Millions of people in the U.S. struggle with anxiety, doing their best to manage their mental health every day. Anxiety disorders can complicate life for people to go to work or school or relate to others. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can leave people feeling wound up or on edge or irritable. People may also have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep and worry to the point that they cannot concentrate.
Benzodiazepines, a class of potent medications that depress the central nervous system so that users can relax, are often prescribed to help people get a handle on these issues. About 2,000 benzos have been produced, and only about 15 have been FDA-approved in the U.S., according to WebMD. Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Klonopin (clonazepam) are among the ones that are most widely used.
In addition to anxiety and insomnia, these medications, known as “benzos,” sedatives, and tranquilizers, also help with seizures and even severe alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines enhance the functioning of a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for reducing activity in the central nervous system.
Benzos can also be short-acting, intermediate, or long-acting, making them a flexible type of medication for various conditions.
Despite their therapeutic benefits, benzos are highly addictive drugs that should be handled with care. Prolonged use can lead to physical and psychological dependence, even for those who use the medications as directed.
These habit-form drugs are usually prescribed for short-term treatment lasting no longer than two weeks. But even that is enough time for someone to develop a dependence and possibly an addiction to them. Once a person is hooked, it can be rather difficult to end benzo use on one’s own. Many seek professional help to achieve this.
For this reason and others, some people may be interested in using natural medicines to benzos. We advise that you check with your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications or supplements. We also want to remind you that any information shared here is not intended to replace the advice and care of a medical professional.
Ashwagandha. This herb, whose name means “smell of the horse,” is used in the ancient Ayurvedic Hindu system of medicine and is available in the United States as a supplement. One study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that it lowered stress levels in the group of participants that used it versus the placebo group, which didn’t.
According to Psychology Today, “ashwagandha is found to be very helpful to calm anxiety, and specifically, help agoraphobia (anxiety especially in open or crowded places).”
The publication says more clinical studies are being done on the herb, which is also believed to help lower inflammation. It also says that people who have anxiety and stress along with sleeplessness and nervous depletion may benefit from ashwagandha.
The herb has been used to improve cognition, including in cases of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are side effects, such as drowsiness and forgetfulness, and Verywell Mind reports that right now, there is scant scientific research that compares how effective ginkgo is when it comes to anti-anxiety medications in the treatment of any type of anxiety disorder.
Valerian. Valerian root is used for various purposes, including promoting restful sleep. Its tranquilizing effects can help people with insomnia get some sleep. It is available as a capsule, tea, tablet, or liquid extract. Some people say it helps them relax and reduces their stress levels.
Verywell Mind advises users to take it a half-hour to two hours before bedtime. It should not be taken with benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or any other prescription medication, as it can increase drowsiness and have other interactions that may not be safe. Also, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people with liver disease, are discouraged from using valerian.
According to Calm Clinic.com, not all vitamins can have an effect on anxiety, so taking vitamins for the sake of taking them likely will not help reduce your stress level. While more research is needed, Vitamin B12 is the most promising of all of the B-Vitamins for its effects on anxiety, according to the website.
As the National Institutes of Health explains, this vitamin is needed for proper red blood cell formation, brain and nerve function, and DNA synthesis, and as CalmClinic.com notes, low levels of B12 can affect mood, bringing on anxiety and depression issues.
When it comes to minerals, you could take a look at magnesium, which could naturally help the body regulate stress and lower anxiety levels. Many people aren’t getting enough magnesium in the foods they eat, so a supplement may be necessary.
Low levels of the mineral could be contributing to anxiety, although more study is needed. Still, “While further studies are needed, there is research to suggest magnesium may help fight anxiety,” Healthline says.
Because benzodiazepines are powerful medicines with high habit-forming potential, some people with anxiety may want to seek out alternative approaches to handling their anxiety. Fortunately, other methods are available. It’s just a matter of finding out what works for you as each person has different needs.
Below are a few other ways to manage anxiety. Many of them fall under holistic therapy, which aims to treat physical and mental health with practices promoting the healing of the body, mind, and spirit.
