Medication can be helpful for anxiety, but are there ways to cope without it? Most definitely! The following is a list of 19 ways to deal with anxiety without any medications:
- Visualize a relaxing scene
- Get fresh air
- Support Groups
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups, and this is done in a systematic matter until all muscles groups are addressed. This exercise helps one to recognize what a tense muscle group feels like, and also helps one to recognize what a relaxed muscle group feels like. Progressive muscle relaxation helps to reduce anxiety levels, as validated by research (Georgiev et al., 2012).
- Play games
- Aerobic exercise
- Mind-body exercise (qigong, tai chi, yoga)
- Fellowship with people you love and enjoy
- Rest, sleep
- Eat a great meal
- Read a good book, watch a movie
- Address the cause of the worry
Try to visualize a relaxing scene, like a day at the beach, relaxing on a hammock, etc. This can help to distract one from the triggers of a panic attack, and to decrease overall anxiety levels.
Walking can help to distract one from the intense anxiety symptoms. Walking also serves to regulate breathing, when one is actively synchronizing the rhythm of their walking with their breathing. In addition, walking serves to remove one from the triggers of their anxiety attacks, like crowds of people, or a bridge if one is phobic of high places.
In the midst of having an anxiety attack, going outside for fresh air can help one to regulate breathing. It can also help one to remove themselves from the trigger of the anxiety attack, like crowds of people, or being claustrophobic.
Going to a counsellor can be helpful, as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective for dealing with anxiety. In CBT, one learns relaxation techniques, realistic thinking, exposure to fears, and identifying triggers.
Support groups can be helpful, as it is a safe forum for people to tell their stories and how they solve their problems. It is also validating and reassuring to people, knowing there are others who have similar problems, and the support group becomes a haven for reassurance, fellowship, and solutions.
Try relaxing to help calm down an anxiety attack and overall anxiety level. Try listening to calm, soothing music, light some candles with a nice fragrance, soak in the tub, get a massage, etc.
Playing games like board games, charades, or playing catch with a baseball outside is an awesome way to take one’s mind away from their worries and stress. Also, when playing with another person, it may lead to helpful suggestions from one’s game partner on how they handle stress. Playing games gives one a sense of mastery over their play environment, and let’s one remove themselves from their stressful situations. In addition, games can improve self-esteem and can just be plain fun! Video/internet games and other solitary games may be less effective, as solitary activities tend to isolate the anxious person to be left with their worries and thoughts in their head.
Working up a good sweat can decrease anxiety. Natural endorphins are released in the body after exercise, so this gives one the feeling of a natural ‘high.’ And when one is anxious, feeling good helps one to address their problems better. Exercise improves self-esteem and general well-being, and helps to distract one from their anxious thoughts. A recent comprehensive review found that exercise was effective for anxiety as an adjunct treatment (Jayakody et al., 2014). Many psychiatrists recommend exercise to their anxious patients as part of the behavioral therapy component of the treatment plan.
There is evidence that mind-body exercises such as qigong, tai chi and yoga may be helpful for anxiety (Wang et al., 2014). Mind-body exercises help one to be mindful of posture, movement, muscle tone, relationship of body parts to one another, and breathing. This helps to distract one from distressing thoughts and removes one from their stressful environment.
There is research to suggest that meditation may be effective for anxiety (Orme-Johnson and Barnes, 2014). Meditation helps one to effectively deal with all the stress by quieting down the noise in one’s mind, and focusing on posture and breathing. This helps to give one a sense of inner peace, which helps one to more effectively deal with their external stressors.
There is preliminary evidence that acupuncture may be helpful for anxiety (McPherson and McGraw, 2013; Bussell, 2013; Zhou et al., 2013). In any event, as part of a behavioral technique to distract one from their anxious thoughts, acupuncture can be stress-relieving and can be an important part of self-care. The focus here is on the pressure points of the needle insertions and focusing on breathing.
Preliminary research indicates that massage may have a clinically important effect on anxiety (Sherman et al., 2010; Billhult and Määttä, 2009). Regardless, massage is helpful for self-care, and takes one away from their distressing worries. With massage, the focus is on the relief of muscle tension. And muscle tension can represent the physical manifestation of anxiety, so relief of muscle tension may lead to the relief of anxiety.
When one is anxious, it seems like a chore to spend time with friends. However, once the anticipation of seeing a friend is over and one finally goes to see a friend, usually the barriers that kept one from socializing seem to disappear. Seeing a friend is helpful for support and problem solving. A sense of belonging also is reassuring, which is helpful to one who is anxious. There is research to suggest that the quality of one’s friendships predicts how one responds to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety (Baker and Hudson, 2013). So if one has good quality friendships, then it correlates with better anxiety treatment outcome with CBT.
There is preliminary research that quiet rest is helpful for anxiety (Raglin and Morgan, 1987). Good sleep also predicts improved response to CBT for social anxiety disorder (Hofmann and Pollack, 2013). Rest and adequate sleep are very helpful to someone who is anxious, as it helps one to recover and to incorporate new techniques to combat anxiety.
Anxiety tends to make one eat less than someone who is relaxed (Steere and Cooper, 1993). So anxiety tends to make one not hungry, and not eat as much. Eating a great meal addresses the anorexic effects of anxiety, and eating helps to replenish calories and nutrients needed for recovery from anxiety.
Just for fun, read a good book, or watch a good movie…fun ways to take a break from anxiety! These fun activities help one to escape from the realities of one`s daily struggles and to escape into the story of a book or movie.
Preliminary research suggests that prayer may be helpful as an adjunct for anxiety treatment (Boelens et al., 2009). And one does not necessarily need to pray to God…some like to pray to a Higher Power. Praying to a Higher Power can be helpful to regain a sense of control over a situation that seems out of control. An example of praying to a Higher Power is reciting the Serenity Prayer, which has been adopted by twelve-step programs to help with addiction:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
This one seems obvious, but if one removes the cause of their worry, they will be less worried! The awesome part of this is that the anxiety goes away as the cause is addressed. A top worry in the general population is money, or lack thereof. If money is your worry, then either make money, and/or spend less of it…period. When people get overwhelmed with money problems, they seem to think that there is nothing they can do to stop the accumulating debt. Because they have learned helplessness…why address the problem if it is already so big…they opt for doing nothing or they keep doing what they were doing to get them in the hole in the first place. But the better approach is to make more and spend less. Yes, get out of your head, and use that energy to take on a second job (or A JOB if you are not working), and to prepare a budget based on needs (not wants). And if one is not able to get a job, then to apply for alternative funding sources (ie unemployment income, disability income, food stamps, housing assistance, loan from family members, etc.). Every penny you save is a penny earned, and every penny you earn is contributing to your bottom line. And the energy spent making and saving money is less time spend on wasteful worrying that gets you nowhere. The worries about money or whatever else makes one anxious should be a warning that this is indeed a problem, and how one can take action to address the source of the worry. If one takes that initial worry and does nothing to address the problem with action, then the anxiety eventually takes over, incapacitating the person.
In summary, the above list is a compilation of ways to manage anxiety without medication. The common theme with all these recommendations is that they are all ways to distract one from their anxious thoughts. These are examples of behavioral techniques, which do not require medication treatment.