Understanding Holistic Therapy For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The use of complementary, alternative treatments for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression is on the rise. Holistic therapy in particular has grown in popularity. It combines traditional treatments (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, etc.) with alternative approaches and more natural remedies (e.g., acupuncture, yoga, etc.) This approach shows promise in its ability to relieve anxiety symptoms, since it addresses and prioritizes both physical and mental well-being. Read on to understand more about holistic therapy for mental health conditions like anxiety.

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Interested in learning more about holistic therapy?

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety is sometimes used as a catch-all term for a variety of anxiety disorders, from panic disorder to specific phobias to social anxiety disorder. Even more commonly, it’s used as shorthand for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of worry that are difficult to control, are typically out of proportion to the situation, and interfere with daily life.

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. It’s also common to feel stressed or anxious for longer periods due to the consistent release of stress hormones if you’re working on an intense project at your job, for example, or coping with an illness in your family. However, if your worrying continues once the stressor is gone (when the project is complete or your loved one gets better), it might be an indication of GAD or another mental health condition. 

Common anxiety symptoms

Anxiety can manifest in many different ways depending on the individual, the specific disorder they’re living with, and symptom severity. That said, some general symptoms of anxiety disorders—particularly generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)—can include things like: 

  • Persistent worry that’s difficult to control

  • “Catastrophizing,” or frequently thinking that the worst is going to happen

  • Irritability, often without any clear cause

  • Fatigue, or energy levels that are altered from your usual state

  • Feeling “twitchy,” restless, or on edge

  • Panic attacks

  • Trouble with mood control

  • Persistent nervous movements such as pacing or tapping

  • Muscle aches and other physical sensations of tension

  • Nausea or other digestive issues

  • Trouble sleeping

Remember, different anxiety and mood disorders may manifest as different symptoms. (A person with panic disorder, for example, may experience regular panic attacks.) It can be helpful to fully understand the type of anxiety you may be experiencing by receiving a diagnosis from a qualified professional before you explore potential treatments for anxiety and stress reduction. Meeting with a doctor for evaluation to rule out any potential underlying medical conditions can also be helpful.

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Statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

To illustrate how prevalent anxiety disorders are and how serious they can be, consider these statistics on the topic from the ADAA:

  • Only 43.2% of the 6.8 million US adults with generalized anxiety disorder are currently receiving treatment

  • 36% of people with social anxiety disorder live with symptoms for more than a decade before seeking professional support to treat anxiety 

  • Symptoms of specific phobias usually begin in childhood, with the average age of onset being seven years old

  • It’s not uncommon for an individual with an anxiety disorder to also experience another mental health disorder (such as depression) at the same time

  • Anxiety is as common in older adults as in adults of other ages

These statistics speak to the fact that virtually anyone can experience an anxiety disorder—and that seeking professional help for symptoms as soon as you notice them, as recommended by the American Medical Association, can be important.

What is a holistic therapy for anxiety?

Holistic therapy may be referred to by many different names, including holistic psychotherapy, body-centered psychotherapy, integrative therapy, eclectic therapy, alternative medicine, or complementary medicine. 

All of these refer to an approach to mental health that focuses on the entire person, treating their mind and body as a whole, and typically carries little to no risk of adverse effects.

Traditional mental health treatment often focuses mainly on a person’s mental or emotional state, and traditional medical treatment might focus mainly on the physical symptoms a person is experiencing in their body. Holistic therapy aims to integrate the two. This form of therapy may be helpful in addressing mental health disorders, since many cause both mental and physical symptoms.

Holistic therapy is a broad term that can encompass any number of possible treatment methods. Many of these treatments, which could be considered “alternative,” are often used in conjunction with more traditional, research-based therapeutic methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and others. Some examples of holistic therapies include but are not limited to:

  • Somatic therapy

  • Mindfulness

  • Meditation 

  • Yoga

  • Breathwork

  • Relaxation techniques

  • Guided imagery

  • Hypnosis

  • Massage

  • Acupuncture

  • Bodywork

  • Art therapy

  • Tai chi

  • Reiki

  • Biofeedback

  • Teas, herbal remedies, amino acids, and natural supplements 

For effective anxiety management, a person might pursue any number of these alternative holistic treatments in combination with any recommended traditional treatments. 

Potential benefits of holistic therapy for an anxiety disorder

In general, holistic therapy shows promise as a treatment to reduce and manage anxiety symptoms. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states:

 “Evidence-based psychotherapies can often be complemented and enhanced by treatment approaches that may be more traditional or natural. Many are based on folk systems that are hundreds or even thousands of years old. While modern scientific thinking may take issue with the traditional explanations of how these interventions work, there is no question that randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that some of these conditions do work for depression, anxiety, PTSD, pain management and other challenges, while others have yet to be sufficiently supported.” 

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Interested in learning more about holistic therapy?

Not all methods of holistic therapy for anxiety have been tested in research settings and suggested to be effective, but some have—and studies indicate they may even have additional benefits beyond reducing anxiety. For example, a systematic review published by the National Library of Medicine suggests that regularly practicing deep breathing exercises may reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress as well as depression, anger, and confusion. This type of finding could indicate that these practices may help promote overall health in a broader, more holistic sense. 

Again, holistic therapy focuses on integrating the mental and physical aspects of a person’s health. That’s why it often involves addressing some of the physical symptoms of anxiety that may be exacerbating mental and emotional symptoms. For example, sleep disruptions (a physical symptom of anxiety) can often lead to increased irritability (an emotional symptom). Practicing holistic therapy techniques such as meditation or yoga that help you connect more deeply to your body may help you find physical relaxation to ease physical symptoms (reduce muscle tension), which may then promote mental relaxation and ease emotional symptoms.

Finding support for anxiety

If you’re interested in exploring holistic treatment options for your anxiety symptoms—from excessive worry to panic attacks—you may want to connect with a licensed professional counselor to discuss your options. They can administer traditional treatments like talk therapy and may also be able to recommend alternative methods like breathwork and guided imagery. Together, you can come up with a plan to address and calm anxiety that works for you.

If you feel that commuting to a therapy office to meet with a provider in person would exacerbate your anxiety or not fit into your schedule, you might consider online therapy as an alternative. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist according to your needs and preferences as discussed in a brief questionnaire. Then, you can meet with them remotely via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. With their guidance, you can learn effective techniques for managing anxiety and anxious feelings.

A growing body of research indicates that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for treating mental health conditions like anxiety. For example, a 2020 study suggests that online therapy may produce “sustained, clinically meaningful improvements” in symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you’re interested in exploring holistic treatment options for anxiety, online therapy may help you get started.


Holistic therapy for anxiety combines the principles of traditional (CBT, anxiety medication, etc.) and alternative medicines (acupuncture, herbal remedies, etc.) by engaging the whole person, focusing on elements of both their mental and physical health. Holistic therapy can be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in many cases because it connects a person to the close relationship between their mind and their body. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it’s generally recommended that you start by meeting with a licensed therapist to build a treatment plan that works for you.
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