We all suffer from anxiety at some time; this can apply to children, adults and even animals. There are so many causes and types of anxiety, and so many definitions.

The main issue with alternative approaches is that they will not give you a quick fix- Kathryn Borg

Anxiety can encompass feeling stressed, having a panic attack, worrying in general, and even lead to disorders such as ano­rexia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Many sufferers take anti-depressants or other medication; sometimes there is a natural treatment or a treatment we haven’t considered. In fairness, by the time we are suffering from anxiety, we are usually too worried or panicked to think straight and consider how we can help ourselves.

So anxiety is something we all suffer from and is a normal reaction to stress. However, when it becomes excessive and irrational and actually interferes with everyday life, then it is time to get help.

Persistent anxiety (generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD) is a genuine, recognised psychiatric condition with physical symptoms, such as palpitations, dry mouth, sweating and sleep problems (Lancet, 2006).

Some prescribed drugs for this type of condition can do more harm than good. If a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is prescribed, it can be linked to a host of unwanted side-effects, such as sedation, constipation, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and withdrawal systems when stopping the drug (Expert Opin. Drug Saf., 2008).

Even more worrying is that some of these drugs have been linked to increased risk of attempted suicide (BMC Psychiatry, 2006).

Therefore, many people look at alternative approaches to help with anxiety. It is also useful to know about these approaches in advance, in the event that you may suffer from anxiety in the future and need something quickly, but not necessarily harmful. The main issue with alternative approaches is that they will not give you a quick fix.

An obvious solution is massage. In one study, patients receiving massage therapy reported less anxiety, greater self-confidence and a general relaxed feeling in both body and mind.

This can help tremendously with sleep issues too. Massage combined with aromatherapy has also shown positive results, although the effects are mild and shortlived (Br. J. Gen. Pract., 2000). The main point is to find a good practitioner who knows how to help those suffering from anxiety or stress.

Massage can be used in conjunction with relaxation therapy. There is consistent evidence supporting the use of relaxation techniques to treat GAD.

A review of 27 studies concluded that relaxation therapy (Jacobson’s progressive relaxation, autogenic training, applied relaxation and meditation) can significantly reduce anxiety (BMC Psychiatry, 2008).

Physical activity appears to be a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety and it is often recommended for anxiety disorders and depression.

According to one report, the best results are seen with rhythmic, aerobic exercises of moderate to low intensity (such as jogging, swimming, cycling and walking – preferably power walking and not a stroll).

To give the best results this exercise should be carried out in 15 to 30 minute bouts, at a minimum of three times a week, in programmes of 10 weeks or longer (Psychiatr Pol., 2004).

However, as we all know, regular exercise is vital for our longevity and well being, so 10 weeks should really turn into a habit of continual exercise, planned to be included in our diaries on a weekly basis.

Some anxiety disorders need more intervention; therefore, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a form of counselling, can help a variety of disorders including GAD, but also OCD, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

In a review of 13 trials which studied the use of CBT in children and adolescents, the response rate was 56 per cent with CBT, compared to 28 per cent for the control group (Cochrane Database Syst. Rev., 2005).

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive technique which stimulates the neurons in the brain. Preliminary evidence suggests this may be useful for controlling anxiety.

So far, the results of the studies are mixed. TMS has been reported to reduce anxiety symptoms in post-traumatic stress and panic disorders (Int. Clin. Psychopharmacol., 2009).

Finally we look at herbs. There are a variety of herbal remedies available to treat anxiety.

Starting with a basic one: chamomile.

In 57 patients with mild to moderate GAD, a chamomile extract was significantly more successful than a placebo at reducing the symptoms (J. Clin. Psychopharmacol., 2009).

The success of chamomile can be relative to the amount of caffeine a patient is ingesting. If you are a person who drinks gallons of coffee throughout the day, chamomile may have trouble fighting through all the caffeine in the system. But if you take a caffeine-free week and use chamomile instead, you may find a huge difference.

Valerian can be useful for the symptoms associated with GAD, such as nervousness, sleep disturbances and depression.

Passionflower proved to be just as effective as the benzodiazepine drug for GAD in one study (J. Clin. Pharm. Ther., 2001).

There are many more alternative therapies, too many to include here, so research them and hopefully you may find a solution that is right for you.

kathryn@maltanet.net

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