National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
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Anxiety at a Glance

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation. It’s normal for people to feel anxious in response to stress. Sometimes, however, anxiety becomes a severe, persistent problem that’s hard to control and affects day-to-day life; this is called an anxiety disorder. In a given year, about 18 percent of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder. Effective conventional treatments for anxiety disorders, including psychotherapy and medication, are available.

Researchers are examining ways in which complementary and integrative approaches might reduce anxiety or help people cope with it. Some studies have focused on the anxiety that people experience in everyday life or during stressful situations, while others have focused on anxiety disorders.

What the Science Says

Certain complementary health approaches may help to relieve anxiety during stressful situations, such as medical procedures. Complementary approaches have not been proven effective in treating anxiety disorders.

  • Mind and Body Practices
    • Although some studies suggest that acupuncture might reduce anxiety, the research is too limited to allow definite conclusions to be reached.
    • Hypnosis has been studied for anxiety related to medical or dental procedures. Some studies have had promising results, but the overall evidence is not conclusive.
    • In some studies in people with cancer or other medical conditions, massage therapy helped to reduce anxiety; however, other studies did not find a beneficial effect. Massage has not been shown to be effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder.
    • Mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation may have a beneficial effect on anxiety. However, meditation has not been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders.
    • Relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in people with chronic medical problems and those who are having medical procedures. However, conventional psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy) may be more effective than relaxation techniques in treating anxiety disorders.
    • Studies suggest that meditative movement therapies (tai chi, qi gong, or yoga) might reduce anxiety, but the research is too limited to allow definite conclusions to be reached.
  • Natural Products
    • Kava may have a beneficial effect on anxiety. However, the use of kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.
    • The evidence on whether lavender supplements can reduce anxiety is inconclusive.
    • Melatonin has been studied as a possible alternative to conventional anxiety-reducing drugs for patients who are about to have surgery, and the results have been promising. There isn’t enough evidence on chamomile, passionflower, or valerian for anxiety to allow any conclusions to be reached.
  • Other Complementary Approaches
    • Although research results aren’t entirely consistent, substantial evidence suggests that listening to music can reduce anxiety during medical treatment.
    • Aromatherapy, homeopathy, Reiki, and therapeutic touch haven’t been shown to be helpful for anxiety.

Side Effects and Risks

  • Mind and body practices are generally safe for healthy people if properly performed by a qualified practitioner or taught by a well-trained instructor. People with health conditions and pregnant women may need to modify or avoid some mind and body practices.
  • Dietary supplements may have side effects and interact with medications.

This page last modified August 09, 2018