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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
A Kler

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

Reply
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

Reply
Rafael

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

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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?

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Reply
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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Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Whenever the brain registers threat, it organises the body to fight the danger, flee from it, or hide from it. 

Here’s the rub. ‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually dangerous, but about what the brain perceives. It also isn’t always obvious. For a strong, powerful, magnificent, protective brain, ‘threat’ might count as anything that comes with even the teeniest potential of making a mistake, failure, humiliation, judgement, shame, separation from important adults, exclusion, unfamiliarity, unpredictability. They’re the things that can make any of us feel vulnerable.

Once the brain registers threat the body will respond. This can drive all sorts of behaviour. Some will be obvious and some won’t be. The responses can be ones that make them bigger (aggression, tantrums) or ones that make them smaller (going quiet or still, shrinking, withdrawing). All are attempts to get the body to safety. None are about misbehaviour, misintent, or disrespect. 

One of the ways bodies stay safe is by hiding, or by getting small. When children are in distress, they might look calm, but unless there is a felt sense of safety, the body will be surging with neurochemicals that make it impossible for that young brain to learn or connect. 

We all have our things that can send us there. These things are different for all of us, and often below our awareness. The responses to these ‘things’ are automatic and instinctive, and we won’t always know what has sent us there. 

We just need to be mindful that sometimes it’s when children seem like no trouble at all that they need our help the most. The signs can include a wilted body, sad or distant eyes, making the body smaller, wriggly bodies, a heavy head. 

It can also look as though they are ignoring you or being quietly defiant. They aren’t - their bodies are trying to keep them safe. A  body in flight or flight can’t hear words as well as it can when it’s calm.

What they need (what all kids need) are big signs of safety from the adult in the room - loving, warm, voices and faces that are communicating clear intent: ‘I’m here, I see you and I’ve got you. You are safe, and you can do this. I’m with you.’♥️
I’d love to invite you to an online webinar:
‘Thriving in a Stressful World: Practical Ways to Help Ourselves and Our Children Feel Secure And Calm’

As we emerge from the pandemic, stressors are heightened, and anxiety is an ever more common experience. We know from research that the important adults in the life of a child or teen have enormous capacity to help their world feel again, and to bring a felt sense of calm and safety to those young ones. This felt sense of security is essential for learning, regulation, and general well-being. 

I’m thrilled to be joining @marc.brackett and Dr Farah Schroder to explore the role of emotion regulation and the function of anxiety in our lives. Participants will learn ways to help express and regulate their own, and their children’s, emotions, even when our world may feel a little scary and stressful. We will also share practical and holistic strategies that can be most effective in fostering well-being for both ourselves and children. 

In this webinar, hosted by @dalailamacenter you will have the opportunity to learn creative, evidence-informed takeaways to help you and the children in your care build resilience and foster a sense of security and calmness. Join us for this 1 ½ hour session, including a dynamic Q&A period.
 
Webinar Details:
Thursday, October 14, 2021
1:30 - 3:00 PM PST
 
Registrants will receive a Zoom link to attend the webinar live, as well as a private link to a recording of the webinar to watch if they cannot join in at the scheduled time.

Register here:
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/thriving-in-a-stressful-world-a-heart-mind-live-webinar-tickets-170348045590

The link to register is in my story.♥️
So much of what our kids and teens are going through isn’t normal - online school, extended separation from their loved people, lockdowns, masks. Even if what they are going through isn’t ‘normal’, their response will be completely understandable. Not all children will respond the same way if course, but whatever they feel will be understandable, relatable, and ‘normal’. 

Whether they feel anxious, confused, frustrated, angry, or nothing at all, it’s important that their response is normalised. Research has found that children are more likely to struggle with traumatic events if they believe their response isn’t normal. This is because they tend to be more likely to interpret their response as a sign of breakage. 

Try, ‘What’s happening is scary. There’s no ‘right’ way to feel and different people will feel different things. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel.’

Any message you can give them that you can handle all their feelings and all their words will help them feel safer, and their world feel steadier.♥️
We need to change the way we think about discipline. It’s true that traditional ‘discipline’ (separation, shame, consequences/punishment that don’t make sense) might bring compliant children, but what happens when the fear of punishment or separation isn’t there? Or when they learn that the best way to avoid punishment is to keep you out of the loop?

Our greatest parenting ‘tool’ is our use of self - our wisdom, modelling, conversations, but for any of this to have influence we need access to their ‘thinking’ brain - the prefrontal cortex - the part that can learn, think through consequences, plan, make deliberate decisions. During stress this part switches off. It is this way for all of us. None of us are up for lectures or learning (or adorable behaviour) when we’re stressed.

The greatest stress for young brains is a felt sense of separation from their important people. It’s why time-outs, shame, calm down corners/chairs/spaces which insist on separation just don’t work. They create compliance, but a compliant child doesn’t mean a calm child. As long as a child doesn’t feel calm and safe, we have no access to the part of the brain that can learn and be influenced by us.

Behind all behaviour is a need - power,  influence, independence, attention (connection), to belong, sleep - to name a few). The need will be valid. Children are still figuring out the world (aren’t we all) and their way of meeting a need won’t always make sense. Sometimes it will make us furious. (And sometimes because of that we’ll also lose our thinking brains and say or do things that aren’t great.)

So what do we do when they get it wrong? The same thing we hope our people will do when we get things wrong. First, we recognise that the behaviour is not a sign of a bad child or a bad parent, but their best attempt to meet a need with limited available resources. Then we collect them - we calm ourselves so we can bring calm to them. Breathe, be with. Then we connect through validation. Finally, when their bodies are calm and their thinking brain is back, talk about what’s happened, what they can do differently next time, and how they can put things right. Collect, connect, redirect.
Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day. We will catch what our children are feeling and they will catch ours. We feel their distress, and this can feed their distress. Our capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

Children create their distress in us as a way to recruit support to help them carry the emotional load. It’s how it’s meant to be. Whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection what your children are feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you and in them is relevant. 

You don’t need to fix their feelings. Let their feelings come, so they can go. The healing is in the happening. 

In that moment of big feelings it’s more about who you are than what you do. Feel what they feel with a strong, steady heart. They will feel you there with them. They will feel it in you that you get them, that you can handle whatever they are feeling, and that you are there. This will help calm them more than anything. We feel safest when we are ‘with’. Feel the feeling, breathe, and be with - and you don’t need to do more than that. 
There will be a time for teaching, learning, redirecting, but the middle of a storm is not that time.♥️

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