Anxiety is an extremely common problem, with one in seven Australians currently experiencing an anxiety condition. According to Beyond Blue, one quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime, while 26.3% of Australians aged 16 to 85 have experienced an anxiety disorder to date. This is equivalent to 4.96 million people having experienced an anxiety disorder in the last 12 months, or 2.71 million people with anxiety right now.
Anxiety is so widespread that it is the most common mental disorder worldwide.
Data from the US National Institute of Mental Health suggest that around 31 percent of adults can expect to experience some type of anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
But what can we do about it?
There are many potential pathways to managing or overcoming anxiety, including lifestyle change, behavioural therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or hypnosis, practices like mindfulness, yoga or tai-chi, exercise and traditional therapies drawing on herbal or plant-based remedies, and of course pharmaceutical drug therapies. Recent concerns about several classes of anti-anxiety medicines, including benzodiazepines, have led many to search for more natural ways to manage low to moderate levels of anxiety. However, there are cases where anxiety is so severe that pharmaceutical treatment will be the front-line treatment of choice.
It’s important to discuss treatment options with your physician and or therapists to determine which path of treatment is right for you, ensuring you do not over-use or misuse these powerful drugs in your attempt to alleviate the distressing symptoms of this condition. Likewise, you should never suddenly cease any treatment, especially drugs for the treatment of anxiety or depression and you should always manage medications under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner. I will discuss the pharmaceutical options and risks later in this blog.
Only about one-third of those who experience anxiety seek formal treatment, and anxiety is one of the most common reasons that people use holistic and alternative modalities.
In last week’s Wednesday Wellness blog, I introduced Ayurveda as a source of traditional therapies for treating seasonal allergies, but what does this ancient healing system say about anxiety?
From an Ayurvedic perspective, anxiety is an imbalance in the Vata dosha. Vata is referred to as the “air” principle. Its character is light, dry, and mobile. An imbalance of Vata, mentally or emotionally, is associated with an overabundance of lightness, flightiness or movement with erratic thoughts, worries, obsession, confusion, and difficulty focusing. Vata imbalance is also associated with a hyper-excitable para-sympathetic nervous system and trouble sleeping. If you’ve ever been described as “ungrounded,” that’s a classic description of Vata imbalance. It’s too much energy in the mind, not enough at the feet to anchor you to life, or like a tree that needs a good pruning that has too much growth in the branches leaving not enough energy in the roots. Interestingly the ancient middle eastern practice of Kabbala also sees anxiety as a lack of foundation, or grounding in life. The penultimate sephirot of the Kabbala Tree of Life is Yesod – Foundation, or the connection between all things – this sephirot along with final sephirot – Malkuth (Kingdom) – are the last steps required to incarnate into life and become grounded in the world. All progress stems from this foundation, and fear can only overrun us when we lose it. You’ll see me talk about this later on in this blog. Yesod and Malkuth correspond to the root chakra – Muladhara – in Ayurveda.
Speaking of roots, when Vata is disturbed, you feel ungrounded and disconnected from the earth. In Ayurveda, to treat anxiety/Vata imbalance, you have to stabilize your energy—calm the nervous system, relax the mind, release obsessive thoughts, connect to your body and to the earth, and ultimately surrender to the flow of the Universe. This can involve a range of therapies and practices.
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, an Ayurvedic approach will include looking at your whole life to reduce the Vata imbalance and bring energy out of your head and back into your body that may include:
- Diet: Avoiding sugary foods, take-away, junk foods like soda and I hate to say it – chocolate – as these foods can be overstimulating. Increase grounding, warm, moist, less oily foods, like, hot cereals (porridge), dairy products, bread and pasta or their gluten-free or vegan equivalents like almond milk and oats
- Structure: Staying warm, taking a hot bath with aromatic oils, and avoiding distracting or busy music, stressful work or study zones, or entertainment like violent programs or gaming. Create a sanctuary for yourself where you can control your environment
- Mindfulness Use mindfulness techniques, meditation or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, listen to grounding music or guided meditation tracks, learn breathing techniques to help eliminate the use of stimulants like nicotine, coffee, energy drinks, illicit drugs etc.
