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Safer anxiety relief

Herbs, diet, guided imagery and meditation can provide relief from anxiety and reduce your reliance on medications that have undesirable side effects.

Anxiety may be associated with a blood-sugar imbalance. Research shows that one symptom of hypoglycaemia (inadequate blood-sugar levels) in diabetic patients is anxiety, along with fatigue, poor concentration and sweet cravings.

The best blood-sugar control is achieved by eating unrefined low-GI carbohydrate-based foods three times a day with healthy snacks like fresh fruit and nuts in between.

The trace mineral chromium helps to regulate the body's production of insulin and metabolism of sugar. Studies also suggest that people with low levels of the mineral magnesium may be more prone to stress, anxiety and depression.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), anxiety is linked to a deficiency of yin (the body's feminine, calm aspect); this also causes insomnia.

A TCM practitioner may suggest acupuncture to stimulate qi (life energy) in the liver, foods thought to boost yin, such as longan fruit, and moxibustion, where the herb mugwort is lit and placed on acupuncture needles above certain points.

Numerous studies support the use of massage in treating anxiety, and it is thought to help control levels of stress-provoking hormones, like cortisol. Western herbal medicine offers several well-researched options to relieve symptoms of anxiety, including muscle tension, headaches, palpitations and disturbed sleep. These include lemon balm, valerian, passionflower and withania.

The latter herb is much used in Ayurveda, India's traditional medicine system, and is particularly useful for the exhaustion and apathy that are associated with prolonged anxiety.

Mind-body therapies, such as guided imagery, relaxation, meditation, and biofeedback can all help relieve anxiety by relaxing muscles, restoring normal breathing patterns and reducing stress.

In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers measuring anxiety and pain perception in people who practised Zen meditation were much calmer and experienced less pain than those who did not meditate — even when they were not actually meditating.

Practitioners from many disciplines, conventional and alternative, agree on the importance of two points. One, exercise increases the mood-enhancing hormones dopamine and serotonin, and two, avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, which can raise blood pressure and worsen anxiety symptoms in some susceptible individuals.

Note: Herbs and supplements can interact with prescribed medication. Check with your healthcare provider.

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