Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication

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Anxiety Without Medication: 15 Ways to Feel Better

Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes and there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to managing it. Although medication can be effective, it’s not without potential side effects and is generally preferred as the ‘last resort’ option. Most of us have had some sort of brush with anxiety, but for those whose lives are deeply affected every day, there is hope.  There’s still a lot we need to learn but anxiety has spent quite a bit of time under the research spotlight recently. As a result, we’re becoming wiser about the way anxiety works and ways to manage anxiety without medication. Here are 15 of them:

  1. Decisions … Just because there’s a right one, doesn’t mean there’s a wrong one.

    You’re probably someone who cares a lot – a lot – about doing the right thing. You don’t want to hurt anybody, be misunderstood or say the wrong thing. This makes you a pretty awesome person to be around. It also means that when it comes to making decisions, you might struggle a little.

    Understand that often there isn’t a right or wrong decision, or a better or worse one. They’re just different. Each option will have things for and against. Each will gather momentum when you commit. Whatever happens, you’ll be okay. It’s very likely anyway that by the time you’re ready to make a decision (or perhaps well before then), you will have put so much thought into which way to go that whichever option you choose, it will be a good one. It’s impossible to predict everything that could possibly happen once a decision is made but what you need to remember is that you are strong, intelligent, considerate and you would have been so sensitive to all of the issues. Just take a step in the direction you feel strongest about. If you’re so stuck between two options, neither will be a wrong one.

  2. Omega-3.

    Hearts love omega-3 and so do heads. In one study, 68 medical students who received 2.5 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids each day for 12 weeks showed less exam anxiety than students who were given a placebo for the same duration. Omega-3 can be found in supplements or naturally in flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame, salmon, sardines and grass-fed beef, all of which are excellent sources.

  3. Mindfulness.

    Anxiety is triggered by thinking about the future, and the things that might go wrong. Mindfulness trains the brain to stay in the present moment. It’s been shown to cause measurable physical changes in the body and brain. Research from Harvard has shown that, among other things, it can relieve the symptoms of anxiety. If you haven’t tried mindfulness before, start with 10 minutes a day. Sit comfortably and pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. Pay attention to your breathing, the sensations against your skin, what’s happening in your body, what you can hear. Don’t work too hard to make sense of things. The point is to experience without judging or analysing. 

  4. Unfriend. Unfollow. Un-him. Un-her.

    If there’s anyone in your life or in your social media circles who sets you to feeling bad, move them along. You just don’t need it – or him or her. You don’t have to explain (unless you want to) and it doesn’t need to make sense. It’s enough that it happens. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either of you. It’s just the way it is. Just don’t keep putting yourself through it. If you need permission, here it is.

  5. Make time to play.

    Well this is something we could all use … Play is so important for us grown-ups but we tend to squeeze it out of our day. Anything that makes you smile, laugh or takes you away from the pace of the world for a while will be so good for you. If you’re wondering where to start, think about what you liked to do when you were little. Is there a way you can incorporate this into your life now? Otherwise try games, sports (in an organized team or in the backyard), painting, colouring-in or anything that will get you laughing (funny YouTube clips or Instagram accounts are always a winner).

  6. Shhh. Let you speak.

    You’re likely to have incredible insight. The people who know you probably already know this about you (and love it about you!) and you need to know it too. Because of the way you think about things, sometimes overthink about things, and because you are so sensitive to what’s happening to people, between people and generally out there in the world, you are brimming with remarkable clarity and wisdom. The problem is that although you’re the one who should be speaking (because you’re the one that makes them go, ‘hmmmm’), you’re likely to be the one who won’t be. You aren’t the sort of person to say things for the sake of it or to speak before you’ve considered. And considered. And considered. And consid-… Because of this, you’re probably the least likely in the bunch to offend or say something silly or irrelevant, yet you’ll be the one who will hold back from talking … just in case. Often, probably always, whatever you’re thinking (and stopping yourself from saying) is exactly what needs to be said.

  7. Get yourself some blissful zzzz’s. 

    During sleep the brain sorts through any emotional issues that are left over from waking time. This is so important if you struggle with anxiety. Your brain has enough to deal with. Love it up by giving it the opportunity to start each day as fresh as possible. As well as this, the more rested you are, the easier you’ll find it to deal with stressful situations that could trigger your anxiety and ambiguous or neutral situations that could be misread by your super-sensitive (and very protective) brain as negative or harmful to you.

