Herbs to Overcome Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks

Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million U.S. adults. Teenagers and young children with high stress from ever demanding schedules or family problems are also increasingly affected. Anxiety disorders are more than simple fearfulness or worry. They are crippling fear reactions that cause suffering and interfere with daily responsibilities, family life and social ties. At its worst, the sufferer may be unable to even leave the house.

Social Anxiety Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder which causes intense fear and phobia of social situations. It differs from ordinary shyness in that just the thought of social situations causes trembling, sweating or a panic attack. Heart palpitations and panic attacks are an especially big problem for women, and are directly linked to stress and hormonal fluctuations at the onset of menopause. Men suffer from anxiety disorders too, but in fewer numbers and often in silence.

Are You Having A Panic Attack?

Here are the signs to look for:

  • -hyperventilating or feeling short of breath especially at night
  • -racing heartbeat, dizziness or feeling faint
  • -bolting upright out of bed in the early morning hours
  • -feeling like you’re “going crazy” or losing control
  • -being full of fear that has no basis in reality and the fear interfering in the normal functioning of your life.

If you have these symptoms, you’re probably suffering from a panic attack. It will more than likely pass quickly. If symptoms persist, seek out a qualified health practitioner.

Here’s my personal defense:

  • • If you get panic attacks, avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking. They deplete B vitamins, your body’s natural tranquilizers.
  • • I keep a heart stabilizing extract with hawthorn, arjuna, ashwagandha and passionflowers by my bed for immediate relief.
  • Bonus: Hawthorn and arjuna both show good results against CHF (congestive heart failure), another big problem menopausal women face today.
  • • Motherwort contains natural sedatives that relax the heart. Taken 3x daily as a weak tea, it can help soothe heart palpitations and panic attacks.
  • • Flower Essence remedies have been used by natural healers for anxiety and stress relief for years. Flower essences work through human energy fields to address issues of emotional health and mind-body well-being. Bach RESCUE REMEDY is a gentle, effective remedy which restores emotional balance during high stress or anxiety. It can also be used in emergency situations or at any time of upset, shock or trauma. Can be used on stressed pets, too. (Contains essence of cherry plum for fear of losing control, clematis for resignation and fatalism, impatiens for anxiousness, rock rose for panic, and star of Bethlehem for fear.)

Herbal categories to overcome anxiety disorders

Herbal anxiolytics (nervines)

Scullcap: eases anxiety reactions; greatly reduces symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal.

Lady slipper (American valerian): Calms panic attacks. Reduces nervous disorders and chronic anxiety, but is used rarely because of endangerment. Good for stress-related headaches and “nervous stomach.”

Ashwagandha: restores energy and strength from nervous exhaustion.

California poppy: cooling properties for anxiety reactions related to excess heat in the body. Promotes sound, restful deep sleep.

Catnip: Calms anxiety reactions and jittery nerves. Carminative for stress-related indigestion and gas. A wonderful herb for children’s anxiety.

Chamomile: Similar to catnip. A wonderful herb for children’s anxiety.

Gotu kola: helps promote calm, focused mental energy.

Muscle tension relaxers

Kava kava: powerful muscle-relaxing, pain relieving properties; relieves stress reactions, insomnia and anxiety.

Black haw: antispasmodic for cramps, pain and muscular tension.

Cramp bark: interchangeable with black haw.

Hops: relaxes smooth muscle and calms nervous tension.

Wood betony: reduces anxiety and tension. Helpful for stress-related headaches and nerve pain.

Calcium Magnesium Source Herbs (nourish the nerve sheath, reduce stress reactions and improve sleep)

Oatstraw: a very high source of calming calcium and magnesium to nourish the nerve sheath.

Carrot rt: root vegetables are an exceptionally good source of calcium. (One 8-oz. glass of fresh carrot juice has 400mg bio-available calcium.)

Hijiki: contains nearly 400mg of calcium per ounce with high bioavailability.

Irish Moss: a high mineral source including calcium, iodine, iron and zinc.

Rosemary: a calcium-rich memory enhancer.

Heart tonics

Hawthorn: new research shows hawthorn combined with California poppy and magnesium is safe and effective for mild to moderate anxiety. Helps regulate an accelerated heart rate and reduce the symptoms of mild congestive heart failure and angina. Increases blood flow through the heart.

Motherwort: calms stress-related heart palpitations.

Arjuna: similar to hawthorn. An Ayurvedic heart tonic that protects against congestive heart failure and rapid heartbeat. Rich in antioxidants that protect the heart.

Adrenal Support Herbs

Licorice: steroid like properties to boost adrenal energy. Sometimes rapidly re-energizes exhausted adrenals.

Sarsaparilla: a source of phytosterols similar to steroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands.

Siberian eleuthero: helps to balance cortisol levels, reduces stress and normalize adrenal activity.

Zizyphus:  widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for nervous exhaustion.

Amla: a very high source of bioavailable vitamin C to nourish the adrenal glands.

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Sarah Abernathy

Sarah Abernathy has been a researcher, writer and herbal consultant in the field of natural health for over 12 years.

She is the managing editor of Healthy Healing Publications, and contributes regular articles to newsletters, magazines, and books. Sarah is a graduate of the East West School of Herbology.

Read more at Ask the Herbalist.

Sarah Abernathy

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  1. says

    My husband started suffering from panic attacks last year, and it is a very scary proposition for everyone involved. He had gone to the doctor who, of course, gave him low-dose Xanax and offered an SSRI which I declined. But I started looking at his diet and reading about the roots of anxiety, and I realized that nutritional deficiencies could play a role in neurotransmitter availability and hormone activity–afterall, SSRIs work to keep the seratonin available to the body so that it can feel good, calm and “normal”. If the body is lacking in Bvitamins, for example, there is not enough raw material to make the neurotransmitters that make and activate seratonin, dopamine and all the other neurotransmitters. What can we do to fix this? Remove cafeine, alcohol, processed foods, and increase real foods, fresh veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds. I used several of the herbs mentioned here, and felt that the oat tincture, motherwort, skullcap worked very well. Nighttime tea has become a ritual as well, often a blend of chamomile, skullcap, licorice, passionflower etc. What I feel also helped tremendously was supplementing with vitamin D, B complex and 5-HTP (which is needed to create seratonin!) and using melatonin before bed. Regular daily exercise also is important, as exercise “uses up” the cortisol that our bodies produce during stress–something we all should be concerned about. I have to say that my husband is doing very well– a rare feeling of anxiety every couple weeks or so, instead of dreading every night–and we have done it without dangerous and potentially addicting drugs.
    Diane L Lassen, RN, HHC

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