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6 Best Herbs for Anxiety and How to Use Them Properly

I’m Kayli Anderson, dietitian and natural foods chef. PBM is your headquarters for empowering, woman-centered plant-based nutrition and lifestyle guidance. 

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The use of herbs for anxiety and other conditions dates back centuries. Today, an anxiety disorder diagnosis is often accompanied by a prescription for medication. And while medication may be the best way for some people to manage their anxiety, it isn’t the only way.

Anxiety comes in a wide range, from occasional anxious feelings about an important conversation or big event to chronic, severe anxiety that feels debilitating. In the U.S., anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses, and these diagnoses are twice as common in women compared to men. If you’re looking for natural ways to manage anxiety, research shows that certain herbs can help.

It’s important to note that herbs cannot cure anxiety. If you are experiencing frequent symptoms of anxiety, talk to your healthcare provider. It’s also important to talk with your healthcare provider before using any herbs or supplements.

herbs for anxiety

How Anxiety Impacts your Mental Health

Occasional anxious feelings are a natural part of modern life, but chronic anxiety is not a natural state. Experiencing anxiety can take a toll on your mental and physical health. It can manifest in many different ways including insomnia, constant worry, fatigue, isolation, depression, trouble concentrating, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and panic attacks. If you experience any symptoms of anxiety that you don’t feel are a natural part of life, speak to your healthcare provider so they can assist you in identifying the root cause of the anxiety.

Drawbacks of Traditional Anxiety Medication

The most common treatment for anxiety disorders is medication, but anxiety medication does not come without side effects. They can impact cognitive function, become addictive, and do not address the root cause of the anxiety. For some people, herbal anxiety relief can offer a safer alternative while the root cause is identified and treated.

How to Use Herbs for Anxiety Relief

Benefits of Herbs for Anxiety Relief

Certain herbs can provide day-to-day anxiety relief without the side effects of pharmaceuticals. Although herbs have been used as natural remedies for centuries, we now have evidence to back up the use of many herbs for anxiety.

6 Best Herbs for Anxiety Relief

Supported by both traditional wisdom and scientific evidence, here are the best herbs for anxiety.

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Chamomile

Chamomile has long been used for stress and anxiety. Research shows that it may be effective for improving mood, reducing stress, and relieving anxiety. Try sipping chamomile tea before bed to help melt away the stress and anxiety of the day. Chamomile tea is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Lavender

You probably aren’t surprised to see lavender on this list for natural anxiety relief. The calming herb has been shown to be as effective as anxiety medication for reducing anxiety when taken in an extract form (called Lavela) regularly before bed.

Lavender can be taken in many forms including capsules, as a tea, or used as an essential oil. Follow the dosing instructions for whichever form you choose. Lavender can be mildly estrogenic, so it’s best to choose another anxiety herb if you have a history of estrogen receptor positive cancer.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm, known as the “gladdening herb”, has been shown to improve feelings of anxiety, depression, and insomnia when taken in combination with lavender. Although it is generally a gentle herb, some research suggests it may affect alertness. So, be aware of when you take it! Lemon balm can be included in a tea blend or taken as a liquid supplement.

Reishi Mushroom

A list of herbs that help anxiety wouldn’t be complete without adaptogens like reishi mushroom. Adaptogens work by helping our stress response system balance or adapt to stressors. Reishi is very calming. I like it blended into a hot cocoa before bed. Adaptogens are not recommended during pregnancy, but can be used when breastfeeding.

Ashwagandha

Ashwaghandha is another adaptogen commonly used for stress and anxiety. In one small study, people with insomnia and anxiety saw significant improvements after taking ashwagandha for 10 weeks. The powdered form can be blended into smoothies, or it can be taken as a tincture.

Vitex

For women who experience a spike in anxiety before or during their periods, vitex (also called chasteberry) can be helpful in balancing hormones, reducing PMS symptoms, and reducing PMS-related depression and anxiety. Vitex should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

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How to Incorporate Anxiety Relief Herbs into your Daily Routine

Herbal Teas

One of the most familiar ways to add herbs to your routine is with herbal teas. I love trying new herbal teas from my local herb shop and Mountain Rose Herbs online. For loose leaf tea, I use this tea pot and travel mug daily.

Essential Oils

Herbs like lavender can also be used in essential oil form. Try a few drops on your pillow or in a steamy shower before bed. Buy essential oils fro high-quality sources like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Herbal Supplements & Tinctures

You can also take herbs for stress and anxiety in the form of supplements and tinctures. Tinctures are concentrated medicinal substances in a solvent. They usually come in small dropper bottles and can be taken directly or added to water or other beverages. I like to buy tinctures and supplements from Gaia Herbs.

More Natural Ways to Manage Anxiety

Herbs are not the only way to relieve anxiety. Other lifestyle practices can be used alongside herbal remedies to lower anxiety and stress.

Move your body

Moving your body can lower stress, soothe anxiety, and literally change your brain chemistry. Exercise releases feel-good hormones that can provide relief. Research shows that people who are active are 60% less likely to develop anxiety symptoms. Moving in a way you enjoy can also help shift your perspective about a situation you’re feeling anxious about, especially if it include time spent with friends or family and a dose of nature and fresh air.

If you want help finding exercise you actually enjoy, try these 3 strategies.

Practice deep breathing

Whether you do formal breathwork or simply pause to take a few deep breaths when anxiety hits, deep breathing can help reduce acute anxiety symptoms. Shallow, quick breaths and a racing heart are common symptoms of anxiety. When you catch yourself taking shallow breaths or holding your breath, pause and take three long, slow, deep breaths. You’ll interrupt the anxious breath pattern and, in turn, reduce the anxiety symptoms. This is a great practice to try before a situation that you know triggers your anxiety.

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Try meditation

Meditation is simply the practice of directing your attention to the present moment. Practicing a popular mindfulness meditation program called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for 8 weeks can reduce anxiety symptoms as effectively as popular antidepressant medication.

If you want help getting started with mindfulness and meditation, try one of these 5 easy mindfulness practices.

Limit intake of alcohol and caffeine

Substances like alcohol and caffeine can trigger and exacerbate anxiety. Alcohol may feel like it relieves anxiety temporarily, but its negative effects outweigh any short-term positives. Alcohol disrupts sleep, affects mood, and is linked to anxiety and depression. Caffeine can trigger the release of adrenaline, worsening anxiety symptoms. It is linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks, so reducing caffeine intake may help reduce anxiety too.

Eat balanced, nourishing meals

Many nutrition-related factors can impact mood including dehydration and imbalanced blood sugar levels. Eating nourishing, high-fiber, high-nutrient meals can help you feel your best, mentally and physically. If planning healthy, delicious meals is a source of your anxiety, download my free Easy Weeknights Meal Plan.

Prioritize sleep and rest

Being overextended and tired can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, so prioritize rest and sleep. Schedule downtime and spend that time doing relaxing activities like hiking, reading, or taking a bath. Practice good sleep hygiene. Create a short, relaxing evening routine that helps you wind down before bed. If your anxiety makes it difficult to fall asleep, try writing down all of your worries in a journal before you turn out the lights. In the morning, avoid reaching for your phone. Instead, take a few deep breaths. Also, try to get some exposure to natural light first thing in the morning. If you have the time, take a quick walk outside to wake yourself up and help set your circadian rhythm.

Herbal remedies, alongside other lifestyle practices, can be a helpful and supportive addition to your routine. They can help provide relief from anxiety symptoms, calm stress, and improve your mental wellbeing.

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