Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. each year–18% of the population. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 37% of people receive treatment.
In this article we will explore anxiety: what it is, the most common types of disorders, when to see a doctor, and how CBD may (or may not) affect it.
Before we begin, it’s important to point out that CBD is definitely not a “cure” for anxiety and most of the evidence that currently exists is anecdotal (with the exception of a few small studies that we’ll cover below). More research is needed to understand its potential risks and benefits.
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor to determine if you have an actual anxiety disorder (see below). Then he/she can guide you toward safe and effective treatment options.
This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. Experiencing regular anxiety is a normal part of everyday life for most of us.
However, people with anxiety disorders often have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations–mostly things that either happened in the past or have not happened yet.
The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger some disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Genetics may also play a role.
These are some of the most common anxiety disorders:
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet well under half of people (only 43%) get treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression.
PD affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population. SAD is equally common among men and women and usually begins around age 13. According to a 2007 Anxiety and Depression Association of America survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Symptoms typically begin in childhood; the average age-of-onset is 7 years old.
OCD affects 2.2 million adults, or 1% of the U.S. population. OCD is equally common among men and women. The average age of onset is 19, with 25% of cases occurring by age 14.
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
The leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44, MDD affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older each year. While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median onset age is 32.5 years old. Again, it’s more prevalent in women than in men.
A form of depression that usually continues for at least two years. It affects around 1.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older–roughly 3.3 million American adults. Only 61.7% of adults with MDD are receiving treatment. The average age of onset is 31 years old.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor about your anxiety if:
- You feel like you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life.
- Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control.
- You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety.
- You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem.
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you’re feeling this way (or know someone who is), please ask for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a wonderful resource. You can call 800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online if you prefer.
Do not try and self-treat your anxiety if any of these describe you. Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may get worse over time if you don’t seek help.
I’ve battled with anxiety and insomnia for a long time and finally sought treatment a few years ago. It seemed like I could never shut off my mind … my wheels were spinning 24/7–thinking, worrying, anticipating.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (see above) and prescribed clonazepam (klonopin), a powerful benzodiazepine similar to Xanax. It helped me stay asleep for longer stretches and improve my deep sleep levels, but I felt like a zombie when I woke up every day.
After talking to my doctor and trying many different strategies (and medications) for improving my sleep and decreasing my anxiety levels, these are the 10 things that made (and continue to make) the biggest impact for me personally:
- Research shows eating a diet high in certain foods (like sugar) is associated with higher anxiety levels. So how do you know what the “right” foods for you are? My advice: avoid fad diets and one-size-fits-all approaches to nutrition. Different foods affect people different ways and I think we’re entering a very exciting new chapter of personalized nutrition. To that end, I highly recommend getting a microbiome test from Viome. It will tell you exactly what foods to eat more of and which ones to avoid based on your unique gut bacteria.
- Having a drink or two a day may have some longevity benefits … but the problem with drinking alcohol to help ease anxiety is people who do so are more likely to develop a dependence to booze. Let the record show I still enjoy my glass or two of wine each night but my days of hard drinking are long gone, thankfully, and it has definitely made a difference in my quality of sleep. You sleep much worse when you’re drunk, by the way, for those of you who still have friends who think they sleep better when they’re inebriated.
- Expressing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to feel better. It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re writing down things you’re grateful for. It’ll help shift your thoughts away from what’s not going well for you now so you can focus more on what is.
- Exercise is a “keystone habit,” which means it leads to other healthy habits. When I feel stressed and anxious, working out always helps me feel better (I’m partial to strength training and playing basketball). It’s no secret that taking care of your body is one of the best ways to quell anxiety and feel better about yourself.
- Research shows deep breathing can help lower cortisol, a stress hormone your body produces when you’re anxious. It can even reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. There are many different deep breathing techniques you can try but here’s one of the easiest: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Repeat 10 times or more, as needed.
- I love writing, cooking, playing guitar, and gardening. Doing these things makes me happy because I get to create, learn, and improve every single day. What’s your creative outlet? I recommend scheduling time every day (even 5-10 minutes!) to work on it. Doing this every day significantly reduced my anxiety.
- If you’re sleep-deprived, you are likely exacerbating your anxiety. Make sleep a priority. See this article for details on how to do it: How to Sleep Better.
- Studies show that spending time outside in nature can reduce anxiety and stress levels. So whenever you’re feeling anxious, go take a walk … preferably somewhere with trees and/or green space.
- If you and your doctor decide it’s safe for you, you may want to try CBD for anxiety. I take 15-25 mg of CBD oil drops on days where I’m feeling anxious and stressed and a 25-mg full spectrum CBD gel capsule an hour before bed every night. I tracked my sleep for 30 days before and after taking CBD, not expecting much. I discovered that CBD helped reduce my anxiety feelings noticeably and improved my sleep.
- There’s no better way to feel better, in my humble opinion, than spending quality time with family and friends and bringing your full attention to being with them. That’s the real “secret sauce” to kicking your anxiety to the curb (at least temporarily).
While human-based research on the CBD and anxiety is fairly limited at this point, there are several small studies conducted:
- A 1993 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology followed four groups of 10 people. Groups were given either CBD, Valium, ipsapirone, or placebo. The results suggested that ipsapirone and CBD have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties in stressful situations.
- According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “CBD reduces anxiety in social anxiety disorder (SAD).”
- A 2015 review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may help improve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- A 2015 study published in the journal Schizophrenia Research suggests that CBD may help people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders by reducing psychotic symptoms.
- A 2019 study followed 72 adults with anxiety (n = 47) or poor sleep (n = 25). Anxiety scores decreased within the first month in 79% of patients who took 25 mg of CBD via capsule form daily.
- The CBD Project surveyed over 3,500 people who used CBD and found that CBD performed well at relieving anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks, mood swings, and feelings of agitation, irritability, and sadness.
Summary: The Bottom Line About CBD Oil and Anxiety
If you want to treat your anxiety, first talk to a medical professional, who can guide you toward the best treatment options for your specific condition(s). This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
CBD oil may help ease anxiety in some people (but definitely not everyone). CBD is not a cure for anxiety, and shouldn’t be treated as such. More research is needed to understand its long-term impacts and side effects.
We hope that we’ll start to see more research dollars now that CBD is a multi-billion dollar industry. We will update this article regularly if any new studies or updates get published.