The natural remedy
Getting outside has long been an instinctive way to soothe the soul, and an Australian study reported in the Journal of Health Psychology has proved that connecting with nature directly correlates with reduced anxiety. Even better, say the experts, get active while you’re out there: another study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, revealed exercising in green spaces boosts self-esteem and mood.
In 2015, a study by Dr Philip Burnet of the University of Oxford to show the effects of prebiotics on human behavior found a link between the prebiotic supplement B-GOS (available as Bimuno) and improved mental wellbeing. “Often after a pro-inflammatory response in the body (such as infection), anxiety follows. Prebiotics can prevent this by growing good bacteria that regulate our immunity,” explains Dr Burnet. After three weeks of supplements, volunteers paid more attention to positive words and had less of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. “These changes are similar to those reported for antidepressant drugs,” says Burnet, while warning, “Prebiotics are not proven substitutes for medication. Perhaps they’ll be given as add-on therapies, but this needs testing.”
The essential oil
“When we’re anxious, there’s less activity in the left side of the brain where pleasant sensations are produced, and elevated activity in the right side where negativity originates,” says Emeritus Professor Tim Jacobs of Cardiff University. His new sensory treatment Kodobio uses LED light and aromas to alleviate negative emotions. “Using the standardized anxiety test POMS (Profile of Mood State), we identified scents that positively affect the brain, such as lavender that contains the molecule linalool.”
Exercise triggers chemical changes in the brain that positively alter your mood. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says just five minutes can promote anti-anxiety effects, and those who workout regularly are 25% less likely to develop depression or anxiety.
For those diagnosed with a chronic condition, anti-anxiety medications (known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) address the chemical imbalances within the brain by suppressing the region that, when overactive, perceives everything as a threat. But the most effective medications, called benzodiazepines and which include Valium and Xanax, are also addictive, so sometimes antidepressants or beta-blockers are prescribed instead. “The future lies in finding non-habit-forming, effective alternatives,” says psychiatrist Dr James Arkell. “The drugs pregabalin and gabapentin are thought to work on the same brain system but usually don’t cause dependence. Some natural alternatives, like Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules, are looking promising, too; they contain 80mg of lavender oil, which has been shown in two trials to be as good as an SSRI. But no medication can be used in isolation; it’s just one cog in a broader program of therapies.”
The virtual-reality method
Computer-generated simulation is an exciting area of immersion therapy research. The sufferer is transported into another environment via a headset – for those obsessed with cleanliness, for example, it’s one that’s dirty – and made to confront the source of their anxiety without having to experience it firsthand. There are still many more tests to be done, but it could be a useful tool to be used alongside traditional treatments.
THE LAVENDER EDIT
The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.