Over-the-Counter Medicine for Anxiety & Stress Relief: A Comprehensive Guide

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With over 40 million adults in the United States suffering from anxiety disorders yearly, it’s one of the country’s most common mental health issues, and we must proactively seek effective anxiety relief solutions. From difficulty concentrating to feeling overwhelmed, these conditions can manifest in various ways and make it difficult to go about daily activities. It is important to recognize the symptoms early and address them responsibly to prevent further complications.

One way to do this is by exploring prescription medications and over-the-counter options to decrease anxiety symptoms. This article will explore the best science-backed OTC anxiety medications on the market and their unique properties that can help you treat anxiety symptoms.

How do over-the-counter anxiety medications work?

Trying to manage anxiety symptoms can be overwhelming. As a result, many of us turn to over-the-counter (OTC) anxiety medications for relief.

While anxiety medications can offer a quick solution, it’s important to understand how they work and the safety implications of prolonged use. OTC medications such as magnesium, ashwagandha, and valerian root interact with the body’s natural systems to help manage stress, decrease anxiety, and promote relaxation.

To safely incorporate OTC anxiety medications into your daily routine, it’s important to follow dosage guidelines and timing considerations outlined on the product’s packaging or consult with a healthcare professional.

While OTC anxiety medications are considered a safe alternative to prescription medication, potential side effects and interactions with other medications should be carefully considered. For example, antihistamines like Benadryl may offer fast-acting relief, but they can also cause drowsiness and affect the ability to operate machinery or drive a car safely.

It’s also important to note that OTC medications are not long-term solutions for anxiety symptoms. Prolonged use of certain anti-anxiety medications can cause dependency and potential adverse effects.

Therefore, consulting with a healthcare professional to fully understand the benefits and limitations of over-the-counter medications for your unique needs is essential, whether you have mild anxiety or more serious mental health concerns.

Most popular over-the-counter medicine for anxiety and stress relief

Various over-the-counter medications have been researched for their ability to alleviate anxiety and stress symptoms. Here are some of the most popular OTC options on the market.

Magnesium

Although there is not sufficient evidence to support magnesium’s effectiveness to treat anxiety, it remains a vital mineral for the optimal functioning of the nervous system and other bodily systems. Some studies also indicate magnesium supplements and vitamin B6 can help reduce PMS symptoms. [1].

Arginine with Lysine

When we experience state and trait anxiety, even in the face of minor stressors such as a presentation, supplementing with arginine and lysine may provide relief.

State anxiety focuses on intense fear or worry that results from an anticipated stressful event, whereas trait is more likely to be seen when someone has consistently high levels of anxiousness throughout life.

While there’s no evidence yet for how these two amino acids might help those struggling with generalized anxiety disorder or other psychological distress, they may benefit individuals with frequent episodes of state/trait-like symptoms.

Kava

Kava is an herbal supplement gaining attention as a potential treatment for non-psychotic stress, rivaling some effective pharmaceuticals [2].

While its effects on generalized anxiety are less clear-cut, other herbal supplements, like lavender may prove more beneficial. Although it has been linked to cognitive enhancement when used short-term over several weeks with no noted problems, the long-term impact of extended kava usage remains largely unknown.

Lavender

Lavender has long been revered for its calming effects and ability to improve mental health. Recent studies have explored the potential of this fragrant flower, finding it reduces anxiety, enhances sleep quality, and elevates moods by reducing symptoms of depression, with 6 of 7 trials reporting positive effects in this area [3].

In addition, lavender aromatherapy promotes slow-wave sleep patterns – deep states of restorative rest that ease stress levels.

Vitex Agnus-Castus (Chasteberry)

Vitex agnus-castus (VAC) is an effective anti-anxiety supplement that supports women’s health.

It helps to reduce anxiety symptoms by soothing irritability and improving sleep during the menstrual cycle, supporting a calming effect to help manage premenstrual syndrome symptoms. It can indirectly enhance mood and alleviate stress for greater emotional balance throughout the month.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb recognized for its stress-reducing power and anxiolytic properties, has been found to reduce cortisol levels – ultimately providing relief from anxiety [4][5].

Evidence suggests that it is even more effective than other traditional treatments of social anxiety disorder.

