Xanax (alprazolam) belongs to the class of medications called benzodiazepines, and it is one of the most widely prescribed anti-anxiety medications in the United States. According to information published in Psychology Today, in 2008, around 5 percent of American adults between the ages of 18 and 80 had filled a prescription for a benzodiazepine drug at least once in their lives.
Supplements and OTC Alternatives to Xanax
Anxiety is often the result of an imbalance in brain chemistry. There are many different natural substances, supplements, and OTC medications that can help to stabilize the brain and enhance the functioning of the neurotransmitters throughout the central nervous system. It is important to discuss these products with your doctor before using them as a substitute for Xanax to ensure they will be safe and effective for you.
Some natural and OTC products that can manage anxiety are outlined below.
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine): This antihistamine can have mild anti-anxiety effects. It also promotes drowsiness and, therefore, can be used as a short-term sleep aid as well.
- Valerian root: This natural herbal substance is popular as a sleep aid that also can have calming, relaxing, and mild tranquilizing effects.
- Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum): This natural substance works to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, and this reduces anxiety.
- Arctic root (Rhodiola rosea): By balancing levels of cortisol in the brain, it can help the brain adapt to and control stress.
- Thiamine (B1): This is a naturally occurring mineral in the brain. When taken as a supplement, it can help with emotional processing.
- N-A-C (N-acetyl L-cysteine): This amino acid antioxidant is a precursor to glutathione, which can lower oxidative stress and detoxify the liver to minimize anxiety symptoms.
- Green tea (L-theanine): It can help a person to feel more at ease while calming the mind. It can also be taken as a supplement.
- Ashwagandha: This is a hormone-balancing natural product that acts as an antidepressant by increasing levels of serotonin and lowering cortisol. It can help the brain to adapt to and manage chronic stress.
- Magnesium citramate: This is naturally produced by the body. Depleted adrenaline, which can be created by levels of high stress, can lead to a deficiency in this important mineral that serves to enhance cardiovascular health and sleep functions.
- Kava (Piper methysticum): This tea is believed to elevate levels of GABA, the brain’s natural tranquilizer, to reduce stress and anxiety.
- 5-HTP: This is a precursor to serotonin, which is one of the brain’s chemical messengers involved in mood regulation and feelings of happiness. It can therefore potentially help to manage depression and anxiety.
- Inositol (B8): This is also found naturally in the body. It helps the brain to send its chemical messengers around the central nervous system. As a supplement, it may help to control mood swings.
- PharmaGABA: This is a natural source of the brain chemical GABA. It is useful in minimizing stress and lowering anxiety.
- Picamilon: GABA is a large molecule that can be difficult to get into the brain when taken in supplement form; picamilon can help with this. It may also increase memory and focus, and aid in managing social anxiety.
- Taurine: An amino acid precursor to GABA, taurine can help to increase levels of GABA in the brain. This may help to improve insomnia, decrease brain overactivity, and have relaxing effects.
- Gotu kola (Centella asiatica): This helps to promote calm and contentedness. It is often used in meditation as it is believed to help balance the brain.
- CBD oil (cannabidiol): CBD oil, extracted from the cannabis plant, contains less than 3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. It may be useful in reducing anxiety and have mellowing and relaxing effects.
- Probiotics: These can help to improve your gastrointestinal functions, which may be related to feelings of anxiety, by increasing stomach and gut health. Mood may be improved as well.
Minerals and vitamins can be extremely beneficial for enhancing and promoting brain functioning and health, the journal Integrative Medicine Insights publishes. They can also aid in lowering stress and managing anxiety in place of medications such as Xanax.
Why is Xanax Used?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Xanax for the short-term management of anxiety and panic disorders. It is understood to depress the central nervous system, thus calming anxiety symptoms, by boosting levels of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is one of the brain’s chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, that helps to lower stress and tension, and promotes sleep and relaxation. When a person is stressed and has anxiety, nerve firings in the brain can be hyperactive, and things like respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature increase.
