Anxiety is a condition, both physical and psychological, characterized by persistent fear, worry, and troubled thoughts. Anxiety ranges from simple stress that nearly everyone deals with from time to time, to serious, debilitating anxiety disorders, with a wide range of conditions in between.
In the United States, prescription medications are frequently prescribed to treat anxiety. Unfortunately, a large number of these medications have serious side-effects, and some, such as the widely used (and I would say overused) benzodiazepine class of medications, can cause serious tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. SSRI’s, antidepressant medications typically used to treat depression, are also used to treat anxiety, in large part because anxiety and depression are often comorbid conditions (conditions occurring together and feeding into each other).
No evidence of long-term benefits to prescription anti-anxiety medications:
Anti-anxiety medications are called anxiolytics. Rather than delving into depth about the specific side-effects of anxiolytics, I want to draw attention to some key features of this class of medications: they do not address the root causes of anxiety, and thus they are not effective in the long-run. What this means is that, while many of these medications can produce dramatic effects in the short-term, in terms of reducing anxiety, the anxiety comes back full force as soon as the medications are discontinued. Many of these medications, such as the benzodiazepines (of which Xanax is one of the most popular) can cause tolerance effects, which can lead to dependency (addiction), and withdrawal effects (including increased anxiety) when they are discontinued.
Research on other medications to treat anxiety, such as SSRI’s and other anti-depressants, has produced similar results: while some studies show effects while the medications are being taken, there is no solid evidence that they provide any sustained long-term benefit after the medication is discontinued. Although these other meds may be safer for long-term use, they do not provide a sustainable solution by addressing the root cause of the anxiety.
Herbal medications: herbal teas, supplements, etc:
Herbal medications are widely perceived as safer treatments for not only anxiety, but for medical conditions in general. Herbal medications, compared to prescription medications, tend to be safer, but are also less well-understood, and sometimes are less potent, slower-acting and providing less immediate results. Also, like prescription drugs, they do not truly address the root cause of anxiety. However, in most cases, they are safer and less inexpensive.
Herbs traditionally used to treat anxiety are diverse. They include mild, calming herbal teas such as chamomile tea and lemon balm, other herbs like lavender or sage, and more potent medicinal teas including tulsi / holy basil or passionflower, to name a few. All of these herbs have some scientific evidence supporting their use to treat anxiety. Many of these herbs are widely consumed as beverages, making them much safer than the prescription anti-anxiety medications frequently prescribed in the U.S.
Anti-anxiety medications, whether prescription drugs or herbal remedies, do not address the root causes of anxiety, and generally have no benefits after their use is discontinued. Herbal remedies, however, tend to be much safer and more suitable for long-term use than prescription drugs, especially the benzodiazepines which are absolutely unsuitable for long-term use due to problems with tolerance and addiction. Herbal teas offer a good option for people seeking the safest and most natural treatments for anxiety.
Alex Zorach is the founder and editor-in-chief of RateTea, an online community where anyone can rate and review teas, with a searchable database of teas and herbal teas, classified by brand, style, and region. You can also visit RateTea’s page on herbal teas for anxiety to learn about herbal teas that can be effective for promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety, and to find citations to scientific studies supporting their use.