Furthermore, ashwagandha is said to improve sleep quality and total sleep time among those with insomnia-related anxiety as well as those without sleep issues[6].

Inositol

Inositol has been found to reduce anxiety levels, similar to the effects of taking an SSRI medication[7].

Furthermore, it has also demonstrated mild efficacy against depression and is thought to be able to help prevent panic attacks[8].

L-Theanine

L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea, has been shown to help lower stress and anxiety levels while aiding sleep quality. This effect is believed to come from its ability to induce relaxation without sedation [9] [10].

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial in regulating the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, a hormone that helps maintain an optimal mood. A lack of vitamin D can lead to anxiety, sleep problems, and depression [11].

Vitamin B6/Vitamin B Complex

Research indicates that vitamins B6 and B12 may relieve anxiety and depression. A randomized controlled trial revealed that participants who took vitamin B6 supplements experienced increased visual focus and lower stress levels [12].

Omega 3 fatty acids

Fish oil has been found to provide significant improvements in mood for those with major depression, as well as reduced inflammation and anxiety among healthy young people [13].

Lemon balm

Lemon Balm is a type of herb and tea with calming effects and potentially helps with cognitive function.

Research has shown that it can effectively reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. The cognitive-enhancing properties of the substance may not always work consistently as it usually acts as a sedative unless a person is experiencing stress.

Lemon balm is believed to affect GABA signaling. This could be helpful for individuals experiencing anxiety or depression[14]. Additionally, lemon balm has been shown to significantly relieve PMS symptoms[15].

Passionflower

Passionflower, another herbal tea, may hold promise as an aid for anxiety, though its effects on different forms of the condition remain unclear. While animal studies have produced encouraging results, human trials yield inconsistent findings due to a lack of experiment replication.

Tips for choosing the right over-the-counter medicine for anxiety and stress

It’s important to note that over-the-counter (OTC) doesn’t necessarily mean safe and effective when managing anxiety and stress.

Therefore, it is critical to research the medication quality, efficacy, and safety record before using it. Always read the label carefully, learn about possible side effects or interactions with other medications, and avoid any medication that might trigger an allergic reaction.

If you’re considering using OTC medication to help manage anxiety or stress, particularly if you’re already taking other medications, it’s essential to talk to a healthcare professional or a pharmacist to ensure the medication’s safety and effectiveness.

Ensure you follow the usage directions and dosages specified on the medication label. Make sure to seek emergency medical attention if you experience severe side effects or symptoms. Safety is critical when it comes to managing anxiety and stress.

Complementary natural remedies for anxiety and stress

Several complementary natural remedies can help in treating anxiety and stress. One of the most effective remedies is movement. Physical activity has been shown to increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural mood boosters. Taking a walk, jogging, dancing, or yoga can boost mood, reduce stress, and promote relaxation.

Another important aspect is a balanced diet, crucial in regulating anxiety and stress levels. Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is important for optimal nutrition. On the other hand, nicotine and alcohol consumption can worsen anxiety and stress due to their stimulating and depressive effects, respectively.

Getting a good night’s sleep is also important. Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a regular bedtime and reducing screen time before sleeping, can help regulate sleep patterns.

Lastly, nervous system regulation is also instrumental in managing anxiety and stress. For example, mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques have been shown to combat anxiety and promote relaxation.

In Conclusion

Living with persistent feelings of anxiety and stress can be overwhelming. It affects every aspect of our lives, from relationships to work performance and physical health. While prescription anxiety medication is available, many prefer natural over-the-counter (OTC) treatment options first. OTC medicines for anxiety and stress relief come in different forms, including dietary supplements, herbal teas, and vitamins. We’ve covered some of the most effective OTC medicines available, each with unique properties that can help effectively combat symptoms of stress and anxiety.

That said, it’s essential to understand that OTC medication should not be the only solution for managing chronic anxiety, and stress. Instead, lifestyle changes and a holistic approach that includes movement, healthy eating, and self-care practices for nervous system regulation are crucial for long-term relief.

When using OTC medicines, follow the instructions and never exceed the recommended dosage. If you experience any side effects, discontinue use and seek medical attention immediately. To develop a personalized approach to managing anxiety and stress, consider talking to a healthcare professional who can guide you on the best path forward. And remember, relief is possible – you don’t have to suffer alone.

