Xanax is considered a powerful benzodiazepine that works extremely well for anxiety. If you are experiencing a panic attack, popping a Xanax will quickly reduce all symptoms of stress and anxiety – both physical and mental. The problem with a medication like Xanax is that taking it not only may make it difficult to concentrate at work or school, but it may make you drowsy or tired.
In addition to becoming lethargic and experiencing brain fog from the medication, you may notice that Xanax becomes addicting. This drug is considered a “controlled-substance” and falls within the class of benzodiazepines – which are considered addictive drugs. Not only is tolerance rapidly built from taking Xanax, many people are completely ignorant to the long-term effects of benzodiazepines.
Recently it was discovered that medications like Xanax or “sedative-hypnotics” are associated with the development of dementia and other forms of permanent memory impairment. Meaning, the more frequently you rely on this type of medication to treat your anxiety, the greater your risk of experiencing neurodegeneration in the future. Those who are taking Xanax may want to carefully consider the long-term effects of using this drug.
Xanax Alternatives: Natural Treatments for Anxiety
If you are currently taking Xanax and want to get off of it, be sure to read about Xanax withdrawal. It is important to carefully taper off of this medication before you consider pursuing an alternative option for your anxiety. Included below is a compilation of the best alternatives to Xanax. Keep in mind that although these alternatives may not be as powerful as Xanax or any other benzodiazepine, they are generally safer and better at managing anxiety over the long-term.
Meditation is known to help reduce the stress response that occurs in the brain and triggers anxiety. Some would consider meditation as a practice that helps tame, and normalize the brain over time. Although the practice is often done for religious purposes, some people simply meditate as a way to help cope with symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Learning how to properly meditate can be very beneficial for a person’s mental health. Like any treatment for anxiety, not everyone will respond the same to meditation. Some individuals will find that it helps keep their anxiety under control, while others will get minimal to no benefit. There is scientific evidence that supports the practice of meditation for anxiety disorders.
Since there are many types of meditation that a person can practice, the best for anxiety is that of mindfulness meditation, also known as “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.” Study results says that the practice can “improve stress reactivity and coping” as well as “anxiety symptoms in GAD.” The great thing about meditation is that it’s completely free and tends to yield better results over time.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23541163
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy works by addressing faulty patterns of thinking and correcting them, while simultaneously attempting to make behavioral changes. It combines a cognitive element of therapy with a behavioral element to help a person cope with or overcome their anxiety. During CBT, a therapist will attempt to understand what may be contributing to a person’s anxiety, and then help them change their perspective and coping mechanisms.
While therapy will certainly not work for everyone, many people will find that it helps just as much as medication. There are also various subtypes of CBT that can be tested including “computerized” CBT and Yoga-enhanced CBT. Regardless of the type of CBT that you try, it should help you at least think about your anxiety differently.
The only drawback with CBT is that sometimes you may need to shop around and look for a better and/or more compatible psychotherapist. If you don’t feel a good connection with your initial therapist, it may take some shopping around before you find someone that helps. But once you find someone that helps, it can make a significant difference in levels of anxiety.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23988455
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25093485
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24804619
Many people practice yoga to improve their flexibility and tone their body. Consistently practicing yoga is regarded as healthy for the body as well as the mind. Yoga practice helps reduce the level of arousal that a person experiences when they are highly anxious or having a panic attack. If you notice the “fight-or-flight” response and flooding of adrenaline throughout your body, the best way to deactivate this response is to relax.
By dedicating some time to practicing yoga, you are allowing the trapped tension within your muscles to be released. Additionally, it may help you calm down mentally, reducing your high frequency brain waves (shifting from beta waves to alpha waves). Like meditation, practicing yoga over the long-term can lead to significant improvements in anxiety.
You may also want to read about a combination of Yoga and CBT called “Y-CBT” which has shown benefit in treating symptoms of generalized anxiety. In one particular study, 22 patients that completed a “Y-CBT” program and pre-post anxiety ratings changed significantly – they experienced major reductions in both “state” as well as “trait” anxiety.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24804619
4. Kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava is a well-known herbal remedy for anxiety that tends to make people relaxed. Many people use this plant because it carries sedative properties resulting from its roots. Not only is it known to produce significant relaxation, but it doesn’t tend to produce the same degree of brain fog or cognitive impairment that often occurs when a person takes Xanax. The anxiolytic effects can be traced to the “kavalactones” of the kava plant; these elicit the relaxing effect.
For the treatment of short-term social anxiety, Kava is considered superior to a placebo. Several other studies have noted that Kava promotes an anxiolytic response within the body. The general consensus is that this herbal solution is far better than a placebo, and should be regarded as effective for various forms of anxiety. One study even went as far as to suggest that it can be just as effective as Xanax (benzodiazepines).
Keep in mind that there is a potential for liver damage from this supplement, so be careful of your dosing and the type that you use. Not everyone will have a good experience with this supplement. Also make sure you are aware of any contraindications (interactions) that this has with any other drugs or supplements that you take.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23635869
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9065962
5. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Another herbal solution that many people find effective for managing their anxiety without Xanax is Passionflower. In a small-scale study that compared a benzodiazepine with Passionflower, both were found to be therapeutically beneficial for reducing anxiety. The Passionflower treatment was considered slightly advantageous over the benzodiazepine because it didn’t result in any form of cognitive impairment.