  8. Hug it out. Go on.

    Friends, family, partner, pets – hug and be hugged because it’s lovely and it helps. Hugging releases oxytocin, which is the bonding, ‘feel-good’ chemical. There’s no better way to feel safe, secure and close to the people (or pets) who love you.

  9. Breathe. (Yes. You’ve heard it all before. But maybe not like this.)

    Harvard cardiologist, Dr Herbert Benson, discovered that in the same way the fight or flight response is hardwired into us, so too is what he called the relaxation response.  When triggered, the relaxation response instantly and automatically sends out neurochemicals that neutralise the fight or flight response. One of the ways to elicit the relaxation response is through controlled breathing:

    Breathe in through your nose to the count of three and out to the count of three. Keep doing this until your breathing is under control. Take a short pause between out and in breaths and make sure your breathing is deep and comes from your belly. Your belly should rise when you breathe in.

    Another technique is the 4-7-8 breath. This breathing technique was developed by Dr Raymond Weil. Weil notes that, ‘Breathing strongly influences physiology and thought processes, including moods’. Here’s how it works:

    •   For the duration of the exercise, hold your tongue against the ridge just behind your upper front teeth.

    •   Exhale completely and make a ‘whoosh’ sound as you do it.

    •   With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose to a count of four.

    •   Hold your breath for seven.

    •   Exhale through your mouth with a whoosh sound for a count of 8.

    •   This is one breath. Repeat this three times – a total of four breaths altogether.

  10. Know that you’re stronger than you think you are. 

    There’s that part of you that tells you that you’re not ready enough, not good enough, not strong enough, not clever enough, not whatever enough. It does this to keep you safe. It’s there to hold you back from doing anything that might fall you, embarrass you, humiliate you, or cause you to be misunderstood. But here’s the thing – it’s sensitivity meter is on hyperdrive.

    Give it too much say, and it will work so hard to hold you back from being hurt, that it will hold you back from life. You are so much stronger than you think you are. Having to live with anxiety is not easy, but you’re doing it. If you’re strong enough to do that, you’re strong enough to deal with what might happen if you risk a bit more. You will be fine. You’re a survivor. The worst that could happen is unlikely to happen and even if it does you’ll be okay. Experiment with tiny steps and believe the times that it works well. If it doesn’t, put it down to a learning experience – we’ve all had plenty of those.

  11. Get warm.

    Research has found that feeling warm may alter neural circuits that control mood, including serotonin circuits. Time in the sun (safely of course!), a sauna or spa, a warm bath or a hot shower, sitting in front of the fire, snuggling up with a heat pack in bed, or warming from the inside out with a cup of tea, or anything else that gives you that ‘warm, fuzzy’ feeling – may all work to reduce anxiety. No harm in trying this one!

  12. Lavender.

    Essential oil from lavender has been found to have anti-anxiety effects. A German study found that Silexan, a pill containing an essential oil produced from lavender flowers was as effective as Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, in reducing anxiety symptoms in people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Lavender oil can be used in a number of different ways. Spray it around the room, put a little oil on your wrist or at night put a little oil on your pillow for happy zzz’s.

  13. Understand your triggers.

    It’s likely you’ll have a pretty good idea of what your triggers are but it’s also likely that you’ll tend to overlook the things you do well – and there will be plenty.

    Try this. At the end of each day, write three things that have stressed you out or frustrated you about the day. After a while, see if there’s a pattern that you haven’t been aware of. A person? A situation? A time of day or night? Next – and this is important – write three things you’ve done well. Stay with them for a couple of minutes and feel what it’s like to celebrate them.

  14. Don’t let yourself get hungry.

    We’re all prone to mood changes when hunger sets in – whether it’s anxious, cranky, lethargic. Keep your blood sugar from dropping by having a quick snack handy for when you need it. 

  15. Exercise.

    Research has found that exercise has incredible benefits for anxiety. It changes the way people view the world, tending them towards seeing the environment in less threatening, more positive way. Princeton researchers found that exercise may have this effect by reorganising the brain so it’s more able to cope with stress, specifically by strengthening the mechanisms that prevent young neurons from firing. (Young brain cells are generally more excitable than older ones). We also know that exercise releases endorphins – the feel-good chemicals which can increase feelings of well-being and happiness, improve sleep and reduce stress.

