8 Natural Ways to Ease Anxiety

From forest bathing and warm baths to lavender and laughter,

Person walking along a path in the forest

PamelaJoeMcFarlane / Getty Images

Anxiety is a wily thing – an insidious mix of fear, worry, and uneasiness that culminates in nervous inner turmoil, it’s no fun. It’s a bummer. It eats away at happiness and makes everything feel lousy. Many of our anxiety symptoms have evolved from our fight-flight-freeze response, leading to an array of uncomfortable symptoms; high worriers often also suffer from muscle aches, tension, and headaches.

Treatments for anxiety run the gamut from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to pharmaceuticals like Xanax. But there are also a number of natural methods that can provide relief for bouts of anxiety. Consider the following:

1. Lavender

Lavender essential oil can be used for aromatherapy to positive effect. One study found that lavender aromatherapy reduced blood cortisol – a component in the body’s response to stress. Another found lavender massage can even lower systolic pressure the top blood pressure number that’s associated with stress. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland Medical Center describes scientific evidence that found massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety.

2. Forest Bathing

Shinrin-yoku – or forest bathing – could anything be more poetic? The Japanese practice of taking time out to walk in the woods has been shown to have a surprising – but actually, not-so-surprising – positive effect on health. One study on the practice concluded that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments. It’s believed that the benefit comes partly from inhaling phytoncide (wood essential oils) like α-pinene and limonene, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees. Get thee to a forest! And if you don’t have a forest nearby, Shinrin-yoku expert Dr. Qing Li says that a two-hour walk in a city park rich with trees can significantly boost vigor and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, other research reveals that even just spending 20 minutes with natural elements significantly lowers stress.

3. Exercise

Nobody likes to be told to exercise, but if anxiety is the alternative, perhaps it's not such a bad idea. Exercise reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, while stimulating the production of endorphins. It also leads to a boost in levels of the serotonergic system, which also may help to decrease anxiety and improve your mood. Yoga has been shown to work specifically for anxiety; but other activities will help as well. Find something you enjoy – it's really the only guarantee you'll keep it up – and work up to 30 minutes a day minimum, five times a week.

4. Laughter

When you're rife with anxiety laughter may seem like a joke, but even just pretend laughing can help. Clinical psychologist Karen Lynn Cassiday, PhD, clinical psychologist and managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago says, "Even if you do a fake laugh, you get an instant hit of dopamine." If laughing is just too much of a stretch, look for a laugh app for your phone – seriously, there are such things. And perhaps merely the search alone will help – one study found that just the anticipation of mirthful laughter reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which increases with anxiety.

5. Epsom Salt Bath

It's hard to hold on to every ounce of anxiety when you're submerged in a bathtub; it's relaxing by nature, and increasing your body temperature has been shown to help regulate mood and anxiety. Making it an Epsom salt bath can help even more – the magnesium sulfate in the salts has been shown to calm anxiety and lower blood pressure. Rosemary Waring, from the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, tells the Wall Street Journal that soaking in an Epsom salt bath releases magnesium ions that are absorbed by the skin, which helps with pain and inflammation. The sulfate helps too; getting extra sulfate into the system lessens discomfort from sprains, strains, and other pains – while that may not be addressing anxiety per se, it can help with anxiety-induced aches and tension. Also, put some lavender essential oil in the bath to reap its soothing benefit as well.

6. Chamomile

Chamomile has been used as a traditional medicine for millennia to soothe anxiety; its efficacy possibly due to its inclusion of apigenin and luteolin, two chemicals that promote relaxation. And there have been several studies to conclude that chamomile supplements are more effective in relieving anxiety than placebo. In studies, 400 milligrams to 1,600 milligrams of chamomile were administered daily in capsule form; but at home you can drink chamomile tea.

7. Deep Breathing

The American Institute of Stress states that deep breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. By increasing the oxygen to your brain, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calm. Breathing exercises also help you feel connected to your body and brings awareness to your breath and away from your troubles. Here's one of the techniques they recommend:

First “smile inwardly” with your eyes and mouth and release the tension in your shoulders. This is a powerful muscle release in the places where most people hold their muscles tense. Then imagine holes in the soles of your feet. As you take a deep breath in, visualize hot air flowing through these holes moving slowly up your legs, through your abdomen and filling your lungs. Relax your muscles sequentially as the hot air moves through them up your body. When you exhale reverse the visualization so you “see” hot air coming out the same holes in your feet. Repeat throughout the day whenever you need to feel calm and relaxed.

8. Grab Something for Distraction

For a quick fix during anxiety, do something tangible, advises John Tsilimparis, MFT, a professor of psychiatry at Pepperdine University. He advises running your fingers along your keys, holding a heavy paperweight, or grabbing an ice cube for as long as you can. "Your brain can't be in two places at once," he says. "Your mind will shift from racing, catastrophic thoughts [that accompany anxiety] to the cold ice cube in your hand," he says. And there's definitely something grounding about holding onto things, even if it's just to catch your breath for a moment. A large smooth stone in the hand really can offer some kind of intangible soothing, simply by focusing on the pleasure of its presence.

As with all natural remedies, check with your healthcare provider before starting any new regimens.

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