References:

[1] De Souza MC, Walker AF, Robinson PA, Bolland K. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000 Mar;9(2):131-9. doi: 10.1089/152460900318623. PMID: 10746516.

[2] Malsch U, Kieser M. Efficacy of kava-kava in the treatment of non-psychotic anxiety, following pretreatment with benzodiazepines. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001 Sep;157(3):277-83. doi: 10.1007/s002130100792. PMID: 11605083.

[3] Shamabadi A, Akhondzadeh S. Efficacy and tolerability of Lavandula angustifolia in treating patients with the diagnosis of depression: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Complement Integr Med. 2021 Aug 23;20(1):81-91. doi: 10.1515/jcim-2020-0498. PMID: 34420270.

[4] Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec;20(12):901-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0177. PMID: 25405876; PMCID: PMC4270108.

[5] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000017186. PMID: 31517876; PMCID: PMC6750292.

[6] Cheah KL, Norhayati MN, Husniati Yaacob L, Abdul Rahman R. Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2021 Sep 24;16(9):e0257843. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257843. PMID: 34559859; PMCID: PMC8462692.

[7] Kofman O, Einat H, Cohen H, Tenne H, Shoshana C. The anxiolytic effect of chronic inositol depends on the baseline level of anxiety. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2000;107(2):241-53. doi: 10.1007/s007020050020. PMID: 10847563.

[8] Palatnik A, Frolov K, Fux M, Benjamin J. Double-blind, controlled, crossover trial of inositol versus fluvoxamine for the treatment of panic disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2001 Jun;21(3):335-9. doi: 10.1097/00004714-200106000-00014. PMID: 11386498.

[9] Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, Ishida I, Yasukawa Z, Ozeki M, Kunugi H. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 3;11(10):2362. doi: 10.3390/nu11102362. PMID: 31623400; PMCID: PMC6836118.

[10] Sarris J, Byrne GJ, Cribb L, Oliver G, Murphy J, Macdonald P, Nazareth S, Karamacoska D, Galea S, Short A, Ee C, Birling Y, Menon R, Ng CH. L-theanine in the adjunctive treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2019 Mar;110:31-37. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.12.014. Epub 2018 Dec 8. PMID: 30580081.

[11] Fallah M, Askari G, Asemi Z. Is Vitamin D Status Associated with Depression, Anxiety and Sleep Quality in Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. Adv Biomed Res. 2020 Jul 27;9:32. doi: 10.4103/abr.abr_188_19. PMID: 33072644; PMCID: PMC7532825.

[12] Field DT, Cracknell RO, Eastwood JR, Scarfe P, Williams CM, Zheng Y, Tavassoli T. High-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and strengthens visual surround suppression. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2022 Nov;37(6):e2852. doi: 10.1002/hup.2852. Epub 2022 Jul 19. PMID: 35851507; PMCID: PMC9787829.

[13] Liao Y, Xie B, Zhang H, He Q, Guo L, Subramanieapillai M, Fan B, Lu C, McIntyre RS. Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Aug 5;9(1):190. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5. Erratum in: Transl Psychiatry. 2021 Sep 7;11(1):465. PMID: 31383846; PMCID: PMC6683166.

[14] Ghazizadeh J, Sadigh-Eteghad S, Marx W, Fakhari A, Hamedeyazdan S, Torbati M, Taheri-Tarighi S, Araj-Khodaei M, Mirghafourvand M. The effects of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) on depression and anxiety in clinical trials: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytother Res. 2021 Dec;35(12):6690-6705. doi: 10.1002/ptr.7252. Epub 2021 Aug 27. PMID: 34449930.

[15] Heydari N, Dehghani M, Emamghoreishi M, Akbarzadeh M. Effect of Melissa officinalis capsule on the mental health of female adolescents with premenstrual syndrome: a clinical trial study. Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2018 Jan 25;31(3):/j/ijamh.2019.31.issue-3/ijamh-2017-0015/ijamh-2017-0015.xml. doi: 10.1515/ijamh-2017-0015. PMID: 29369810.

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.