    Five minutes of exercise can be enough to start the anti-anxiety effects and frequency is more important than intensity or duration. You’re much better off going for a 15-20 walk each day than to do two intense cardio workouts each week. Otherwise, try for 30 minutes three to five times a week. If you’re having trouble getting motivated, just put your shoes on and then decide whether or not you’re going. Once that’s done, just commit to five minutes – you can do that – then after five minutes you can decide on whether or not to keep going for another five. See where this is headed?

There’s no ‘cure’ for anxiety but it can be managed and its intrusion into your life toned right down. You deserve that. Not everything will work for everyone and you might have to experiment and try different combinations of ideas. Anything you can do to take the edge off will make a difference.

Above all else, know what a survivor you are. Anxiety is hard. Really hard. You can’t deal with something like that day in and day out without enormous strength and courage. You’re doing it, which is why you’ll always be more capable, stronger, braver and better than you think you are.

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35 Comments

L. Beekman

Although I have read about these techniques in the past; I found this article to be an excellent reinforcer for controlling my anxiety.
Any advise for the parents of anxiety ridden children who are pressured by state testing and the mountains of homework every night?

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased you found the article helpful. Kids can put so much pressure on themselves, can’t they. First of all, you may already be doing this but kids can feel pressure to perform for us as their parents regardless of whether or not we actually give them those messages. One thing that’s really important is that they know that you’re okay with them regardless of the how well they do, as long as they’e done their best. I find for both of my children exercise and mindfulness make an enormous difference to their capacity to deal with stress. Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix but if you can get them to do 10 minutes a day it will really make a difference. Have a look under the tab, ‘Being Human’, then ‘Anxiety’. There are plenty of ideas here for how to deal with anxiety. For kids, this is the post that will explain why their body feels like it does when they are anxious. It will help them stop being ‘anxious about being anxious’ – the article explains it all: http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ . Depending on how old they are, there are also some articles that might help under the tab ‘At School/ College/ Uni’ then ‘Study and Exams’. Hope this helps.

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Hey Sigmund

That’s so good to hear! It’s sounds so simple doesn’t it – breathe – but it really does make a difference. For something that’s so automatic, it’s amazing how many times I quite literally have to remind myself to ‘breathe’. Thank you for letting me know.

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Cristina

What if one is so paralyzed by their anxieties that they can’t do a darn thing? I’ve read so much and have so many people trying to help and I shut down even more. Also, does this mean you are NOT a believer in the medications? I’m very afraid and very stuck. I love your blog!!! Very beautiful and very helpful. Xo

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Hey Sigmund

I’m so sorry anxiety is doing this to you. I can hear from your comment how awful it is for you. I absolutely think medication has a place but I believe they should always be used in conjunction with other methods. One of the benefits of medication, particularly if your anxiety is severe, is that it can calm things down while you learn other methods that will strengthen you against your anxiety. There’s a lot of research happening around mindfulness at the moment (even though it’s been used for a long time before now) and what they’re finding is that it actually changes the brain. Anxiety happens when your brain is triggered by thoughts of what might happen in the future. This happens automatically which is why it feels like you don’t have any control over it. What mindfulness does is actually train the brain to come back from that and to stay in the present. It’s not a quick fix though. The brain is like a muscle in that you need to train it to strengthen the way you want it to, but scans show that mindfulness does actually strengthen the brain and the connections that help to deal with anxiety. Harvard did a study in which they had people practice mindfulness for 27 minutes a day over 8 weeks. At the end of it they found a decrease in the density of the grey matter of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that triggers anxiety. You’ve may have read the article about how and what but here it is just in case http://www.heysigmund.com/mindfulness-what-how-why/ . If you haven’t tried mindfulness before, please please try it. The effect is very real in the way it changes the brain. When I started practicing mindfulness, I found it really difficult, even for just 10 minutes. It’s my way to keep jumping into the future, but for this reason it’s been awesome for me. It really is that good.

Anxiety is your brain being super-sensitive to threat. The response is a physical one, triggered by the brain. In the same way the fight or flight response is hardwired into our brain, the relaxation response (discovered by a Harvard cardiologist) is also hardwired into us – we just need to train our brain to access it when we need it. This is where mindfulness comes in – but it does take time. In the meantime, medication can help get it under control and help you to get your life back. You deserve that. Here for you x

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carolyn rahbari

the one thing is not mentioned..how it makes you feel weak and tired..I am so tired all the time

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Sharon

Since my husband of 38 years died 2months. Ago i am filled with anxiety over my future. Ive never been this way. Scary. I am on lorazepam helps huge. But i want to not depend on it. I am going to try some of your ideas. Thank u.

