Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM and Physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin
5 Herbs That Can Help You to Manage Anxiety Disorders Well
Published | 6 min read
The use of herbal remedies to treat anxiety disorders has gained popularity in recent times. Find out what herbs can ease the symptoms.
Anxiety is the body’s natural and temporary response to stress. It is normal for a person to feel anxious before a job interview or an examination. Anxiety disorders are different, however, as they do not go away that easily and can worsen over time.
There are three types of anxiety disorders – generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders. Although various symptoms distinguish them, all three types of anxiety disorders share a few common risk factors, including:
- Having a shy temperament or behavioural inhibition during childhood
- Being exposed to stressful or negative life events during childhood or adulthood
- A history of mental health problems like anxiety amongst relatives
- Having a physical health problem
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), most anxiety disorders are caused by emotions, chronic illness, weak body constitution, fatigue, diet, and other factors. “Irregular lifestyle habits, staying up late at night, an unhealthy diet, and frequent consumption of fried, pungent and spicy foods will cause yin–yang imbalances, qi stagnation, blood stasis and deficiencies in the body, all of which can contribute to anxiety,” says Eu Yan Sang TCM physician Ooi Yong Chin.
Symptoms of a Generalised Anxiety Disorder
A person who experiences a generalised anxiety disorder may display anxiousness and frequently worry over a specific duration. Concerns about health, work performance, social interactions, or daily routine usually trigger these displays.
Some of the common symptoms associated with a generalised anxiety disorder include:
- Being easily fatigued
- Experiencing muscle tension
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling restless or on-edge
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Struggling for concentration
- Struggling to suppress feelings of worry
Symptoms of a Panic Disorder
A person with a panic disorder is prone to frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks can be recognised through a crippling, sudden wave of fear that strikes without warning. Fear of a particular object or situation normally triggers these attacks. They may cause a person to experience symptoms that include:
- Excessive sweating
- Feeling as if they’re going to die
- Feeling like they’re losing control
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of Phobia-Related Disorders
A phobia is an intense fear of specific objects or situations. This fear is usually unwarranted and may cause a person to:
- Worry excessively about encountering a feared object or situation
- Take steps to prevent an encounter with said feared object or situation
- Experience an anxiety attack if they encounter the feared object or situation
It is important to note that there are a few different types of phobia-related disorders. Simple phobias refer to a fear of flying, heights, specific animals, injections or blood. Agoraphobia is a fear of using public transport, being in open or closed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside of the house alone.
Separation anxiety refers to a fear of parting from a loved one, whereas social anxiety is a fear of social interactions or performing in front of a group of people. This fear that causes social anxiety is often triggered by concerns about being negatively judged and can cause a person to avoid social situations.
Herbs that Can Help You to Manage Anxiety Disorders Effectively
Treatment of anxiety disorders usually consists of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. On the other hand, natural remedies have also gained prominence as an alternative treatment for these mental health problems.
Clinically, Chinese physicians will use Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture as the preferred treatment options. According to physician Ooi, a physician will use “syndrome differentiation and treatment to prescribe a suitable medication or treatment plan for the patient to regulate the physical body constitution”, as well as “acupoint stimulation to relieve the symptoms”. These include herbs that you can use in different ways to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Physician Ooi reminds, however, not to eat mung beans and white radish while consuming TCM herbal medicine as the effects of the herbs may diminish. “During the course of taking Chinese medicine, you should avoid cold, spicy, greasy, and seafood. Patients with autonomic disorders need to avoid irritating foods, such as curry, cola, spicy, energy drinks, caffeine, and so on.”
Widely used in Ayurvedic treatment, ashwagandha is a medicinal herb that can help manage an array of health disorders. It is commonly available as a fine sieved butter known as churna, which you can consume with water, butter, or honey.
Like Lorazepam, a medicine under the benzodiazepine class of drugs, ashwagandha can also produce a calming effect in people who suffer from anxiety. It can also work as a mood stabiliser.
Lavender is traditionally used to induce relaxation and treat parasitic infections, burns, insect bites, and muscle spasms. In modern medicine, the oral administration of silexan – an essential oil produced from lavender flowers by steam distillation – has been found to be more effective than Lorazepam at inducing a calming effect in people with anxiety.
If you are constantly feeling tensed and stressed out, diffuse a few drops of lavender essential oil to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
Kava is a shrub that belongs to the pepper family. It grows throughout Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia. People widely use this herb for pain relief and muscle relaxation and to manage disorders like anxiety, nervousness and insomnia.
The efficacy of kava in treating anxiety disorders attributes to kavalactones, a class of compounds that can induce a calming effect on people who suffer from mental health problems.
4. Lily bulb extract
The lily plant is a TCM ingredient that possesses many healing benefits. TCM uses dried lily bulbs in herbal formulations to soothe a dry throat, coughs, or respiratory problems. It is also beneficial for alleviating restlessness – a symptom of anxiety disorders – and irritability.
You can also combine it with longan fruit and lotus seed (lianzi) to relieve mild cases of insomnia and anxiety. You can consume a calming herbal drink, a nourishing beverage to calm your nervous system and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
5. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba extracts contain antioxidant and vasoactive properties and can be a cognitive enhancer in people with dementia. It can also help improve the psychopathological symptoms of anxiety disorders.
These herbal remedies are inexpensive, widely accessible, and are effective in treating anxiety disorders. You can consider them as an alternative treatment during the early stages of anxiety.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2011. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2013. Lavender and the Nervous System. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Kava as a Clinical Nutrient: Promises and Challenges. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- ResearchGate. 2019. Lily bulbs (Bai He), A super food and A herbal remedy. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- Hindawi. 2013. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Ginkgo biloba in Neuropsychiatric Disorders: From Ancient Tradition to Modern-Day Medicine. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Individual research recommendation details. [Accessed 3 June 2021]
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