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Natural Alternative Treatments for Anxiety and Stress

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Specific natural anxiety treatments and stress management techniques that can bring relief from anxiety and stress.

In today's quick-fix environment, one visits the doctor for an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, or stress and they are quickly given an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. But many doctors often overlook elements of natural healing, including nutrition, herbal and mind-body therapies for the treatment of anxiety and stress. Adding natural alternative treatments, including anxiety and stress management techniques, can make a big difference in your life.

Dr. Richard Podell is one of the nation's leading experts on the scientific integration of complementary and alternative therapies with conventional medicine. He says "these add holistic support for the body's natural healing systems, which help resist and overcome a broad range of both physical and mental health problems-- including but not limited to depression, anxiety, and stress."

The unstated assumption of most conventional strategies, according to Dr. Podnell, is that mind and body function separately. Each organ of the body is largely on its own. However, current science shows that just the opposite is true. The multiple systems of mind and body communicate and interact with each other in a complex holistic web of biochemical, hormonal and metabolic relationships.

Natural Anxiety Treatments

Anxiety, feeling tense or nervous, is not the same thing as depression, although they often occur together. Many, but not all of the alternative treatments for depression, also improve anxiety, but others do not. Podnell, a Clinical Professor at New Jersey's Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, suggests the following natural anxiety treatments that have some scientific studies supporting their use:

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  • Magnesium
  • Inositol
  • Valerian Root
  • Kava Herb
  • Rhodiola Herb
  • Appropriate Exercise (not too much, not too little)
  • Hypoglycemia Diet
  • "Food Allergy" Elimination Diet
  • Candida Yeast Theory (speculative)

Stress Management Techniques and Treatments

Specific natural anxiety treatments and stress management techniques that can bring relief from anxiety and stress.The body's ability to withstand stress improves with the mastery of a few basic stress management relaxation techniques that calm and regularize the body's natural rhythms. For example, most people with chronic stress or anxiety fall into a pattern of shallow, relatively rapid chest breathing. For the most part, we don't even realize when we do this, since the pattern is fairly subtle. However, even at modest levels, this breathing habit tends to make people feel tense. In contrast, even a few minutes of slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing can usually be counted on to have calming effects.

To manage your anxiety or stress, Podnell suggests a broad selection of physiologically based stress management techniques and treatments. Behavioral medicine relaxation skills can quickly calm the mind and body once a stress reaction has occurred; or better yet prevent it. Brief training in diaphragmatic breathing, visual imagery, muscle relaxation and other methods often have great rewards. For preventing and reversing crises, Podnell is especially impressed with a technique that employs the natural biorhythms of the heart to trigger the "relaxation response" within just about one minute. Most stress management techniques can be learned in just one or two training sessions.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another highly effective practical stress management technique than can be learned very quickly. It often does wonders. CBT is very different from standard psychotherapies, emphasizing practical skills for handling stresses and not over-reacting. Most people who are ill tend to fall into frustration's mental traps—making mountains out of molehills, seeing the glass half-empty; feeling helpless and losing hope. Fortunately, says Podnell, "once we realize how this happens, we can quickly master simple mental tricks that quickly put our thoughts and feelings into a more constructive mode."

CBT stress management techniques are not a substitute for standard psychotherapy. CBT techniques are different. However, CBT stress management techniques can make standard therapy more effective. Indeed, even people who don't require therapy but are struggling to cope with an illness, often find benefit from even a few sessions of training in CBT stress management techniques.

Ed. Note: Richard N. Podell, M.D., M.P.H., Medical Director and Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Podnell is board-certified in Internal Medicine.

next: Alternative Treatments for Anxiety and Panic Attacks