Feeling anxious or stressed? Though the symptoms manifest differently for everyone, anxiety is a widely pervasive disorder – on the whole, it affects 40 million (or 18% of) adults in the United States.
You already know that working with a therapist can help you identify patterns and give you tools to help you work through anxious thoughts or feelings. And chances are, you’re well aware that exercise and sleep are great for reducing anxiety, too.
But what about vitamins? Today, we’re discussing the why and how of vitamins for anxiety. We're also turning the spotlight onto five vitamins that – in conjunction with healthily balanced lifestyle habits – may empower your journey to finding peace of mind.
How do vitamins help reduce anxiety?
Vitamins help produce essential chemicals for our mental health – including those that help with anxiety reduction.
Sara Cullen – founder and CEO of Daily Gem, a real-food daily vitamin specially designed for women – points to the chemical makeup of our system.
Put simply, mental health is partially dependent upon the appropriate production of essential chemicals in the body (e.g., neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine). It's also dependent upon the appropriate reduction or elimination of waste and toxins.
Vitamins are essential cofactors in all of these critical biochemical reactions in our body. Without vitamins, these reactions slow down – or may even stop.
In the absence of crucial vitamins, the neurotransmitters that make us feel calm and relaxed may not be produced, or toxins and chemical byproducts that need to be eliminated may pile up. The result can leave us feeling anxious or otherwise imbalanced.
How long does it take vitamins to kick in?
The benefits of vitamins can be felt in as little as a few hours, though full effects may take weeks to kick in.
"The effects of vitamins can actually be felt fairly quickly," says Cullen. Their benefits can sometimes be noticed on some levels within hours of ingestion, as they are incorporated back into these processes from which they were previously missing or insufficient.
The full extent of their benefit and time to peak effects is more complicated, though. That depends upon other nutritional factors, as well as the duration and extent of the deficiency within each person. Your body adapts to all situations – good or bad. Sometimes it needs time to adapt back to more favorable conditions. That time can be hours, days or even weeks depending upon your unique circumstances.
What are the best vitamins for anxiety?
Vitamin D, Ashwaganda, magnesium, valerian root, and L-Theanine can help reduce anxiety.
1) Vitamin D
Have you ever just simply felt happier after a fun day in the sun? You can thank Vitamin D for that. And you can begrudge the sun’s absence for your winter blues, since lack of sun inhibits your body’s ability to produce Vitamin D on its own.
How to get more Vitamin D: First, make sure you need it by asking your doctor to check your Vitamin D levels (using 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test).
Vitamin D, like other nutrients, can be difficult to get exclusively through food intake. If you find you are deficient, you might be better off taking a Vitamin D supplement than relying on food or juice for your recommended dose. Drinking lots of orange juice for Vitamin D intake, for example, will radically spike your glucose levels – which can negatively impact your mood as well as your overall health.
And, of course, slather up on SPF and step out to catch some rays – anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes is the recommended allotment for sufficient Vitamin D exposure.
Studies have shown that magnesium improves sleep quality. And for many, better sleep quality = lower anxiety levels.
Magnesium – a mineral that’s essential for nerve and muscle function – helps promote relaxation by playing a role in the your hormones’ regulation of the stress response. There are two different types of magnesium- magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate.
Both help your muscles and nervous system relax, and assist with fear, irritability, and restlessness. When we are stressed or anxious, we tend to hold tension in our bodies – think “fight or flight” mode – which can pump out adrenaline, in turn wreaking havoc on your nervous system over time. Magnesium helps your body and mind relax and recover.
How to get more magnesium: In terms of diet, dark leafy greens, avocado, nuts, fish, and even dark chocolate are all excellent sources of magnesium. Note, however, that food alone is often not be a good enough source of magnesium. Your doctor can assess the right supplement amount for you, but you might benefit from taking magnesium capsules.
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb from India that has been used in tonics for thousands of years. It’s an adaptogen, which means it’s an herb that can help your body adapt to external stressors.
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, since it blocks the stress pathway in the brain by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. Studies show it can effectively reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders.
For example, in a 60-day study of 64 people with chronic stress, those in the supplemental group reported a 69% average reduction in anxiety and insomnia, compared to 11% in the placebo group. In another six-week study, 88% of people who took Ashwagandha reported a reduction in anxiety, compared to 50% of those who took a placebo.
How to add Ashwagandha to your life: Ashwagandha is typically consumed either in powder form (mixed into honey or ghee), or in a capsule. The typical recommended dose is 500 to 1,000 mg.
4) Valerian root
Poor sleep is often a vicious cycle with anxiety. First come the nerves, then come the restless sleep, and then comes another day of restless anxiety.
Enter Valerian. Best known for supporting quality sleep, Valerian root is a perennial plan that’s been used for centuries to improve quality of sleep. Though ultimately, a therapy approach like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia may prove more effective for long-term shifts in behavior and lifestyle, asking your doctor if Valerian is an option for you could prove a low-risk way to get better sleep, thereby potentially reducing anxiety levels.
How to add valerian root to your life: Valerian root is usually taken in capsule or tea form. Take 300 to 600 milligrams of valerian root 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.
Green tea tops many health lists – and for good reason! It has an amino acid called L-theanine, which is used for treating anxiety and high blood pressure.
A 2018 study showed it had anti-anxiety benefits, and some studies have found that L-theanine can help lower blood pressure – which help with some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. It has also been shown to reduce stress levels, and promote healthy sleep patterns.
Plus, when you’re feeling anxious, taking a deep breath over a cup of tea can work wonders.
How to get more L-theanine: Soak it up in tea form! Green tea is the most common choice, but it’s also found in other types of teas from the same plant, like white and oolong tea. If you're caffeine sensitive, you can also find it in pill or tablet form at drugstores.
Note: If you're truly deficient in any of the above levels, work with your medical doctor to ensure your body has all the right levels of nutrients and vitamins.
If you're experiencing high levels of anxiety, consider working with a therapist
It's also helpful to note that feeling nervous or apprehensive is normal – even healthy at times. After all, that “fight or flight” feeling is what incentivizes you to prepare for a work presentation, or makes your palms sweaty before an exciting first date.
But when anxiety runs deeper and feels unshakeable, it can inhibit your ability to function.
If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing consistently high levels of anxiety, you can work with a therapist to determine the best course of treatment for your needs.
Find therapists who specializes in anxiety below. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.
This article was reviewed by Alison Stone, LCSW, a holistic therapist in New York City who helps clients incorporate elements of nutrition, diet, and sleep to ensure optimal mental and physical well-being.