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Hey Sigmund

This is a difficult time for you and I can completely understand your anxiety. Be kind to yourself – it will take time for you to find your new normal and I hope you are able to find some comfort from the ideas. I wish much love and strength to you.

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Liz Crawford

Hi. I love your articles. I work as a counsellor with teenagers and so many have anxiety issues. Your information has helped me to give them some really useful support. Keep up the good work and thank you! ?

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Karina

Thanks for this article. I feel i’ve finally found an article that speaks to me and makes sense to what I feel when I’m anxious and panicky. I will try these techniques. 🙂

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Eric

I can relate to his article a lot, thanks I quickly bookmarked it. Thanks for the ideas I’ll do my best to try them all.

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Juniper

Thank you for this article. I found it at just the right time. I’m currently dealing with the worst anxiety I’ve ever had. I feel like I’m losing my mind sometimes. Just reading this article has made me feel less alone in my anxiety and like it is more manageable.

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Will Beswick

Hi Sigmund first of all I just have to say you seem to be a very genuine and ‘knowledgeable’ counsellor! I run a website about panic and came to the same conclusions after years of being stubborn and proud that I could do this all myself. The conclusion I came to was about deflating at each ‘spike’ or anxious fight/flight ”moment”. This agrees with so much of the perceived ‘threat’ you talk about. It makes me feel normal and less pressured also when I read how anxiety IS damn hard to live with. Of course it is because we care which is a very nice thing but it causes so much unhappiness. Anyway well done – your knowledge from my angle gives this all such credibility as anxiety sufferers are bright folk who need to know that anxiety takes time to come down from – mindfulness maybe very successful but the ‘calming on the go’ I advocate forms the same patient recovery strategy that we need with this. The biggest problem for me and many that I advise is the double whammy – that as you say we feel stressed/anxious and THEN react to that anxiety – why me? What is this happening to me? Am I normal? ith further anxiety and desperation. This reaction causes further panic so patient calming IS essential rather than expecting and self-pressuring to get complete calm. Thanks again and hope this response helps sufferers to see that recovery whilst never perfect, can take place if we patiently calm ourselves through time and through every ‘test’ even if thats constant at first as with severe anxiety. cheers Will

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Alexandra

Look I loved this article but incurable… say it isnt so! Do you mean that anxiety is a normal part of life and one day I’ll experience it in the “normal” dose and duration that others do? Or that I will forever have to micromanage my internal state… thank you

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Anxiety’s job is to warn us of danger or threat, so we all have to experience it on some level otherwise we’d be dead. It’s what makes us take action when there’s trouble – it’s how we can move quickly, powerfully, or without thinking when we need to. The problem is when it happens too much and too unnecessarily. Anxiety is manageable, and many people are able to manage anxiety back to levels that aren’t intrusive. There is a lot of research showing that things like mindfulness and exercise can hep with this. The idea is to get your anxiety to manageable levels – not non-existent levels (though I completely understand why that would be tempting!) You want the capacity to feel just enough anxiety to be able to stay safe, but not so much that you are help back. Keep working on your anxiety – the things you do make a difference.

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Kelly

My 12 year old daughter has severe anxiety. Mostly happens at school. Usually when another student is negative or combative with her. But it also happens at seemingly insignificant moments such as a teacher calling on her to read aloud. When she feels like this she says it feels like she is having a heart attack. She holds her chest tightly. She has since started gripping her arms with her fingernails so hard that she tears her skin and lets marks. Is this anxiety or maybe something else? I have read your page and am currently trying these techniques with her. I just want to make sure that is what this is. I have never dealt with these feelings so it makes it hard for me to understand how to help!

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Kelly this certainly has the hallmarks of anxiety. Here is an article that might be helpful for you http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/. It will explain why your daughter feels as though she’s having a heart attack, as well as other symptoms. I hope it is able to bring her comfort and helps her to make sense of what’s happening for her. Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does is so important to managing anxiety, as it takes away the fear and helps to shift some of the ‘anxiety about the anxiety’. Mindfulness and exercise are also two of the most powerful ways to manage anxiety. Try downloading the free Smiling Mind app for her. It has mindful meditations for specific ages and is a great way to start practicing mindfulness.