The entire plant can be used to treat a variety of other anxiety-related conditions such as insomnia. Another study was able to establish the efficacy of Passionflower as being beneficial for improving a person’s “quality of sleep.” Other studies have compared a dose of 10 mg as an approximate equivalent to 2 mg of Valium. For people that don’t have a good reaction to Kava, consider trying some Passionflower.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11679026
6. L-Lysine + L-Arginine
An individual may want to consider taking amino acids to help with their anxiety, particularly L-Lysine with L-Arginine. The combination of these amino acids has been proven to reduce stress responses among those with high trait anxiety. There is a moderate sized study that was conducted with over 100 Japanese adults.
In this particular study, the goal was to determine whether taking L-Lysine and L-Arginine each at a dose of 2.64 grams per day would lower anxiety. Researchers in the study were able to verify that this combination lead to major drops in levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and chromogranin-A (associated with adrenal response). The findings in this moderate study only confirmed prior small-scale studies that documented this combination as beneficial for people with high stress and/or anxiety.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17510493
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that involves hooking the brain up to electrodes and monitoring the activity of brain waves in certain regions. The goal of neurofeedback is to essentially give the person “feedback” when their brain is functioning optimally based on the brain waves in certain regions. A neurofeedback practitioner typically will take a reading of a person’s brain waves, then determine potential abnormalities in specific sites that may be contributing to anxiety.
They will then target those particular regions, giving the person positive feedback when their brain produces more of the desired frequency to correct the abnormalities. Over time, the goal is to train the person to produce the desired brain waves on their own. There is evidence that neurofeedback is able to alter brain connectivity, particularly in the orbitofrontal region. The changes in “resting state connectivity are associated with reductions in anxiety.
Another study suggested that heart-rate variability neurofeedback training is able to reduce anxiety among dancers. This type of training not only improved their “technique,” but also had a positive impact on their “artistry” during performance. Unfortunately, neurofeedback isn’t very mainstream, generally isn’t covered by insurance, and will not work for everyone. It can also take many sessions before a person notices improvement – therefore it isn’t recommended for those who lack patience.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23632454
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23684733
8. Essential Oils
Many essential oils are able to influence our level of arousal. Certain oils speed up the nervous system and result in increased alertness/focus, while others depress the nervous system and have relaxing, anxiolytic properties. Examples of the best essential oils for anxiety include: lavender, rose geranium, roman chamomile, clary sage, and bergamot. Despite the fact that there aren’t many large scale studies involving essential oils as a treatment for anxiety, they have been found beneficial.
In a 2011 study, researchers hypothesized that applying essential oil to the skin would alleviate anxiety and/or depression. For the study, the researchers used a blend of lavender and bergamot. To gauge the effect of the oils, researchers measured blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate, and skin temperature. Participants also had to self-rate their levels of relaxation, vigor, calmness, alertness, and their mood. Following the administration of the essential oil blend, participants were significantly calmer and more relaxed compared to the control group. This supports the idea that essential oils may work well for anxiety.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21922934
9. Lifestyle changes
For some people, coping with anxiety is best done by making lifestyle changes. For many people, the specific cause of their anxiety was never genetically based. However, a combination of toxic relationships, high stress at work, poor sleep, and unhealthy nutrition create the perfect environment for anxiety to spawn. Those who weren’t born with their anxiety can often correct it with hard work and lifestyle changes. This often means consciously addressing the following areas of your life:
- Relationships – Are you satisfied with all of your relationships? Are you currently associating with people that bring you down, make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, or people who drain your energy? Something as simple as being with the wrong crowd can make people feel pressured and/or unnecessary levels of anxiety. If you are in a toxic relationship of any sort, your best bet is to get up and leave.
- Work – Although most won’t admit it, being stuck in a job that you dread or for the wrong company can cause you to feel anxiety. Maybe your boss or the people you work with are causing you to feel anxious. Maybe you are overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion and psychological “burn out.” If you are burning yourself out at work, it could significantly influence your level of anxiety.
- Sleep – A factor that is often overlooked is that of sleep. All it takes is a few nights of going to bed “too late” for your sleep cycle to get thrown off. When your sleep cycle gets thrown off and/or you don’t get adequate sleep to feel rested, your brain produces more of the stress hormone “cortisol,” which makes you more prone to anxiety. Correcting your sleep patterns is a good way to get your anxiety back control.
- Diet – Those who eat diets that are high in processed foods and simple carbohydrates are more likely to have anxiety than people who eat healthier. The ideal diet for mental health is one that consists of: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, meats, and fish. Additionally it is recommended to minimize intake of simple carbohydrates and processed ingredients.
- Exercise – Meta-analyses suggest that aerobic exercise is not better than a placebo for treating anxiety disorders. Therefore, recommending exercise as a standalone treatment is not advised for people with anxiety. However, getting proper exercise can help correct your sleep cycle, reduce your arousal, and burn off excess stress. (Read: Psychological benefits of exercise).
- Education – It is important to understand what may be contributing to your anxiety. Reading books or participating in classes to better understand the condition of “fear” and “anxiety” will ultimately help a person know what triggers it and how they can cope with it. Education often teaches people new ways to cope with and/or diffuse their anxiety.