Herbs and Herbal Teas for Anxiety

Wikipedia: Anxiolytic#Herbal_treatments
Last Updated: Oct. 31, 2013
Lavender plant in bloom
Lavender is one plant traditionally used to treat anxiety and sleep disturbances. Photo by Sherry Kang, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Herbal teas, particularly caffeine-free ones, are commonly used to promote relaxation. Anxiety is a psychological state characterized by worry, fear, and a general stress response in the body. There is a variety of treatments for anxiety, including exercise, diet, psychotherapy, meditation and mindfulness training, and many others.

Of all these remedies for anxiety, herbal teas are most similar to pharmaceuticals(drugs), in that they do not address the root cause of the anxiety in a permanent manner. Pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety have not been shown to produce any gains after their use is discontinued.[1] However, there are several compelling advantages to using herbal teas rather than synthetic drugs. This article explores some of ways in which drinking herbal tea can reduce anxiety, and concludes with a list of herbal teas that show evidence of having relaxing or anti-anxiety effects.

The process of drinking herbal teas can be relaxing:

Mug of hot tea on a windowsill
The process of drinking hot liquids can be relaxing in a variety of ways.
The process of drinking herbal teas, or other hot fluids (even including caffeinated true teas), can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety in at least four ways: through the relaxing effect of warmth, through the influence of aroma on the mind, through promoting mindfulness, and through medicinal effects of chemicals in the tea.

Warmth in general is relaxing, and drinking warm liquids has a relaxing effect on the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the body's stress response. This effect is pronounced enough that when developing a control study for measuring the relaxing effects of drinking an herbal tea, the effect must be compared to hot water. Even the act of holding a warm cup filled with hot liquid can effect both the body and mind, promoting interpersonal warmth, generosity, and the perception of others as more warm and caring.[2]

Merely smelling certain aromas can also produce measurable, sometimes significant effects, and these effects can include relaxation. These effects are usually immediate, and provide the basis for aromatherapy. The medicinal effects of herbal teas, on the other hand, are slower to manifest, but can be more powerful. However, the aromatherapeutic effects of certain herbs provides a compelling advantage to actually brewing an herbal tea rather than taking an equivalent dose of the same herb as a supplement.

Another way in which herbal teas can help combat anxiety is through promoting mindfulness. Mindfulness, a practice that can be described as focusing on or bringing one's attention to the moment, has been shown to be an effective and long-lasting treatment for anxiety and depression.[3] The act of drinking herbal tea and paying attention to the aroma, flavor, and sensations of the herbal tea while drinking it can promote mindfulness in a way that taking a pill (whether a synthetic drug or herbal supplement) cannot.

Herbal teas used to treat anxiety:

This list includes some of the more widely-known and widely-available herbal teas that are known to have relaxing or anti-anxiety effects. Each of these herbs has a variety of different effects beyond just the relaxing effects.Our list of herbal teas useful for relaxing and/or treating anxiety is not exhaustive. As RateTea is primarily a tea rating website, we have favored types of teas that are widely available commercially. There are a variety of other herbs, including sage, lavender, hops, magnolia bark, valerian, kava, and skullcap, among many others, which have relaxing and/or sedative effects, and which are often included in medicinal teas and herbal blends intended to have a relaxing or anti-anxiety effect. We hope to eventually add more articles on these and other herbs as time goes on, but our focus will be on the herbs that are most commonly available.

References:

1. Robert A. Gould et. al., Cognitive behavioral and pharmacological treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A preliminary meta-analysis, Behavior Therapy, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1997, pp. 285–305.

2. Lawrence E. Williams et. al., Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth, Science, Oct. 24, 2008, Vol. 322, No. 5901, pp. 606-607.

3. Stefan G. Hofmann et. al., The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 78, No. 2, Apr 2010, pp. 169-183.


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