Calm Anxiety without Medications
A recent review evaluating nonmedicinal treatments for anxiety found a variety of effective therapies, and some that deserve closer study, reports the Medical Journal of Australia (2004;181:S29–S46).
Among the most common of mental health conditions, anxiety disorders are characterized by feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, or dread. These feelings can be intense, causing symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, headache, and trembling. Anxiety disorders include phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety. These conditions can interfere with day-to-day functioning and, when serious, can be disabling.
Medications that quiet the nervous system are often used to treat anxiety disorders, but they may have negative side effects and some are addictive. A number of other therapies are also used to treat anxiety disorders but the degree of research into their effectiveness varies.
The current review evaluated the research on 108 treatments for anxiety. These treatments fell into four categories: herbal, homeopathic, and nutritional supplements; physical treatments; lifestyle changes; and dietary and other changes. Of all of the treatments considered, exercise, relaxation training, and bibliotherapy (the use of books and written materials to develop insight and learn coping skills) were the most effective. (Kava kava [Piper methysticum, an herb used traditionally in the South Pacific islands] was also found to be effective, though this herb is no longer widely available in the United States as it has been linked to liver toxicity.) Evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture, soft-tissue manipulation, meditation, music, and inositol (a nutrient) was also found but was considered to be limited because of the small number of studies, small size of the studies, or other limitations. For other therapies, there was little evidence of effectiveness, either due to a lack of studies or to negative outcomes of the studies that were performed.
The results of this review suggest the following conclusions: exercise, relaxation, and bibliotherapy have been shown to be effective treatments for anxiety; acupuncture, soft-tissue manipulation (massage), meditation, music, and inositol might be useful in treating anxiety disorders, but more research to establish their effectiveness is needed; the effectiveness of a number of other alternative and self-help treatments for anxiety is unknown; some of these therapies have shown clinical promise and deserve more examination.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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