazepine medications that are usually prescribed for treating anxiety. A four-week double-blind study, for example, compared passionflower with oxazepam. Results showed oxazepam worked more quickly, but by the end of the study period, both treatments were shown to be equally effective. Bonus—side effects like daytime drowsiness were fewer with passionflower. A second study also showed that passionflower helped ease symptoms like anxiety, irritability, agitation, and depression in participants going through withdrawal from an opiate drug addiction.
  3. Lemon balm: Though usually found in combination with other herbs, lemon balm also has anti-anxiety powers on its own. A 2004 study, for instance, gave participants a single dose of lemon balm extract (300 mg or 600 mg) or a placebo, and then measured their mood after one hour. The higher dose resulted in reduced stress and improved calmness and alertness. Even the lower dose helped participants do math problems more quickly.
  4. Lavender: A 2010 multi-center, double blind randomized study of lavender oil compared to anti-anxiety medication lorazepam found that both were effective against generalized and persistent anxiety. Bonus—lavender had no sedative side effects.
  5. Ashwagandha: A 2012 double blind, placebo-controlled study gave participants either placebo or a capsule containing 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha extract, twice a day. The study lasted for 60 days. Those taking the ashwagandha showed significant improvements. Even the levels of the stress hormone cortisol were substantially reduced in those taking the extract. In an earlier 2000 study, ashwagandha had anxiety-relieving effects similar to those of lorazepam.

Have you found a natural remedy that works for anxiety? Please share it with our readers.

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Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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