Are there natural ways to ease anxiety?

Q&A with Woodson Merrell, M.D., Department of Integrative Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center

Q: Are there natural ways to ease anxiety?

A: Regular meditation, physical exercise, and other mind-body practices are powerful anti-anxiety tools that help reduce overstimulation of the nervous system.  Some products and supplements may also offer short-term relief.  I often recommend that my patients use lavender oil, Bach Flower Rescue Remedy, or the homeopathic formulation Calmes Forte, to calm themselves down.  L-theanine, an amino acid in green tea, is also a useful calming supplement, as are teas that contain chamomile or lemon balm.  Chamomile capsules have been shown to help, too.

But the most powerful tool for reducing anxiety and increasing awareness is breathwork.  Research shows that deep breathing can down-regulate the frenetic nervous activity triggered by the fight-or-flight mechanism.  It also appears to increase calm alpha-type brain waves.  What's more, by simply increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood, you will be able to make more energy, which simultaneously allows your body to use less energy.

TRY THIS: Every hour or so, take a "breath break." Inhale and exhale deeply three or four times, focusing your attention on the breath--the sound and sensation of the air moving in and out of your body. Doing it slowly decelerates the stress response. Use your abdominal muscles, rather than those around the chest, so your diaphragm expands as you inhale. (This technique helps draw oxygen deeper into the lung cells and recruit muscles and neurotransmitters that significantly enhance the effects.) Sit up straight and pull your shoulders back slightly to counteract the tendency to slump, which forces the shallow chest breathing that promotes anxiety.

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