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Nikie

I have severe anxiety/ panic disorder . I am 36 years old and have been on meds for this but made me feel like a zombie just not me . I have been physically and mentally abused over and over and I am finally happy with someone but I still bring all that with me and my anxiety is causing problems because I shut down and get quiet. People just don’t want to u dressing and always say I use anxiety as an excuse for everything but anxiety is everything when have a mental illness. I need help and I have tried so many different methods without meds but nothing seems to help .. I am starting to get depressed I feel like I am alone even though I am not .. any suggestions ?

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Karen Young

The medication for anxiety can have side effects for some people that feel awful. It’s understandable that your history would impact on your current relationships, but it doesn’t have to. If you are able to have some sessions with a counsellor, this could really help you work through your old patterns and old ways of responding. It’s very common for people to respond to new situations as though they were old ones. The key is to catch yourself doing this and focus on the differences between the relationship you are in now, and the ones that hurt you.

People repeat old patterns as a way of finding closure. If you have an important need that was never met, you can fall into the trap of being drawn to the same people and the same situations as the person you originally wanted to meet the need, but didn’t. This is often automatic – we are drawn to these people or these situations without really understanding why. The key is become more aware of what you are doing and the need you want to meet, so you can be more deliberate about the way you go about meeting it. A counsellor can really help with this.

In relation to your feelings of depression, there are a lot of things that can help. You can find articles on this link which will explain ways to strengthen and protect your brain against depression here http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/depression/ and against anxiety here http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. I hope this helps. Keep fighting for you. There will be a way through this.

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Lauren

Thank you for this hopeful article. I am suffering from acute anxiety and often find myself fighting the dispair that I will never feel normal again.like many I wonder if medication can really help … or will they just mask the feelings. Any thoughts?

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Karen Young

You’re very welcome Lauren. Medication can certainly be helpful, but as with any medication, it might not work for everyone and there can also be side effects for some. It would be best to speak with a doctor who can guide you on the best option. What is really important though, is that if you decide to try medication, you also do the things that are known to strengthen and protect the brain against anxiety, such as mindfulness http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/, exercise http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/, and gut health http://www.heysigmund.com/our-second-brain-and-stress-anxiety-depression-mood/. All of these have been proven by extensive research to strengthen the brain against anxiety.

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sorokhaibam memmi devi

i love your article. my mom is no more when i am at the age of 20. my father dont understand me. my brother also died due to cancer after one year of my mother,s death. my family member dont understand me although i trying my best to forget my worries time. they make too much noise always quarrel and watching tv at night. i cannt sleep properly. i take medicine but dont want to depend it. i talk to my family members but it does nt work.

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Lisa D

I have been on lorizapam for 4 years now. My new doctor is planning to ween me off it and start another medication. I have been in therapy for the whole time I have been on Ned’s. I just had to take all my teeth out because of infections in the bones and gums. So now I am starting to become depressed. I do not want to take mess anymore. What other natural safe ways can I get off meds and still feel the benifits.

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Karen Young

Lisa I completely understand why you want to get off meds, but it’s important that you do this under the guidance of a doctor. Stopping medication suddenly can cause it’s own problems. There are certainly things you can do to strengthen your brain, but it’s important to be consistent. Two of the most important ways are mindfulness http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/ and exercise http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/. The articles will explain why they are so important. Here are some different ways to practice mindfulness http://www.heysigmund.com/different-ways-to-practice-mindfulness/. Start with 10 minutes a day and work up from there. Be patient though. If you have been anxious for a while it can take a while to retrain your brain to do things differently – but it can be done. It’s also important to be consistent, so try to get in to a regular routine of mindfulness (at least 10 minutes each day) and exercise (try for 30 minutes, five times a week). The exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous – a brisk walk will do. I hope this helps.

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Tina

I have been dealing with health anxiety for 3 1/2 months. I’ve lost weight and my blood pressure fluctuates. I am starting to get my appetite back now. Do you have any advice for me on putting back on some pounds while still dealing with anxiety. I stay so nervous and don’t like being alone now.

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Vera

Im really sufferig at the moment started on medication butmade me so ill it was unbearable decided to fight it myself cant do no harm i start therapy next week so that may help im 68by the way

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Ben

I like this article i facilitate an Anxiety group at work and i am always looking for useful information to share with group members. I have anxiety i have been exercising and that has help along with deep breathing and meditation. I am on anxiety medication as well. Thank you i hope you don’t mind if i use this article in group.

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