Keep Calm and Carry On: Tips for Natural Anxiety Relief

Many Canadians continue to experience anxiety on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it is estimated that almost one in four Canadians experience anxiety at any given time.

If you find that feelings of anxiety are keeping you from reaching your full potential — whether it's causing you to worry about work, school or other life circumstances — you should speak with your health care practitioner about treatment options, which can often include medication or therapy.

To manage some symptoms of anxiety, there are also natural approaches that can help with uncomfortable feelings of “worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

Valerian root

What it is: A common anxiety-relief supplement is valerian root, which is sometimes referred to by it’s Latin name, Valeriana officinalis. Valerian is a plant that has traditionally been used to help soothe anxiety and as a sleep aid. Dating back to the Greek and Roman times, valerian root has been brewed to make a sedative or relaxing tea. Today, extracts are often found in the form of a supplement with standardized concentrations of the active ingredient, valerenic acid.

How it helps reduce anxiety: Valerian root extract has traditionally been used in herbal medicine to help relieve nervousness. The mode action is thought to be linked to its ability to boost the signaling of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain — this is one of its main sedative neurotransmitter pathways.

How to take: Most common supplements include a standard dose of approximately 450 mg. Health Canada recommends not exceeding 3.6 grams per dose, which may be linked to a “hangover” feeling. Read the label of your supplement for best results and speak with your health care practitioner if you have questions about the effects of valerian.


Magnesium

What it is: Magnesium is a dietary mineral that is essential for countless body functions. Magnesium is the second most common electrolyte in the body, and a deficiency of magnesium has been linked to a variety of negative health effects, including raised blood pressure, reduced glucose tolerance and neural excitation. Magnesium is associated with subjective anxiety, leading to the proposition that supplementation may reduce anxiety symptoms. 

How it helps reduce anxiety: There is evidence to suggest that magnesium can help to reduce feelings of anxiety in people who are vulnerable to anxiety. Serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that is boosted artificially by some medications, depends on magnesium for its production and function. It is thought that this pathway may help explain why magnesium has anxiety-protective effects.

How to take: Some common dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, wheat bran, brewer's yeast and meats. However, because magnesium in our diet is thought to be insufficient, it is also widely available as a supplement, either in powdered form to stir into a smoothie, or as a capsule supplement. Often, 100 to 300 mg per day is used in research on the anti-anxiety effects of magnesium. Check the supplement label for instructions on best use.


L-theanine

What it is: L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that promotes relaxation and better sleep by reducing symptoms of anxiety that may be keeping you up at night. Interestingly, theanine is actually the compound that many green tea drinkers identify as the distinctive “umami,” or brothy, flavour. Younger tea leaves contain the highest amount of L-theanine.

How it helps reduce anxiety: L-theanine has the unique ability to promote relaxation without causing sleepiness, which may promote cognition and attention. The structure of L-theanine is closely related to another amino acid, glutamate, which is crucial for the production of GABA, a powerful relaxant neurotransmitters in the brain.

How to take: The effective dose of green tea is often in the range of 200 to 250 mg per day. However, to obtain this much from green tea, you would need to drink up to 20 cups of green tea! That’s why many people opt for a supplement, which can deliver a reliable dose of L-theanine.


Lemon Balm:

What it is: Lemon balm, sometimes known by its Latin name Melissa officinalis, is a common herb native to Europe and across Central Asia. It is a versatile plant that is often cultivated not just for its health benefits, but also to attract bees for honey production or even grown as an ornamental plant. Lemon balm is a naturally restorative herb, traditionally used to improve cognition by reducing stress and anxiety.

How it helps reduce anxiety: The exact mechanism of how lemon balm helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety is not known, but it has been traditionally used in herbal medicine to help promote restful sleep as a sleep aid. This may help with some symptoms of anxiety, especially in cases of insomnia due to mental stress.

How to take: Lemon balm is available in a variety of forms, including as a tea or as a supplement (as a powdered herb). A wide range of doses are available, but most benefits are observed at a dose of approximately 300 mg, although there is evidence that suggests that the benefits improve with the dose, up to 1200 mg.

If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety symptoms, consider adding a natural remedy to your healthy regimen, and remember to consult your health care practitioner to find what's best for you. Visit your local CHFA Member health food store to find these natural anxiety-busting supplements.