Exploring Alternative Therapies For Anxiety: A Comprehensive Guide To Relief Options

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, are some of the most common mental health conditions affecting people worldwide. People with anxiety disorders may seek conventional treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy. But others may be interested in considering complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments as a way to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health. CAM therapies can include various techniques like massage, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. There is strong evidence supporting the benefits of many of these techniques, but it’s important to consult a healthcare provider before starting CAM treatments. 

For some people, a combination of traditional and CAM approaches may be a comprehensive way to treat anxiety symptoms. In addition, online therapy may involve alternative techniques for managing anxiety and other mental health disorders. Finding which treatments and alternative therapies work for you is a process. In some cases, a good first step to finding the right treatment can be to learn more about what anxiety disorders are and what symptoms to look out for.  

Understanding anxiety disorders

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Alternative therapies may help maximize anxiety relief

Anxiety disorders encompass several conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. These disorders often involve symptoms such as excessive worry, fear, and irrational thoughts. Other symptoms may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Restlessness 
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Although the exact causes of anxiety disorders are still being researched, various factors are thought to promote their development. These factors may include genetics, environmental stressors, and changes in brain chemistry. 

Life with an anxiety disorder can be challenging. Individuals with these disorders may experience a persistent and excessive sense of worry that can interfere with daily activities and relationships. Anxiety can be isolating and, at times, overwhelming. This is often due to the disorder’s ability to affect numerous aspects of a person’s life, including their work performance, romantic relationships, and social life. If you are experiencing anxiety, it's important to know that you are not alone and that support is available. This support can take many forms, including that of complementary and alternative medicine or CAM.

The role of complementary and alternative medicine in mental health

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can often be used alongside conventional mental health treatments. CAM therapies may help reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms for individuals with other mental health concerns. 

Research has found that many people with anxiety use complementary and alternative therapies. In fact, one study found that complementary and alternative therapies were used more than conventional treatments by people with self-defined anxiety attacks and severe depression. This study also found that most patients visiting conventional mental health providers for these problems also use complementary and alternative therapies. 

Some individuals seeking mental health support choose to combine complementary and alternative options with traditional therapies.

The standard treatments for anxiety disorders typically involve a combination of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Popular alternative therapies for anxiety

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There are several types of complementary and alternative therapies available for those looking for relief from anxiety disorders and symptoms. Some common alternative treatments include:

Herbal supplements

While evidence for the efficacy of herbs and supplements for anxiety is mixed, some studies have shown the potential benefits of certain natural products in reducing anxiety. Examples of these herbal supplements include chamomile, melatonin, and kava. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking an herbal supplement, as it may interact with other medications or have side effects.

Mindfulness and meditation

Meditation and mindfulness practices can help individuals focus on the present moment and develop a non-judgmental awareness of emotions and thoughts, potentially reducing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and loving-kindness meditation are popular techniques within this category.

Some research has found mindfulness-based therapy to be especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Yoga and tai chi

Both of these holistic practices combine physical movement, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques, which may help improve mental health and reduce anxiety. For instance, research has found yoga to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression

Acupuncture

An ancient Chinese medicine technique involving the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to balance energy flow, acupuncture has been used to treat mental health disorders, including anxiety. 

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils extracted from plants, either through inhalation or topical application, to promote psychological and physical well-being. Some essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, have been found to have calming and stress-reducing effects, potentially providing relief from anxiety symptoms.

Biofeedback 

Biofeedback is a technique that allows individuals to learn how to control their physiological processes, such as heart rate, muscle tension, and skin temperature. People can gain better control over their anxiety and stress responses by becoming more aware of these processes. In addition, mastering these skills may help improve mental and emotional well-being, as well as improve performance in various aspects of daily life. 

Art and music therapy 

Creative expression through art or music can provide an outlet for emotions and serve as a therapeutic tool for those experiencing anxiety. Engaging in these activities may help to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and foster a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation. In addition, art and music therapy can facilitate communication and connection with others, helping individuals to build support networks and foster a sense of belonging.

Massage therapy 

Massage therapy involves the manipulation of soft body tissues to promote relaxation, improve circulation, and reduce muscle tension. Studies have shown that regular massage sessions can be beneficial, especially for those in certain occupations. One study conducted with participants from nursing professions showed that massage therapy may be able to reduce stress, promote mental health, and prevent a decrease in work quality.  

There is a wide range of alternative therapies available for those seeking relief from anxiety disorders and symptoms. While some treatments may work better for certain individuals, treatment may need to be tailored to each person's unique needs and circumstances.

Combining alternative therapies with conventional treatments

Using alternative therapies with conventional treatments can often be an effective way to manage anxiety and anxiety disorders for some people. Conventional treatments may include therapy, medication, and support groups. Therapeutic treatments like CBT and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be effective in managing anxiety symptoms, while support groups can provide a sense of community and shared understanding, which can be helpful in coping with anxiety.

By addressing the unique needs and symptoms of individuals in different ways, using a combination of approaches can promote anxiety relief and support overall mental health improvement. Combining different approaches may help promote better mental health outcomes and maintain long-term well-being. Before starting an alternative treatment, however, it may be best to discuss these treatments with a mental health provider to make sure that it’s right for you. 

Finding the right type of therapy for you

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Alternative therapies may help maximize anxiety relief

A mental health professional can help you determine whether certain treatments may benefit your specific anxiety disorder and symptoms. They can also provide guidance to help you incorporate new approaches, habits, and coping mechanisms into your life. 

As you explore different alternative treatments, consider doing the following:

  • Research the therapy or treatment, including potential benefits and risks
  • Consult with your mental health provider or primary care physician before trying any new treatments
  • Monitor your progress to determine the effectiveness of the chosen therapy for you.

When combined with traditional mental health care, alternative therapies can be a helpful way to manage anxiety and improve overall mental health. 

Exploring online resources for anxiety relief

For individuals interested in exploring alternative therapies for anxiety, there are various online resources available to provide support and guidance, including online therapy. 

With online therapy, individuals can connect with licensed therapists to discuss and manage their anxiety symptoms from wherever they have internet—which may feel easier for some people with anxiety, who may sometimes find it daunting to travel to an in-person appointment.  

In addition, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for individuals with anxiety. One systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effectiveness of internet-delivered interventions in treating symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and it concluded that the results support the effectiveness of Internet‐delivered treatments for GAD.

To learn more about anxiety, organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offer detailed information about anxiety disorders, treatments, and coping strategies.

In addition, there are numerous supplementary tools available online, including:

  • Meditation and relaxation apps
  • Online forums for peer support
  • Mindfulness exercises and techniques
  • Self-help articles and videos about anxiety management
  • Information on relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation.

Takeaway

There are many alternative and complementary therapies for anxiety available, including yoga, massage, meditation, and mindfulness. In many cases, these therapies can be used in combination with conventional treatment methods like medication and psychotherapy. It’s important to consult a healthcare provider before starting alternative treatments. For professional support with anxiety and guidance on incorporating new coping mechanisms into your life, online therapy can help.
 
Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment
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