Anxiety is likely to make a person feel alert, on edge, tense, and have difficulties thinking clearly. Xanax can calm these nerve firings by suppressing some of the stress-inducing and reactive functions of the central nervous system.
Taking Xanax is not without risks, however. The drug is considered to be extremely habit-forming and is regularly misused. Xanax can interact with other medications, and it is not safe to combine with other depressant substances, such as opioids or alcohol.
Regular use of Xanax can create a physical dependence. As a result, stopping the drug causes uncomfortable, and even possibly life-threatening, physical side effects as well as rebound anxiety and insomnia symptoms.
Xanax is also only meant to be used as part of a complete treatment plan for managing anxiety and not as the only method of care. Many natural and additional treatments can be helpful in reducing anxiety, and they often come without as many potential negative side effects as prescription medications.
If you are already taking Xanax, you should not stop taking it without speaking to your doctor first. Together, you can decide how to handle the withdrawal process from the drug.
Tips for Reducing Anxiety Naturally
In addition to taking supplements or medications for anxiety, there are many other things you can do to boost your mood. Exercise, for example, is a wonderful tool for helping to cope with stress. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) explains that exercise helps to produce endorphins, which make a person feel good. It also enhances sleep functions, decreases tension, stabilizes moods, and improves self-esteem.
Often, when you feel good about yourself physically, you can positively influence the way you see yourself overall. Going for a walk, hopping in the pool for a swim, or engaging in yoga can all be great stress and anxiety-relieving coping mechanisms.
Meditation and yoga can also aid in strengthening the connection between the mind and the body. It can help you to be more in tune with how you are feeling physically, which can then make you more aware of your emotions. You can then learn how to manage and control them more effectively. Mindfulness meditation can help to decrease anxiety, depression, and physical pain, as indicated in studies published by Harvard Health.
“Spirituality can be a powerful tool for minimizing anxiety and depression, Psychology Today explains. It can help a person to feel more hopeful and see things in a more positive light.”
– Psychology Today
Nutrition is an important factor in overall health and well-being. Taking care of yourself physically can help to balance your emotions. Anxiety can cause stomach upset, and the adrenaline rush that often accompanies high stress can cause a crash afterward that dips your blood sugar.
It can be helpful to eat foods that are easily digested, low in refined sugars, energy-producing, and high in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Try to limit caffeine and alcohol, and drink a lot of water to maintain hydration.
Sleep is another vital aspect of mental health. The better you sleep, the more prepared you are to take on the day, and the easier it will be to balance your moods and emotions. Stick to a set sleeping and waking schedule, limit screen time before bed, and try some deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help you fall and stay asleep.
Breathing exercises can be very helpful as grounding techniques throughout the day as well. Breathing in and out deeply and intentionally can increase levels of oxygen to the brain and help to regulate heart and respiration rates that tend to go up with stress.
Taking a hot bath, using essential oils, such as lavender, drinking hot tea, and listening to music can promote relaxation and ease tension. Reaching out and talking to a friend or family member can be beneficial as well.
Other helpful methods for reducing anxiety without medication include:
- Chiropractic care. Manipulating the body through physical adjustments can help to reduce tension, relieve physical pain, and lessen anxiety.
- Massage therapy. Massage helps to reduce physical tension and alleviate pain, which can lower stress.
- Acupuncture. Placing specialized needles in certain points in the body can promote blood flow and aid in stabilizing moods and brain chemistry.
- Biofeedback. This can help you to gain control and understanding of your body by using electronic monitoring to improve awareness.
- Creative outlets. Dancing, writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, playing music, and singing can offer an outlet for emotions as well as provide you with a positive sense of accomplishment.
- Behavioral therapies. Sessions can teach coping mechanisms and stress-relieving techniques for managing anxiety in daily life.
Anxiety can be managed in a multitude of ways with and without medication. Xanax can be an effective tool for the short-term management of anxiety when used in conjunction with therapies and supportive techniques.
Some alternatives to Xanax do not require a prescription and have fewer potential side effects. Be sure to discuss anxiety and medication alternatives with your doctor.