- Sleep: Keeping a regular sleep cycle in tune with your natural circadian rhythm, going to bed before 11pm and waking before 8am. Develop a wind-down routine to eliminate stressful activities like answering work emails or browsing social media at least an hour before bed-time, keep your sleep area free of blue light
- Nature: Spending time in nature to ground your energy, get your toes into the sand or dirt, create a small garden, talk to your plants, sit on a rock in the sun, hug a tree or look at pictures of nature
- Exercise: Undertaking exercise that grounds, strengthens and warms, hot yoga, weight training or hot pilates
- Essential Oils: Supplementing with plant-based remedies like essential oils that include concentrates of grounding ingredients including cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, rock salt, sesame seeds, anise, citrus, lavender as either aromatics or ingestibles have been shown to support the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, reducing anxiety and stress
You may or may not have come across these 7 tips. They work best when used in conjunction with each other, and many of them are common sense.
Over the next 7 days I will be providing more detail on each of the 7 tips above, in reverse order, starting with the easiest to implement, and ending with the hardest, as part of a series blog posts to help you discover how to manage anxiety naturally. In this post I’ll be focusing on the best essential oils for anxiety and talking a little about the pharmaceutical treatments available and their risks.
In a couple of days, I’ll be giving away my guided meditation as a free download when you register to subscribe, so make sure you stay tuned for each daily instalment.
In addition to the spices mentioned previously (cinnamon, cardamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg) that were also discussed in last week’s blog about allergies, let’s have a look at some of the best studied essential oils and how they might benefit those suffering from anxiety, especially when used in combination with the 6 lifestyle tips above.
Lavender is one of the most popular aromatherapy oils. It has a sweet floral scent with a woody or herbal undertone. More recently lavender has been shown to be effective when ingested to reduce anxiety. It’s important to note that you should never ingest a concentrated oil, and you should only ingest one that has been made under Food Grade Good Manufacturing Practice (Food Grade GMP) that has been diluted appropriately in an edible carrier oil.
According to HealthLine:
- Lavender oil can be used to calm anxiety. It also has a sedative effect and may help with sleep troubles, including if feelings of stress or anxiety are keeping you up at night.
- According to 2012 research, lavender aromatherapy is thought to calm anxiety by impacting the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions.
- A 2019 review evaluated 71 studies that used lavender to ease anxiety. It found that inhaling lavender could significantly lower anxiety levels measured using a clinically validated scale. Massage with lavender oil was also found to help reduce anxiety levels.
Edible lavender extracts may also provide support for people with anxiety.
- In a large meta-analysis published in the Journal Nature in December 2019, people with anxiety disorders who took 160-milligram lavender oil capsules experienced significant decreases in anxiety. Other studies have found similar results.
- One from 2015, involved 60 people in a coronary intensive care unit. The researchers found that those treated with lavender essential oil had lower levels of anxiety and better sleep.
- Another 2010 study compared lavender capsules to the anti-anxiety medication lorazepam, concluding that lavender’s effects were comparable to the prescription drug.
Chamomile oil comes from the tiny daisy-like flowers of the chamomile plant. It’s been used for thousands of years for its relaxing and sedating properties and pleasant scent. You often see it as an ingredient in herbal teas or tisanes that aim to promote calm and peaceful sleep.
While there isn’t much research on chamomile essential oil for anxiety, a 2017 study looked at using edible chamomile supplements for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Researchers found that chamomile supplementation reduced the symptoms of mild to moderate GAD. However, it did not reduce the rate of relapse of anxiety symptoms.
- A 2017 study assessed the short-term treatment of generalized anxiety using chamomile extract. Researchers found that after eight weeks, 58.1 percent of participants reported a reduction of their anxiety symptoms.
- Low morning levels of a hormone called cortisol have been linked with anxiety disorders. A small 2018 study found that chamomile therapy helped reduce anxiety symptoms and increased morning cortisol levels.
- Depression and anxiety often occur together. One study used oral chamomile extract in people with anxiety and depression. Researchers observed a significant reduction in depression symptoms after eight weeks of treatment in the group that were given chamomile extract.
Bergamot oil comes from bergamot oranges, a hybrid of lemon and bitter orange. The essential oil is derived from the peel or zest of the fruit and has an invigorating citrus scent. It’s a popular ingredient in perfumes, and Bergamot is also the herb used in Earl Grey tea.
- Bergamot essential oil can have a calming effect and can help reduce anxiety. According to a 2015 study, both animal and human trials have found that bergamot helps relieve anxiety and improve mood.
- A small 2017 study examined the effects of inhalation of bergamot essential oil in women in the waiting room of a mental health treatment centre. Researchers found that 15 minutes of exposure to bergamot essential oil promoted an increase in positive feelings.
- A small 2015 study done on women in Japan found that inhaled bergamot oil mixed with water vapor reduced feelings of anxiety and fatigue.
