Anxiety is a general feeling of being worried. Everyone experiences anxiety
from time to time as a result of life experiences, but those with generalized
anxiety disorder feel anxious frequently or excessively, not necessarily as a
result of a particular situation.
|Signs and Symptoms|
- Muscle tension, trembling
- Fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Fast or troubled breathing (dyspnea)
- Dizziness or impaired concentration
- Sleep disturbances
|What Causes It?|
Anxiety can result from many specific causes, such as an underlying medical
condition or drugs you are taking. However, there may be no specific cause.
Factors such as genetics and early life experiences may play a
|What to Expect at Your Provider's Office|
Your healthcare provider will talk to you about when you feel anxious, what
it feels like, and your medical history. He or she will give you a physical
examination and may take blood or urine samples for laboratory tests. In some
cases, you will have an electrocardiogram (EKG) to rule out heart
Sometimes anxiety has a specific physical cause. A treatment plan can be made
once the cause is identified. However, there are a variety of ways to treat
anxiety that has no physical cause. Short-term counseling can boost your
self-esteem and help you learn coping strategies and problem solving techniques.
Your healthcare provider may also suggest trying a method of relaxation such as
deep breathing techniques. In some cases, your healthcare provider will
prescribe drugs to help you until you have mastered these
- Benzodiazepines—a group of drugs that help to
reduce anxiety and have sedating properties; may cause drowsiness, constipation,
or nausea; do not take if you have narrow-angle glaucoma, a psychosis, or are
- Tricyclic antidepressants—a group of drugs
that relieve depression (which can accompany anxiety); these medications tend to
have numerous side effects
|Over the Counter|
|Complementary and Alternative Therapies|
Mind-body techniques, nutrition, and herbs may be an effective way to treat
anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, biofeedback,
meditation, and self-hypnosis can help you relax and reduce your anxiety. Talk
with your health care provider about these techniques.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, refined foods, and cut down on foods
that are known to cause allergies (common food allergens are dairy, soy, citrus,
peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, wheat, fish, eggs, corn, food colorings, and
additives). Fresh vegetables, whole grains, and protein nourish the nervous
system, so eat more of these.
- Calcium (1,000 mg per day), magnesium (400 to 600 mg per day), and B
complex (50 to 100 mg per day) help support the nervous system and minimize the
effects of stress.
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As
with any therapy, it is important to work with your provider on getting your
problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used as dried
extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or
tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made
with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or
flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures
may be used singly or in combination as noted.
A tea (3 to 4 cups per day) or tincture (10 to 20 drops four to six times per
day) from the following herbs will help to reduce anxiety and strengthen the
- Kava kava (Piper methysticum) for mild to moderate
- St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) for anxiety associated
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for anxiety with
- Oatstraw (Avena sativa) nourishes the nervous
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for anxiety with depression
and heart palpitations.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) for nervous exhaustion and
restoring the nervous system.
- Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) relaxes and revitalizes the
Kava kava (100 to 200 mg two to four times a day) and St. John's wort (300 mg
two to three times per day) may be taken as dried extracts to maximize
effectiveness in moderate anxiety.
Essential oils of lemon balm, bergamot, and jasmine are calming and may be
used as aromatherapy. Place several drops in a warm bath or atomizer, or on a
Although very few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following
remedies for the treatment of anxiety based on their knowledge and experience.
Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's
constitutional type. A constitutional type is defined as a person's physical,
emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of
these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each
- Aconitum -- for anxiety accompanied by irregular or forceful
heartbeat, shortness of breath, or fear of death
- Arsenicum album -- for excessive anxiety that has no clear
cause and is accompanied by restlessness, especially after midnight; also for
perfectionists, including children, who worry about everything
- Phosphorus -- for an impending sense of doom and anxiety when
alone; also for impressionable adults and children who are easily influenced by
the anxiety of others
- Lycopodium -- for performance and other types of anxiety in
those who are insecure, yet hide their low self-esteem with arrogance and
bravado; also for children with anxiety accompanied by bedwetting
- Gelsemium -- for performance anxiety resulting in diarrhea,
headache, dizziness, weakness, shakiness and trembling, or trouble
- Argentum nitricum -- for performance anxiety (such as before
tests in school-age children) with rapid heart rate, feeling of faintness,
diarrhea, or flatulence
Many people report feeling less stressed after receiving acupuncture therapy.
This finding has led researchers to speculate that acupuncture may have some
beneficial effect when used to treat anxiety directly. In a study of 55 healthy
volunteers, acupuncture applied to a "relaxation" point in the ear led to a
greater reduction in anxiety than sham acupuncture (needling inactive points).
Acupuncturists treat people with anxiety based on an individualized assessment
of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. In the case
of anxiety, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the kidney or spleen
meridians. In addition to performing needling techniques, acupuncturists may
also employ lifestyle and breathing techniques as well as herbal and dietary
Therapeutic massage can be helpful in reducing anxiety and alleviating
Follow your health care provider's instructions, and practice relaxation
techniques as needed.
Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are pregnant. Call your
provider if you experience any significant side effects from prescribed
While the herbal tea suggested above is safe during pregnancy, you should
avoid the dried extracts of kava kava and St. John's wort if you are
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|Review Date: August 1999|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Dahlia Hirsch, MD, Center for
Holistic Healing, BelAir, MD; Richard A. Lippin, MD, President, The Lippin
Group, Southampton, PA; Anne McClenon, ND, Compass Family Health Center,
Plymouth, MA; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc, (Acupuncture section October 2001) St.
Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New York, NY; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP,
George Washington University, Rockville, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA,
(Acupuncture section October 2001) President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
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