Anxiety: 15 Ways to Feel Better Without Medication

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.

67 Comments

Amit C

My first perspective about mental health to look for natural ways, I was in anxiety or stress and tried lots of medication but nothing worked on me, now it’s time to try those solutions which you given in this article.
Thanks for sharing this.

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Marc K

Great list! Thank you for sharing. I also love taking cold showers. It sounds a little weird but I find it actually helps me stay calm and ready for the day.

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Sharon

I found what helps is meditation (insight timer or Calm are great apps), getting out in nature, reduce social media/electronics, surrounding yourself with kind and nice people, reading a good book, listening to uplifting music, reading positive quotes, telling yourself positive affirmations, stop comparing yourself to others, doing things you love, essential oils and yoga.

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A Kler

I am 100% with you. All steps you mentioned, except essential oils that I haven’t try, seems to help.

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Mary A

I suffer from terrible anxiety mainly at night time when it’s time to go to bed I am afraid to lay down and go to sleep afraid I will not wake up but I don’t want to take medication can someone help me with this It would be very much appreciated thank you

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Rafael

I’m experiencing the same. I tried soothing music. And exercise is the best.

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Kath

Wow! Thank you SO much, Karen. This advice was awesome – I especially loved the point about play. So important, so neglected! I have been putting your tips into practice and I really am amazed at the difference they make. Thanks and keep spreading the light! It’s a lifesaver.

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Destiny

Hi karen,
I have terrible anxiety when it comes to thinking the unexpected. My guinea pig lost his brother almost two months ago and isn’t doing to hot im scared im going to lose him ive lost pets before but I’ve never been souly a care taker to the pets i lost i fear that one day i will go check on him and he’ll be dead my anxiety is making it hard to eat drink function as a person

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Priya

Hi
I have had anxiety attack 2 yrs ago. Something terrible happened to my kid that triggered my alarm. I worry too much about my health. my heart races too much in the evening. I get very worried at night that i might end up at the emergency room gasping for breath. I dread that thought..
How do i cope with anxiety in the evening?

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Daniel F

I’m going to try some of these. After I turned 50,all these phobias took over. I dread going to the doctor and dentist,two main ones. I fear going into an elevator alone. I fear taking pills. I just can’t help it. I’m trying no caffeine or alcohol the night before an appointment. I drink a few cups of camomile and lavender tea to relax,keep hydrated and make sure I have a little food in my stomach. I over think and fear the worst is what I do. I’m 60 now and I’ve been this way for quite a few years.

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Brenda P

I have never been diagnosed with anxiety, but there are times I feel like I can’t breathe I would sit down and do intentional breathing techniques which is something I learned to do on my own instead of panicking. I’m always thinking of someone dying in my family and I seem to always think about it, obsessive thoughts over and over and trying to live up to someone else’s expectations and not live the life I want to live causes me to isolate, but I don’t want to take medications which is one of the reasons I think my Sister passed away, who suffered miserably from anxiety. Desperately seeking a solution.

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Lisa Safron

Me too, Brenda. Worry about losing loved ones every day…several times a day for several years. And i wonder if there is anyone else out there like this or who has overcome this.

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Mandie

I suffer with extreme worry, obsessive thinking over and over again.. it absolutely drives me insane.. Fearing everything thinking the worse all the time.

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Susie

So I often get anxiety because I worry too much of my health. If someone tells me they are feeling a certain way or they have some type of illness, I then think I have it as well. I want to cope with anxiety, but without medications. Any tips on how to overcome this ugly feeling?

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Karen Young

Hi Susie – try the strategies in the article. It is important to be patient and consistent. If anxiety has been around for a while, it can take a while to strengthen against it, but absolutely it can be done. Mindfulness and exercise are powerful for this.

Reply
Jadyn

I always get anxious when it is quiet because I feel like my stomach is always making noises. Also I am always afraid to talk because I am afraid that my voice will crack or I will say something stupid. I will try these tips. Thank you.

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Get Grit F1t

I think you should also add Gratitude
When you start practicing daily gratitude it also helps, it changes your mode, your perspective and allows you to get in a good mood especially if you do it first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up

Reply
Vicki

My list of things and people making me anxious is VERY long and getting longer every day. This article is the most helpful thing I have read. I’m not sure how well I can implement the tools and tips but at least I’m thinking about it. Health issues, health professionals, family, traffic, music, light, sound, technology, waste, clutter, users, losers, unsympathetic, noise, noise, noise, stomach ache, headache, vision, not being able to socialize, crowds, pain, pharmaceuticals, insurance, house problems, car problems, feet heart, hair thin, nothings funny, rudeness, ownership, advertising, people in the business world that mumble (especially doc office), poor social skills, hot weather, bras, all uncomfortable cloths, UGH! I really could go on and on. However…….. I love children, gardens,art

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Angie

Hi Karen,
I have terrible anxiety when it comes to anyone having ANY type of medical procedure done. From my kids going to the Drs for shots or a simple mole removed to my husband having knee surgery or most recently a colonoscopy he is having because it is recommended for his age. I have also had two major surgeries that I was extremely worried about not waking up from. My husband thinks I choose to act this way or do it to “get my way”. I dont understand why I get this way except that almost every person close to me has died in a hospital. Any insight or help to work through this would be amazing! It is the worst feeling I have ever felt and I can’t make my husband understand without it starting a fight 🙁

Reply

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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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