Acupuncture is the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine that treats pain and promotes calmness and meditation with the use of thin needles. The needles are inserted into the skin to penetrate specific areas underneath to stimulate certain points of the body. “By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance,” Mayo Clinic explains.
Healthline highlights a study in recent years that found participants saw significant improvement that they did not find with other anxiety treatments. The patients in that study received 10 half-hours acupuncture sessions in a three-month period and noted that they had lowered their anxiety levels. Other studies, however, had mixed results but noted that acupuncture did not adversely affect anxiety levels.
As always, consider ways in which you can improve your diet. Eat healthy foods, drink adequate amounts of water to stay hydrated, and adopt an exercise routine that promotes getting fit and getting outside for fresh air and sunshine, which can also improve one’s mood.
If you feel wound up and need to calm down or redirect your focus, taking a whiff or sniff of calming or energizing essential oils can help you get back on track. The Cleveland Clinic advises that using scents as a complementary therapy can help you relieve stress. Lavender, in particular, has a calming effect and can reduce anxiety. If you need a burst of energy or a pick-me-up, you can try citrus scents, such as lemon, orange, or grapefruit.
Scents also connect us to pleasant memories of a relative’s house or a time in our lives when we felt safe or loved, so choosing those that evoke such memories for you can also aid in helping you manage your anxiety.
There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy into your life. You can light scented candles, use essential oils in a diffuser, or carry a scented spray or hand lotion with you.
Art is a form of self-expression that allows everyone to express themselves in a personal way. Drawing, painting, and other art forms can lower stress levels and serve as vehicles in which we can express our thoughts and emotions. Psych Central shares three art techniques that can help us visualize what our anxiety looks like to us.
There are other forms of meditation one can engage in to pause and reflect on while they catch their breath. There is also meditative exercise, such as yoga and tai chi.
Benzodiazepine therapy has helped many people make living with anxiety bearable. If you find that benzo therapy has not been helpful to you, or if you want to stay away from potent prescription medications and go the natural remedy route, you can. Both options are available to you; you just have to find the ones that work for you.
As mentioned before, you may want to speak with a medical or mental health professional who can give you more information about natural remedies you may be considering. You especially may want to do this if you are taking prescription medications or other medications. You want to avoid harmful interactions between substances.
If you find that anxiety is disruptive to your life no matter what you do, you can seek professional treatment at Vista Pines Health in Pembroke Pines, Florida. We work with you to help you create a better future for you and your family. We can help you learn more about your anxiety and ways to treat it. Give us a call today to find out how we can help you.
Benzodiazepine abuse. (2021, January 20). WebMD. from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse#1
Ashwagandha uses, benefits & Dosage – Drugs.com Herbal Database. (n.d.). from https://www.drugs.com/npp/ashwagandha.html
Psychology Today. Ashwagandha for anxiety. (2014, January 08). from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inner-source/201401/ashwagandha-anxiety
Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012, July). Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/
Wong, C. (2020, March 07). Can Ginkgo Biloba Help with Taming Your Anxiety? from https://www.verywellmind.com/ginkgo-biloba-for-anxiety-89334
Healthline. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/cognitive-behavioral-therapy
Cuncic, A. (2020, May 28). Should you take valerian root to treat your social anxiety disorder? from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-is-valerian-root-used-for-social-anxiety-3024974
Healthline. Acupuncture for Anxiety: Benefits, side effects, and what … (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health/acupuncture-for-anxiety
Team, W. (2020, August 21). Stressed out? Aromatherapy can help you to feel calmer. from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/stressed-out-aromatherapy-can-help-you-to-feel-calmer/
B vitamins that actually work for anxiety. (2020, November 25). from https://www.calmclinic.com/blog/calm-clinic-review-b-vitamins
NIH.Office of dietary supplements – Vitamin B12. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
Healthline. Magnesium for anxiety: Is it effective? (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-anxiety
Margarita Tartakovsky, M. (2015, October 19). 3 art therapy techniques to deal with anxiety. from https://psychcentral.com/blog/3-art-therapy-techniques-to-deal-with-anxiety#1