There is an ever-growing body of scientific evidence about complementary and alternative treatment, which is an approach to health care that exists outside conventional medicine practiced in the United States.

Complementary medicine is used along with conventional medicine. An example is aromatherapy to help lessen discomfort following surgery. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine, such as following a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy recommended by a medical doctor.

Treating Anxiety Disorders and Depression

The following complementary and alternative practices are currently used to treat anxiety  and depressive disorders:

  • Stress and Relaxation Techniques
    Relaxation techniques may produce modest, short-term reduction of anxiety in people with ongoing health problems such as heart disease or inflammatory bowel disease, and in those who are having breast biopsies, dental treatment, or other medical procedures. These techniques have also been shown to be useful for older adults with anxiety. In people with generalized anxiety disorder, studies indicate that cognitive-behavioral therapy is more effective over the long term than relaxation techniques. For symptoms of depression they may have modest benefit, but they are not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)  or other psychological treatment. Find out more.
  • Meditation
    Moderate evidence suggests that meditation is useful for symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults. Learn more.
  • Yoga
    Yoga, which combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy, is one of the top ten CAM practices. Studies suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might confer health benefits such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and it may also help alleviate anxiety and depression.
  • Acupuncture
    Evidence for the use of acupuncture – the Chinese practice of inserting needles into the body at specific points to manipulates the body's flow of energy – to treat anxiety disorders is becoming stronger.
  • Kava
    A plant found in the South Pacific, kava has been shown to be safe and effective in treating anxiety and improving mood. Prescribed in tablet form, it has also had a positive impact on reducing depression levels. However in 2010 a doctor at Saint Louis University found no evidence that kava extract and other natural treatments were effective in fighting the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Treating Depression: Some people turn to complementary health products and practices for depression, although no complementary approach has proved effective over the long term. Read more about depression and the science behind complementary health practices, including side effects and cautions.

Find Out More

Visit "What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?" to learn about the great variety of complementary and alternative treatments. Below are other practices to consider.