Stress is a natural part of life, and our response to it is an amazing survival advantage. Stress induces a fight-or-flight reaction in us. It compels us to act in a big way to overcome danger.
The problem in our modern world is; stress becomes chronic.
No longer are we wary of literal lions, but mental ones. We can constantly worry about angered bosses, disappointed loved ones, failing to achieve lofty goals, or effort filled Instagram posts being met with cricket chirps.
This is fear that does not dissipate. Day after day this inescapable fear can make us feel trapped and out of control. It can morph into difficult mental health issues such as anxiety.
General, social, post-traumatic anxiety, obsessive compulsions, these can all start to overtake your life if chronic stress goes unchecked.
We may be so used to this stress, that we don't even realize it.
Irritable bowels, back pain, headaches, low energy, shallow breathing, poor posture, these can all be signs of repressed stress stored away in your body.
My go-to strategy to combat stress is of course; Somatic Movement.
I even have an entire course sharing exactly how to use movement to unlock and release stress and trauma locked in your body.
But for many people, anxiety forms such a crippling pain in their lives, that they'll ready to dive into all and any reputable methods to relieve stress.
With that in mind, alongside my "Stuck Stress Solutions" course, I'd also suggest you consider some of these science-backed natural supplements that are the most effective at relieving anxiety.
Please note: These recommendations are intended as general advice only and definitely shouldn’t replace medical advice from your doctor. Please check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
Zinc is a critically important mineral for many biological processes. From your immune system, growth, wound healing, and mental health.1
Zinc helps to regulate the release and function of neurotransmitters in your brain. These chemicals play a large role in determining your mood. A poorly functioning neurotransmitter balance caused by a zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.2
Many studies have demonstrated the link between zinc supplementation over months and improved mental health.3,4
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you're especially at risk of a zinc deficiency as it's most abundant and bioavailable in animal products, especially oysters. While grains and legumes do contain some zinc, they also contain phytic acid which impairs the absorption of many minerals in your body.5
Finally, supplementing with zinc can compete with your bodies ability to absorb copper, leading to a deficiency of that mineral. If you supplement with zinc, it's suggested that you take a copper supplement.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain. It suppresses the effects of excitatory transmitters like glutamate and norepinephrine. The effect of this is to "relax" your brain, to stop it from becoming over-active.
Many studies have demonstrated a strong relation between increased GABA and decreased anxiety.6, 7, 8, 8, 9
Increasing the brain's GABA is how drugs like Xanax primarily work to reduce anxiety.
Most science suggests that GABA supplementation does little to increase the amount of GABA in the brain. Yet, many report the supplement helps with their stress, and to fall asleep peacefully. This suggests that GABA could be acting on the nervous system in a currently unstudied way.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that’s found primarily in tea leaves. It's the main reason why a double espresso can make you feel anxious, but drinking tea all day is far less likely to. It is also readily available as a supplement by itself for its calming effects, or to add to coffee to blunt some of coffee's anxious or jittery side effects.
L-theanine promotes the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that relaxes you.
A study tracked a group of adults drinking either an l-theanine drink or a placebo. The l-theanine group had significantly lower subjective stress levels and an hour later, and actually had significantly reduced cortisol (our primary stress hormone) levels three hours later.10
B vitamins are some of the most important supplements to be aware of. They play vital roles in almost all areas of life. Energy, stress responses, and mood are all related to healthy B vitamin levels.
Vitamin B12 has a range of effects on our brain and mood. Cellular energy, DNA repair, stabilized adrenal function, nerve growth, memory function, and mood are all affected by B12 levels.
Vitamin B5 is powerful for reversing some of the damage stress causes to your body. B5 helps regulate your adrenal glands so they produce less cortisol, allowing your body time to recover.
Vitamin B6 relates to GABA and serotonin production. Both of these help relieve anxiety and increase mood.11
Lavender has a long history of use for it's relaxing scent. And recent evidence is growing to support that the oil of this aromatic plant has positive effects on stress.
A recent meta-analysis compared all existing lavender papers to confirm that inhalation or oral supplementation of lavender essential oils produces a small but reliable reduction in anxiety.12
One of the studies in the analysis compared lavender oil capsules with Lorazepam (a benzodiazepine) in patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and researchers found that after a 6-week treatment, both groups had the same decrease in anxiety scores.13
Ashwagandha another medicinal herb with a long history of use. With the rest of this list, it's one of the few supplements with many studies backing up its effectiveness at reducing anxiety.14
A 2012 study demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety scores for participants taking the supplement twice daily for 60 days (compared to a placebo). The ashwagandha group also had lowered cortisol levels by the end of the study.15
Our guts and brains actually communicate with each other through the central nervous system. This means that issues with your gut and the microbes that live there (your "microbiome") can have strong effects on your mood and mental health.
These supplements can either contain live (often dormant) microorganisms or can be fermented foods that contain large amounts of live microorganisms, such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut.
As a relatively new area of research, there aren't a huge amount of studies, yet the results are encouraging. In a 3-week study, those given a probiotic milk drink experienced improved mood scores compared to those who received a placebo.16
In another, a combination probiotic taken for 30 days reduced global anxiety and depression scores.17
Probiotics are so powerful because they can affect us in a wide array of ways. A healthy gut can have positive effects on digestion, skin, sleep, mental clarity, and of course mental health.
Magnesium, like zinc, is another mineral that plays a role in a wide range of biological functions. It's often called a relaxation mineral, as healthy levels are related to decreased stress, better brain health, and improved sleep quality.18,19
Magnesium can also help to increase GABA in the brain, just make sure you get a form that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier such as magnesium threonate.20
Cannabidiol or CBD is one of the two main phytochemicals found in cannabis (the other being tetrahydrocannabinol, or THD, which is what gets you high).
While not globally available, CBD products are legal in all US states, and in many European countries, even if medical cannabis is not.
CBD is thought to be responsible for many of cannabis' calming and anti-anxiety effects, without producing any "high" sensation.
Research has shown CBD to be helpful for almost all anxious disorders, without any seating effects, while remaining safe even with long term use.21, 22
Of course, you should consult with your doctor first in case it could interact with any other medications you're taking. The big media buzz around this supplement also means that many companies are offering poor quality products, with low or even no CBD content, so make sure to research a reliable, high-quality provider.
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