In recent years, alternative and natural medicine have trended upwards. Many prefer herbal treatments over pharmaceuticals and prescribed treatments. Many prescriptions have adverse side effects that require another medication to mitigate them. It can become overwhelming due to the cascading dependence on prescription drugs.
Examples of prescriptions for general anxiety include anxiety medications like xanax, valium, prozac, alprazolam, ativan, lorazepam, diazepam, buspar, clonazepam, paxil (considered an SSRI), klonopin, propranolol, lexapro, buspirone, zoloft, paroxetine, effexor, cymbalta, venlafaxine (considered an SNRI, sertraline, escitaloprám, dulozetine, and duloxetine.
Some side effects that may occur from medications include nausea, dry mouth, weight gain, and other physical symptoms.
If you are taking any medications and want to try the non-prescription route, consult with a mental health professional about your options since withdrawal symptoms may occur.
When it comes to anxiety, some people may have a chronic anxiety disorder or an occasional anxious moment, which is very common. It is important to discern the difference between these behaviors with a professional. Medicinal treatments are not always necessary — sometimes, a simple change in behavior or lifestyle can help people cope with anxiety by preparing for when these moments occur. It is best practice to face them early on to avoid it worsening down the road.
10 Ways to Support Mental Health
Here are 10 lifestyle ways you can try to support overall emotional wellness. These vary in effort and depending on your schedule, you can pick and choose which of these tools work for you.
Exercise: regular exercise can benefit overall emotional health. People with mental health troubles and overall stress can incorporate light exercise into their routine. Mood improvements can be short-term but have reportedly been felt for hours afterward.
Drink less alcohol (or cut it out completely): alcohol is a common resort when people decide to self-medicate. This sometimes leads to alcohol addiction or other unhealthy behaviors. Though alcohol is a sedative and may feel calming at first, treating the source of the unstable mood and stress is the healthier and more effective option.
Quit Smoking: similar to alcohol, resorting to cigarettes and nicotine products can create an unhealthy addiction that masks the problem, rather than treating it. Studies have shown that the earlier people take up smoking, the more likely they will develop a mental health issue down the road.
Kick the Caffeine Habit: caffeine does not mix well with stress. This chemical is a stimulant and may make stress more overwhelming, such as irritability, jitters, headaches, constant worry, and alertness. It may even trigger panic attacks in people prone to them. It may feel impossible to cut out caffeine completely, but reducing intake may prove beneficial.
Sleep: low sleep quality is a common symptom of declining mental health, as well as many other factors. Some ways to improve sleep are to not use electronics before bed, which includes scrolling on your phone or watching tv, avoiding coffee, soda, and other caffeinated drinks, and creating a routine you can realistically stick with to train your circadian rhythm.
Meditation: it may seem difficult at first, but meditative exercises can put your headspace in a more calming mindset. A study done by Johns Hopkins recommended a daily 30-minute meditation session to help improve anxiety symptoms. There is free guided meditation for beginners available on many social media platforms if you are unsure where to start.
Eat Healthier: the food we ingest can have surprising effects on our mood and physical health. If you tend to eat junk food, high-sugar or high-sodium snacks, these may affect your blood sugar and pressure levels. Cleaner diets that are low in processed foods can improve anxiety and overall physical health.
Breathing Exercises: in case of an anxiety attack or you feel like one is coming on, knowing some breathing exercises can help shorten the duration of the attack. Focusing your attention on taking slow, mindful inhales followed by even slower exhales can help regain control of shallow breathing, a common sign of feeling anxious. Practice this a few times to recenter yourself.
- Aromatherapy: this form of therapy has been used for centuries, during massages, meditation, and sleep, to induce certain calming effects and help with relaxation. This practice can be achieved by lighting incense, burning essential oils, or applying topically.
Some herbal extracts that are commonly associated with calming properties are:
- Basil/ Sweet Basil
Essential oils can be irritating if applied directly to skin — these need to be diluted with a "carrier oil," a typically unscented oil that is known to nourish skin. Some popular choices are coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil and argan oil. These carrier oils are all marketed to help strengthen hair, skin, and nails. Remember to never ingest essential oil! There is not enough research to support their health benefit claims.
- Floral teas: these types of teas have no caffeine, which, as we have learned, contribute to stress. Herbal teas, such as chamomile, may have a calming effect
- Safr’Inside: a proprietary extract of Iranian saffron, this award-winning ingredient has been proven to have the same impact on mental health as Prozac.
Saffron has been used in medicine for nearly 3,500 years, since the 7th century BCE. It helps reduce the effects of anxiety while helping to naturally boost emotional health by helping balance GABA and serotonin neurotransmitters and helping control cortisol secretion.
Chamomile: this flower is renowned for its calming effects, commonly as tea. This family of plants also include marigolds, daisies and chrysanthemums; if you are allergic to any of these, it is definitely not recommended.
Also, it has the possible risk of increasing bleeding when taken with blood thinner medications. Take caution for dosage and always monitor how your body reacts to any herbal supplements.
Lavender: many are aware of lavender in aromatherapy, as an essential oil or incense, but it can be ingested orally as well. It may react with prescribed medications, causing drowsiness.
Chai Hu: this herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine to treat multiple psychological disorders. Many studies have been done that suggest this plant to be a strong candidate for supporting emotional wellness.
Rhodiola Rosea: is known as an "adaptogen" or a compound that reinforces the body's resilience to stress factors. It is said to boost physical, mental and emotional performance and is commonly found in health supplements to improve overall wellness.
It may react to certain medications and is not recommended for pregnant individuals. Consult with a doctor before incorporating this "golden root" into your daily diet.
Lemon Balm: this herb is commonly safe for people and might improve stress symptoms and sleep quality. It has been cultivated for centuries world wide as an indigestion aid when steeped as a tea. It is commonly combined with other herbs such as rhodiola rosea and valerian in supplements to alleviate stress.
Ginkgo Biloba: a renowned Chinese herb, ginkgo biloba is the oldest known plant on this planet. It is commonly used to reduce tension and stress, but some countries have approved it for us as a potential memory loss supplement.
Valerian: generally safe, many studies have reported valerian reducing restlessness and stress. Consult with your doctor to determine proper dosage for you — in certain cases, some have experienced drowsiness and dizziness.
Passionflower: this flower is commonly found in herbal supplements in combination with other plants. Though it is known for its stress-fighting properties, studies are in preliminary stages and more trials need to be done to see how it is effective on its own.
In summary, there are many alternatives to help overall mental wellness that are not prescription-dependent. Lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise and better sleep, are all accessible ways to incorporate into your current daily routine — these require no extra financial commitments and might even save you money! Cutting out coffee and processed foods to switch to a healthier diet may improve anxiety symptoms.
Herbal supplements are another possible alternative for reducing anxiety symptoms. Before trying these out, remember to talk to your doctor, since these are not meant to replace medication. Chinese medicine has leveraged the natural world for centuries to treat mental disorders and alleviate stress. These can be ingested through tea and wellness supplements, while herbal essential oils aid in aromatherapy.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.