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The Hunt for the Ultimate Dietary Supplements for Anxiety, Stress, and Insomnia

I've always known myself to be a nervous person, but unfortunately as I've gotten older my relationship with anxiety, stress, and insomnia has worsened.  What used to be sweaty palms or minor pre-presentation tension is now a borderline panic attack.  I have sought and tried professional medical help, but I hesitate to start regularly medicating myself for fear my waking life will become that of a loopy automaton.  Sleeping pills were nice, but soon got addictive.  I didn't like the direction this was going.

Instead I sought a more holistic approach, which includes mental and meditative exercises coupled with stress-fighting dietary supplements.  Below I document my hunt for the ultimate dietary supplements to combat anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

- The links I included are to the products I myself have tried and (in the case of favorites & honorable mentions) personally recommend.
- In general I like the NOW brand, as I find it consistently potent.  Nature's Way is also good.
- I don't like Japanese brand DHC.  Their supplements seem very weak and do next to nothing for me.  I gave up on that brand.
- Japanese brand Nichie is awesome.  This is the one I use for Maca.  Unfortunately, they don't offer my other favorites.

My Absolute Favorites

Inositol used to be considered a B-vitamin until scientists figured out that it can be synthesized by the human body.  Basically a sugar alcohol, it's found in various foods including citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges, as well as nuts.  Although extensive research is lacking (as is often the case with dietary supplements), it has been shown beneficial for sufferers of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder.  Personally I notice a massive difference with Inositol.  It kicks me out of that horrible anxiety feedback loop known as "rumination" and permits me a good night's sleep. 

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Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea leaves, which reinforces my firm belief in the wholesome power of green tea.  This supplement does wonders for my anxiety, taking the edge off without making me sleepy like prescription tranquilizers do.  It also helps immensely with my insomnia by bringing my arousal and tension levels down to what I consider a normal person's level.  I love that I can take it day or night without adverse side effects (like drowsiness).

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Tryptophan is an amino acid that boosts serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter known to be associated with improved mood and relaxation.  It's proven particularly beneficial for me as an insomnia fighter.  This one does tend to make me drowsy, so I only take it at night.

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Honorable Mentions

Cat's Claw Extract
Cat's Claw isn't known to directly alleviate stress; instead it's primarily considered an immune system booster.  As stress and anxiety can certainly downgrade the body's immune response, I call in Cat's Claw when I feel the early symptoms of a (possibly stress-related) common cold.  Perhaps it's just a "magic feather" phenomenon (like how many people swear by vitamin C), but it's since become the cornerstone of my feeling-a-cold-coming-on regimen.

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St. John's Wort
This one is known as a depression treatment.  So while it doesn't directly target anxiety or stress, it relieves a commonplace ancillary condition.  It does indeed work for me, but requires some patience as it takes time to build-up in the system.  It took just over a week to notice any noteworthy change to my mood.

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Maca is billed as an energy and virility booster for men, although the literature I read said that women can take it too.  The only change I noticed with Maca is that it makes me extremely horny--like a wild Klingon targ in heat.  I can't say if it did much for my anxiety or stress, but it certainly distracted me from work and other boring daily stressors.  Consider Maca a laxative for the testicles. :-)

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Others I Tried

This one is odd.  It relaxes me somewhat, but not as well as L-Theanine.  Additionally, shortly after taking it I sometimes felt a little short of breath, which was troubling to me and actually worsened my anxiety at times.  This sensation soon wore off, but I gave up on it since my favorites are far more efficacious.

Here's the one I tried:
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I personally didn't notice any benefit from taking Glycine.  I might as well have been swallowing sugar tablets and flushing money down the toilet.

Here's the one I tried:
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Amazon Japan:

What are your ultimate natural non-prescription remedies for anxiety, stress, and insomnia?

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  • Guest - Adam

    Like DavidS said, exercise helps a lot - just don't do it right before you go to sleep or you'll be too wound up.

    Something that also worked really well for me is mindfulness meditation. Check out the meditation app Headspace, the first 10 sessions are free. After that, you could either pay for a subscription, or maybe get a meditation CD like "The Art of Mindful Living" by Thich Nhat Hanh.

    Oh, and if you don't already, I recommend using some kind of sleep tracking app like Sleep Cycle. It doesn't help you fall asleep, but it's a good way to track what makes you sleep good and what doesn't.

    In the end, I think it all comes down to building good habits though. Good luck :)

  • Guest - DavidS

    I suggest you try some very high-intensity interval training (physical exercise). Like 4 sets x 30 seconds of explosive effort on a elliptical trainer, every other day.