We live in a world where people take medication for just about everything. This is especially common for those who suffer from anxiety because it often manifests as physical symptoms that encourage people to see their doctor(s), rather than a therapist. Doctors tend to prefer medications as a way to provide anxiety relief, and it is not uncommon for patients to choose these medications because of the potential for near-instant anxiety relief.
Still, just because a medication is available does not necessarily mean it is the best method. If you learn to manage anxiety on your own in a safe manner, you could be able to successfully manage your anxiety symptoms without the use of medications (natural or chemical).
Disclaimer: We are not advocating that readers do not utilize medication for managing anxiety symptoms; if these methods work well for you and your lifestyle, please continue to do so under the medical guidance of your physician.
This article is simply providing non-medicinal options for those who choose to use them. Lastly, you can combine medicinal and non-medicinal options for your added benefit.
Managing Anxiety vs. “Curing” It
There is a considerable difference between managing anxiety and curing anxiety. Managing anxiety does not mean it no longer exists. It means that you have learned skills (meditation, exercise, deliberate breathing, etc.) or utilized medications to bring your symptoms under better control.
Most individuals can learn to manage their anxiety. Curing anxiety insinuates that you will likely never suffer from anxiety again. Anxiety is just like most chronic illnesses; there is rarely a cure, but almost always a way to manage it.
Tips on How to Manage Anxiety
The best way to combat anxiety is to commit to a comprehensive treatment program. Overcoming anxiety needs to be a lifestyle, meaning that it is something you work towards on a consistent basis. Think about the last time you wanted to get fit for the summer. You knew you had to exercise, but you couldn’t just do it sporadically; it required consistent healthy eating and exercise to achieve your fitness goals. This is the same with managing anxiety.
That being said, there are various tactics that can help you better manage anxiety and can be integrated into your life at home, without medical intervention.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of talk therapy can be useful, but the following represent how to overcome anxiety without medicine.
It cannot be expressed enough. There is a clear link between anxiety, anxiety management, and exercise. Those that do not exercise or stay active regularly are far more prone to developing anxiety disorders. Exercise itself has proven to be a valuable tool for managing anxiety. That is because exercise:
- Releases neurotransmitters that have an uplifting effect on mood.
- Tires muscles to prevent anxiety symptoms.
- Burns stress hormones that may trigger anxiety.
Exercise is a naturally healthy way to work through anxiety. It is also one of the few “must do” tactics when attempting to manage anxiety, because it is almost 100% healthy for all involved.
Of course, exercise is dependent on your current medical condition management. But overall, exercise delivers real results, not only mentally but physically. Regular exercise is the best way to improve your mental health.
Magnesium (and Other Vitamins)
Studies have shown that some people may be more prone to anxiety related symptoms if they are undernourished. The biggest culprit (besides being dehydrated) points to the role of magnesium. Unfortunately, magnesium is often stripped away from most diets because of the way food is processed.
Magnesium is also depleted during times of stress and via hyperventilation. Meaning that people with already low serum magnesium levels can actually worsen their situation when they experience anxiety and stress for extended periods of time. This results in even lower serum magnesium. Keep in mind, it is unlikely that low magnesium actually causes anxiety, but it can aid in producing the physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
Talk to your doctor before supplementing magnesium or any other vitamin/mineral into your diet to ensure you are getting the proper nutrition your body actually needs.
Another technique you can try in order to overcome anxiety on your own is self-exposure, also known as “desensitization.” This technique can be a bit complicated and best completed under the guidance of a professional. However, those that are brave enough can try the method on their own.
Exposure therapy focuses on the concept that the human brain will no longer find something frightening when it is exposed to it for an extended period of time. It is known as habituation, and it is an adaptive tool that prevents people from fearing the world around them. The best way to understand self-exposure techniques is to conceptualize it as a phobia, but it can also be used with other types of anxiety.
For the sake of understanding, let's assume you have a deathly fear of spiders. You would perform the following:
- First, force yourself to think about spiders for a long period of time. It will initially cause stress, but don’t fight it. Instead, let yourself be stressed and continue thinking about spiders until your fear subsides. You should continue to do this for several days in a row until thinking about spiders no longer causes you any stress.
- Next, have someone print out a photo of a spider. Presumably, the photo will cause fear. Keep looking at the photo anyway until you are able to relax and comfortably stare at the photograph. Repeat this over consecutive days with several types of photographs until looking at them no longer causes anxiety.
- Repeat the same thing using videos of spiders on YouTube. Only move forward with the steps when viewing these videos do not cause anxiety. Try to watch the same video repeatedly rather than flipping through videos to ensure that you are not looking for videos that cause less stress.
- Have someone catch a spider and place it in a jar or enclosed box where you can look at it for a substantial amount of time. This can be one of the hardest steps. You can have the friend there in the beginning for support, but eventually, you should be able to look at the spider walk around on its own without anyone around. Keep forcing yourself to do this until the spider no longer causes fear. Don't try to fight the fear you experience either- you need to be comfortable being afraid without looking down on yourself.
- Finally, interact with the spider in some way. Ideally, you will be able to touch the spider, but for some people, that is just a bit too hard. This is where the use of a professional might be helpful. Until then, begin feeding the spider or letting it roam outside of its encasement. If you can let it loose, follow it around. Once you have gotten through these exercises, your phobia of spiders would have resolved.
The key thing to realize is that almost every type of anxiety has a trigger. Panic attacks are often triggered by physical sensations. So purposely mimicking those sensations might reduce the frequency of panic attacks, making the triggers less effective. If you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, forcing yourself to think certain anxiety provoking thoughts might aid in relieving these feelings.
It is not advised to recreate sensations in post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, only because some people can experience flashbacks so severe that require psychological intervention. It is also often a better idea to leave certain sensation and experience re-enactment to the psychologists and/or psychiatrists that are better suited for handling these cases.
Breathing exercises can be very beneficial for those with anxiety, especially those that hyperventilate. Hyperventilation is very common for people that have panic attacks and often causes physical symptoms that create more anxiety on their own.
To prevent reoccurrence, breathing exercises can be utilized to calm the body and reduce the likelihood of hyperventilation. There are dozens of various breathing techniques, but the simplest one is the following:
- Breathe in through your nose slowly for 5 to 6 seconds.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Breathe out through pursed lips (like whistling) for 7 seconds.
This type of breathing gives your body back the right carbon dioxide balance, which in turn should keep your heart rate at the right speed and decrease the severity of some anxiety symptoms.
Yelling and Shouting
Another strategy that can be a lot of fun for people is the idea of "going crazy" on purpose. You should always do this in a private area, where the likelihood of embarrassment is low with no judgment. But the idea is you essentially let out all of the stress that you have kept bottled inside.
The strategy is supposed to be kind of fun, and a little bit silly, but also a good way to just make yourself feel like you are not stuck in your own head. Essentially, find a private place and let yourself yell and scream to your heart's content. You can punch pillows, throw things (safely, of course - nothing you’ll regret), and let yourself go wild in order to momentarily lift the weight of the world off your shoulders. It is okay to let everything you have kept inside go.
Few people take the opportunity to do this, but after dealing with stress all week it can be a great and somewhat funny tool for making sure that you can just let loose.
Other Strategies to Overcome Anxiety
This is just a small sample of the many strategies for reducing anxiety. Some people find relaxation exercises like visualization and progressive muscle relaxation to be helpful. Others find goal setting, staying socially active, and spending time with fun distractions to be all they need. Others need to consider herbal supplements like kava and passionflower that can help control anxiety.
But the most important thing to realize is committing to changing your anxiety is the most important step.