- Similarly, a 2013 article published in the journal Current Drug Targets reported that aromatherapy with bergamot (among other essential oils) can relieve depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders by signalling the brain to release dopamine and serotonin.
An Australian Superfood, the Lemon Myrtle (also known as sweet verbena tree, lemon scented verbena, lemon scented backhouse and sweet verbena myrtle) can only be found in the Australian rainforests of Queensland and grows up to 60 feet tall. I have a special affinity with this plant, both because of its long history of use by the first peoples of Australia, but additionally because one of my ancestors, the famed botanist James Backhouse, was the first westerner to describe and catalogue it while visiting Australia back in the 1830s. James brought samples back for study in the UK, though it was a friend sand fellow botanist – Ferdinand von Muelle – who named it after him. If you think lemon is an anti-anxiety wonder food, then you will love Lemon Myrtle. Lemon Myrtle’s history of use by Australian Aborigines goes back over 40,000 years, for both cooking and as a medicine using it for its flavour and antiseptic, calmative, sedative, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.
Did you know:
- The leaves of the Lemon Myrtle tree contain the world’s strongest and purest concentration of natural citral, with almost 20 times the amount of the terpenoid citral than lemon; citral is believed to be associated with lemon’s calming characteristics.
- With its high citral content, antimicrobial properties and aromatic scent, Lemon Myrtle has superpowers when appropriate formulations are ingested.
- The calming effect of Lemon Myrtle naturally relieves stress by encouraging better sleep, relaxation and uplifting feelings. The Lemon Myrtle scent helps improve the mood and soothe the mind. Smelling the aroma of Lemon Myrtle when you’re anxious or worried may help calm you down and reassure you. 
Herbalists and aromatherapists use lemon myrtle and its essential oil for various reasons. The fragrant aroma gives off a wonderful relaxing effect and is also said to improve your concentration as well as promote better sleep. It can be used as inhalant for treating colds, flus, and other congestive disorders. 
It is also thought the magnesium content in lemon myrtle is responsible for reducing the effects of mild depression and anxiety. Magnesium may be one of the contributing factors to the herb being able to relieve insomnia, both directly and indirectly via anxiety reduction.
Traditionally lemon myrtle has been found to be effective against both mild depression and insomnia. In fact, one of the original uses of lemon myrtle by the Australian Aborigines was as a sleep aid. First Peoples would pick a handful of leaves, crush them up in their hands and inhale the fragrance, which has a calming, relaxing effect.
As a clinical hypnotherapist, I regularly supported the use of Ayurvedic herbal remedies, in addition to the above behavioral approaches, to help people improve anxiety, ground Vata, and regulate stress levels. These Ayurvedic approaches have a long history of use in India and have passed the test of time. Many of them have also more recently passed the test of scientific analysis, combined with herbs and essential oils that help to ground the sufferer and de-clutter the mind.
No discussion about anxiety would be complete without looking at pharmaceutical alternatives:
Modern pharmacological treatments for anxiety disorders are safer and more tolerable than they were 30 years ago. Unfortunately, treatment efficacy and duration have not improved in most cases despite a greater understanding of the pathophysiology of anxiety. Moreover, innovative treatments have not reached the market despite billions of research dollars invested in drug development. In reviewing the literature on current treatments, it is clear there is a long way to go to provide drug-based treatments for anxiety that do not produce dangerous side-effects.
Anxiety medications fall broadly into four categories: 
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- Sentraline (Zoloft)
- Selective Serotonin Norepinephrine Inhibitors (SSNIs)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- Tricyclic Antidepressants
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- Alpazolam (Xanax)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
Although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant, doctors commonly prescribe them to people with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and use them as a front-line drug treatment for anxiety. SSRIs work by stopping nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, which is a chemical that plays a vital role in mood regulation. The problem is, the model behind this medication that attributes anxiety and OCD to low levels of the naturally occurring neurotransmitter serotonin, has never been proven, and even under current guidelines, other life-style changes like exercise, nutrition, sleep, routine, time spent in nature are all recommended to boost the effectiveness of the drug. The model is so flawed that researchers have found that long term use of SSRIs leads to chronic serotonin deficit. For some people these drugs do work very well in the short to medium term, but they are not without their side-effects, which for many make long-term use of these drugs untenable. Remember, you should consult your doctor or physician before you consider reducing or stopping any medication. Stopping medications like these suddenly can have negative consequences and even worsen your condition.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another class of antidepressant that treats depression and anxiety. Doctors may also prescribe them to treat some chronic pain conditions.
