Anxiety and stress related issues are an increasingly pervasive part of our society today.
Memes about anxiety get thousands of likes because just about everyone can relate, and a whopping 75-90% of doctor’s visits are for stress related complaints (yes, you read that right). I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard stories of people going to the ER with chest pains thinking they were having a heart attack, only to find out it was a severe panic attack.
What’s the deal?
So what’s going on? Why is everyone so stressed out and anxious? And what can we do about it?
Well, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but I have a few theories. Our modern high speed + high information lifestyles, paired with assault from environmental pollution in our homes and food, plus more disconnection from family, friends, and nature than we’ve ever dealt with before gives us a perfect recipe for anxiety. On top of it, our bodies and brains are chronically undernourished, which drastically reduces our ability to deal with everyday stress. No wonder it seems like everyone is just about to lose it (or is currently losing it, if you read any comment section on basically anything).
Fortunately, we can rebuild our bodies and brains with the nutrients that we know calm our nervous systems down and help us handle stress better. You can’t out-supplement bad lifestyle habits like not getting enough sun or exercise, or too much caffeine, and going to therapy and learning some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) techniques can also be super useful. However, adding just a few smart supplements can help move the needle in a positive direction and further enable you to make the changes you need to be as stress free as you can be!
I put a list of all of the supplements I mention (and personally use) at the bottom of this article if you want a list of my recommendations.
Top 10 Anxiety Supplements
1. Sea salt (with trace minerals)
This one comes first because it’s the easiest AND the cheapest, for the biggest impact. Unfortunately, salt has gotten a bad rap (and we should limit refined table salt, which throws off the body’s electrolyte balance), but we actually need sodium for proper nervous system function. Our bodies are sadly mineral deprived due to the fact that food is grown (even organic food) in mineral depleted soil, and we bath in and drink water that has substances that leach even more minerals from our bodies. I’m a huge fan of Celtic Sea Salt, which has a lower sodium content and higher magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus levels than other types of salt. Drinking at least 1/2-3/4 tsp a day in filtered water (about 1/4 tsp in a quart mason jar tastes smooth, not salty) has helped lower my anxiety levels more consistently than just about anything else. I am working on a big, beefy post about this, so stay tuned! If you just want the trace minerals, which are incredibly beneficial on their own, this is my favorite trace mineral supplement.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals to supplement with if you are experiencing stress or anxiety. Every time your body experiences stress, good or bad, more magnesium is depleted from the body. According to this study from Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiency is linked to “pathological anxiety”, hyperemotionality, and dysregulation of the HPA axis (the system in your body that controls your stress levels). Since magnesium is required for over 300 biochemical reactions including nervous system function, heart rate regulation, energy production and more, your body will pull it from your bones and body tissues if your serum levels of magnesium are too low. Many, many people report reduced stress and anxiety (and other positive benefits!) from proper magnesium supplementation.
The best form to take it in to prevent the “magnesium disaster pants” from too much mag powder (it’s not fun, trust me!) is to take it in a timed release formula like this one from Jigsaw. This stuff is combined with certain B vitamins as well to increase bioavailability, and it works like a charm! If you’re a topical application kind of person, magnesium flake baths and this magnesium lotion are great as well.
L-theanine, a substance found primarily in green tea, is a great anxiety and stress reducer. In this study, it helped to reduce cortisol levels in stressful situations (even a few hours later) and increased alpha brain waves, which are associated with a relaxed, meditative state of mind. It works amazingly well with caffeine, helping blunt the stress response to caffeine and providing a more calm and focused feeling of productivity. Since it occurs naturally in tea, switching out your morning coffee for some matcha green tea (which has especially high levels) is a good way to get it. Taking L-theanine on its own is also useful, especially with coffee or when you know you’ll be in a stressful situation (like when you have a meeting with your jerk boss or you have to take a teething toddler to a family gathering).
4. CBD Oil
Aaahh, CBD oil . It’s the hottest new thing right now in the blogosphere, Instagram, and the mom’s groups on Facebook. So why is your conservative aunt suddenly hyped up about the Devil’s Lettuce? Simply put, it really works. CBD oil is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that is quite effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety by altering activity in several parts of the brain. CBD is also great at treating insomnia, inflammation, and pain. The CBD oil derived from hemp plants (which contain less than .3% THC, the stuff that “gets you high”) is legal, and the full spectrum CBD from marijuana is only legal for medicinal purposes in a handful of states. I would suggest doing your own research and figuring out what’s right for you, but I (and many, many others) have found it to be extremely helpful in treating anxiety (especially social anxiety). There are many great brands, but the full spectrum tincture from 2Rise Naturals is the one I currently use. This brand is extremely high quality and they have both full spectrum and THC free CBD tinctures depending on your needs.
