Expert Advice

How can I treat anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in America. Here’s how to handle it, without drugs.

How can I treat anxiety?
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An herbalist says: Before reaching for a quick fix, make sure your home and work environments are calming and don’t make you anxious. Even the best herbs won’t work if you’re taking them in a stressful space.

Treatment: Choose herbs that help calm the nervous system. Chamomile is a mild herb that eases nervousness, restlessness and stress. Skullcap also helps relax muscle spasms and produce endorphins. Passionflower and lindenflower also calm nervousness. Find these herbs in tea form, and drink a cup or two every day; alternatively, take one dropperful of herbal tincture twice daily. Another great go-to product is Bach Rescue Remedy ($11–$18; bachflower.com), which combines calming flower extracts. — Brigitte Mars, A.H.G., herbalist and author of The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine (Basic Health Publications)

A psychotherapist says: There are essentially two root causes of anxiety: The first is when your thoughts and emotions don’t have an outlet and become “stuck in your body.” The second is when there’s been a previous stress or trauma, and the memory triggers anxiety in the present moment.

Treatment: First, do a quick body scan: Try to figure out where in your body you’re storing your anxious feelings. Then, start to breathe deeply into that area to create some movement. Or, visualize your anxiety as a scared young child, and ask her what she’s afraid of. It might sound a little out there, but too often when we’re anxious we don’t want to admit there’s a part of us that’s scared or hurt. It’s only when we’re able to give that anxious part of us a voice that we can overcome the negative feelings. — Alyson Schwabe, L.P.C., Gestalt therapist in Boulder, Colo.

An integrative doctor says: Because the brain and the rest of the body are so intricately connected, anxious emotions trigger a variety of distressing physical reactions and sensations.

Treatment: It sounds simple, but making a healthy breakfast with protein your first priority is crucial. Doing so will keep your blood sugar stable until lunch (low blood sugar can cause anxious thoughts). Another powerful move is to keep a gratitude journal. Before bed, make a list of 10 people or things for which you’re thankful. Not only is it nearly impossible to feel stressed when you’re feeling grateful, but making note of all the good things that happen to you will help you feel more secure in the world and remind you that you’ve got a support network. — Kathi J. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H., author of Mental Health, Naturally (American Academy of Pediatrics)