Like SSRIs these medications work by reducing the brain’s reabsorption of the chemicals serotonin with the added feature that they also reduce the reabsorption of norepinephrine. The above caveats apply, with the added risk that these drugs used long-term may cause significant liver damage or raise bloodpressure.
3. Tricyclic Antidepressants
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are an older class of antidepressant drug. Although they may be effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety, doctors often prescribe SSRIs instead, as they cause fewer side effects.
However, TCAs may be useful for some people, especially if other medications do not provide relief.
According to a 2014 study overuse of anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills are a major cause of drug overdose and mortality:
“Anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills have been linked to an increased risk of death, according to new research. The large study shows that several anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs or hypnotic drugs (sleeping pills) are associated with a doubling in the risk of mortality. Although these findings are based on routine data and need to be interpreted cautiously, the researchers recommended that a greater understanding of their impact is essential.”
“Valium and Xanax are in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. These medications help control anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. But doctors say they are habit-forming and have some dangerous side effects.” Dr. Roneet Lev, director of the emergency department at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, often sees the downsides of benzodiazepines:
“…people who come into our trauma center from car accidents because they’re on benzodiazepines, people who come in because they’re falling down, because that affects their balance and coordination on benzodiazepines,” she said. “We’ve seen terrible withdrawals, when they’re used to having it, with seizures, that end up in the ICU.”
Lev said when it comes to drug-related deaths in San Diego County, benzodiazepines are right behind opioids:
“Number one prescribed drug associated with death is oxycodone, then hydrocodone, the number three, benzodiazepine,” she said.
This epidemic is right on the heals of the opioid epidemic and its effecting armed forces veterans especially hard. Dr. James Michelsen, a specialist in internal medicine and chair of the San Diego VA’s pain council, said many veterans have conditions that would typically call for both a benzodiazepine and an opioid.
“Anxiety related to their combat time, problems with sleep, post-traumatic stress disorder. And traditionally these conditions benzodiazepines have been used to treat,” he said. “Additionally, many of our veterans came back with physical wounds, as well.”
It is no different in Australia, the ABC found that this class of drugs was the number one cause of overdose deaths from prescriptions drugs. “According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the sleeping and anti-anxiety pills were the most common single substance found in overdose deaths, ahead of opioids oxycodone and codeine and powerful narcotics like fentanyl.”
The ABC found:
“Nearly 6 million scripts for this group of anti-anxiety sleeping pill medication were handed out through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) last financial year.
That figure does not include hospital and private scripts, which experts estimate also run to the millions.”
It’s clear benzodiazepine drugs come with significant risks and should not be used long term.
No wonder many of us are keen to look at other options!
Anxiety is a complex problem and, thus, there are no simple solutions. The greatest improvements I have seen come with dedicated effort across multiple dimensions of life. |As a clinical hypnotherapist for over 30 years, I have seen people experience dramatic improvements in their anxiety levels if these suggestions are consistently and diligently practiced. Think: lifestyle change rather than one-time adjustment.
As Deepak Chopra says, “the journey of self-discovery, taken with an open heart, inevitably leads to healing.”
At Cephyra® we want you to Be Better, Naturally.
I created the Cephyra Activated Oils to support the life-changes we all need to maximise our quality of life and potential as human beings. Each oil blend has been designed to support you to achieve your wellness and life goals, making it easier to shed old unwanted behaviours and adopt new, healthy, productive habits that will last a lifetime.
You’ll see a symbiosis in the symbology and herbology of Ayurveda and Kabbala repeated throughout the Cephyra® Activated Oil™ products, which were designed to help us navigate our way through the challenges of the world and thrive, rather than struggle and just survive.
My favourite Cephyra® Activated Oils™ for managing anxiety include Sirius™ formulated to take advantage of the well-established anxiolytic properties of Lavender, Bergamot, Chamomile and Lemon Myrtle. This wonderful edible essential oil can be used in combination with Cephyra® Earth™, Cephyra® Moon™ or Cephyra® Mars™, designed to support grounding and to feel safe and strong in your own body, and each featuring key ingredients mentioned in this article.
To celebrate the release of these products we are offering 20% off store-wide.
Experience the calming power and get out of your head with Cephyra® Sirus™: https://cephyra.com/product/sirius/
Regain your foundation with Cephyra® Moon™:
Ground yourself with Cephyra® Earth™:
Tone your nervous system with Cephyra® Mars™:
Yours in Wellness,