5. Adaptogens and Herbs
There are so many plants that are excellent at reducing anxiety and stress that entire bookshelves are filled with information. I don’t like to make generalized statements about taking herbs since everyone’s body reacts differently to each one (and some of them have interactions with certain medications) but I highly encourage you to include some of them in your regimen! Some of my favorite herbs to reduce anxiety are a group of plants called “adaptogens.” They come with a very low risk profile and are okay for most people to take for an extended period of time, and they help your body “adapt” to stress better. Some great adaptogens to get started on are lemon balm, ashwaghandha, rhodiola, reishi mushroom (I love it so much I wrote a whole post about it), and holy basil. Other anti-anxiety herbs that are not necessarily adaptogens but are still quite helpful are passionflower, lavender (also a great essential oil), kava kava, chamomile, and valerian (excellent for bedtime). Again, do some research or talk to an herbalist to figure out which herbs would work well with your body’s needs.
Turmeric is becoming known as *the* spice for improving general mental health. Curcumin, the active ingredient, is a highly studied compound that shows repeated benefit in clinical trials for depression, anxiety, and brain inflammation. It also helps reduce the physical symptoms of chronic stress. If you want to know more about the mental health benefits of turmeric, hop on over to this article about it! If you supplement with turmeric, make sure it is paired with fats and black pepper for optimal absorption.
7. Essential Oils
While certainly not a cure-all, essential oils can be an excellent addition to your lifestyle if you are experiencing anxiety and stress. Many of them have clinical trials showing anti-anxiety and stress reducing benefits, especially lavender, which is an anti-anxiety superstar. There is even a relatively new anxiety medication called Silexan available in Germany that is, essentially, an oral lavender oil preparation. It has no side effects and is effective at significantly reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and even depression. Just diffusing certain essential oils can also be very calming. This study showed that “inhaling the scent of lavender can prevent stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth” and in this triple blind, randomized clinical trial, inhaling geranium oil significantly reduced anxiety for heart patients.
Other essential oils that can be helpful for anxiety include bergamot, wild orange, cedarwood, neroli, frankincense, chamomile, and more. Sourcing and quality of essential oils is a big concern, so make sure to do your research on the brand before you decide to invest. I personally use DoTERRA because I trust the quality. They have *excellent* relaxing blends, and an oral lavender preparation (the Serenity capsules) that is quite life changing.
8. Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important things to include in your diet for general brain health and mental well-being. Since our brain is composed of 60% fat, we need to provide it with the proper building blocks to function at its best. There are three main types of Omega-3s (ALA, EPA, and DHA) but one of them is especially important to include for brain health, and that is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is found in high concentrations in egg yolks, lamb, seafood, algae, and high quality oily fish. The fatty acid composition of your brain is dependent on the diet you eat, and a diet higher in DHA leads to a healthier, more anti-inflammatory environment. It is EXTREMELY important to get enough of this in your diet if you are concerned about your mental health; in this study, DHA was the only fatty acid shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
I suggest eating lots of pastured egg yolks (the more raw the better! The actual risk for salmonella in pastured eggs is very low. I eat at least 3 a day) and taking 5-6g of a high quality fish oil. The one I take is a wild salmon oil from Vital Choice.
9. B Vitamins
B vitamins are very important for not only energy levels, but also stress management. Low levels of B vitamins can leave you feel exhausted, stressed out, and worn out. This article gives a good summary of the anti-anxiety effect of the various B vitamins. Considering gut health is important when thinking about B vitamins, since the “good” bacteria in your gut actually manufacture quite a bit of them, but taking a good B complex can also be useful for reducing stress and increasing energy levels. (Note: Just because your pee turns bright yellow when taking B vitamins doesn’t mean you’re peeing all of them out, it’s because riboflavin (B2) is bright yellow and water soluble and will definitely show up. ;)) This is my favorite B complex; I like it because it has bioavailable forms of the B vitamins (such as methylfolate instead of folic acid) and has a time release component.
10. Vitamin D
Finally, Vitamin D is one of the best things to get for anxiety and stress. While I recommend getting vitamin D from sunlight (proper sun exposure has its own vast health benefits), supplementing with a good vitamin D3 (paired with K2 for absorption) in the winter months can be beneficial, since low vitamin D levels are associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. I try to sit in the sun every morning, but in the winter, when that’s not an option, or for little kids, these D3+K2 drops from Thorne research are excellent.
Of course, addressing emotional causes of anxiety is incredibly important as well, and some lifestyle changes might need to be made (such as not over-scheduling yourself or over committing to things that aren’t important to you), but taking care of your physical body to be able to better support you is absolutely vital. Meditation, cultivating a spiritual practice, and connecting to your purpose are also incredibly important.
Anxiety is a multifaceted issue, but after adding some of these nutrients and supplements into your life, you should definitely start feeling less anxious. You might not feel a huge difference right away, but you should become less reactive about things that used to immediately overwhelm you. You’ll find yourself becoming more able to handle stressors in your life with a steady, peaceful mind.
Celtic Sea Salt
Concentrace Trace Minerals
Jigsaw Magnesium w/ SRT
Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes
Ancient Minerals Magnesium Lotion
2Rise Naturals CBD Oil
Adaptogenic Herbal Tinctures
Vital Choice Sockeye Salmon Oil
Vital Choice Curcumin in Salmon Oil
Jigsaw B Vitamin Complex
Thorne Research D3+K2
*This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend products that I personally use and love!