How To Manage Anxiety Without Medication
If you experience anxiety, you know how it takes over your life, with worry blooming to proportions that can make it hard to function normally. Yes, medications exist to help with the problem — but you may not want or be able to take them.
The good news? You can learn how to manage anxiety without medication. Available anxiety relief options include everything from psychotherapy to transcranial magnetic stimulation. Take a look to see how you can start to get rid of anxiety at home.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety can pop up as a normal sense of apprehension about the unknown or as a response to stress. When anxiety becomes extreme and starts to interfere with your life, however, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of emotional disorder in the United States, with 30% of people > (and more women than men) experiencing them at some point.
Anxiety can manifest in several distinct ways. Types of common anxiety disorders include:
- Separation anxiety disorder. This takes the form of fear when you're separated from loved ones or away from home.
- Illness anxiety disorder. Sometimes known as hypochondria, this is anxiety about your health.
- Generalized anxiety disorder. GAD is an uncontrollable worry about many things, often when there's no factual reason for anxiety.
- Phobias. From the Greek word for "fear," this type of anxiety focuses on a specific situation or object (such as public speaking, heights, or spiders) that provokes unreasonable amounts of fear in a person.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Commonly abbreviated as PTSD, this emotional disorder is a response to a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a violent attack, or a life-threatening occurrence.
- Social anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety manifests as a fear of being judged by other people in performance or social situations.
- Panic disorder. People who experience this type of anxiety are prone to panic attacks without warning and often live in fear of future attacks.
Anxiety shows up in different ways in different people. Some people experience jarring disruptions to their day-to-day lives through panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia. Others have feelings of fear triggered by specific events, people, or places, or they live with a nagging feeling of worry and physical symptoms that can include rapid breathing, an increased heart rate, difficulty concentrating, or an upset digestive system.
Medications do exist to treat different forms of anxiety, and in some cases, they may be helpful and even necessary. Many people, though, find that learning how to manage anxiety without medication lets them lead their best lives more productively and comfortably. Fortunately, anxiety help without medications is available in a wide variety of options.
Ways to Help Chronic Pain and Anxiety Without Drugs
If you experience chronic anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you can explore anxiety treatment without medication. While severe or even moderate cases of anxiety may require medical treatment, in many cases, changes to your lifestyle can help you get a handle of your anxiety symptoms.
Some studies show that exercise can be as beneficial as medication when it comes to anxiety reduction. While any exercise is good for your body, regular exercise produces the most pronounced effects.
Exercise can help reduce anxiety because of the effects it has on your body. Among these effects, exercise:
- Releases endorphins, hormones produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland that lift your mood and boost positive feelings
- Tires your muscles, which can dampen certain physical symptoms of anxiety
- Boosts self-confidence and self-esteem by helping you feel strong and competent
- Lowers cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones associated with increased stress
- Improves sleep quality, which can help reduce anxiety because loss of sleep is associated with increased anxiety
Several types of exercise have been shown to help reduce anxiety naturally. Aerobic exercise (think walking, jogging, dancing, or cycling) has been shown in studies to decrease tension and stabilize mood, partly through reducing adrenaline production and increasing your body's production of endorphins. Exercise also turns your mind's focus away from your problems.
Yoga also appears to be highly useful in alleviating anxiety naturally. In part, this may stem from the deep breathing that accompanies this gentle type of exercise. Whatever type of exercise you choose, try to devote 30 minutes to it three to five days every week.
Another non-medication treatment for anxiety involves changes to your diet. Of course, you want to stick to a balanced, healthy diet and drink plenty of water, but specific foods (or avoidance of specific foods) can also help alleviate anxiety symptoms.
Among the foods to stay away from are alcohol and foods containing caffeine. Both of these substances disrupt your sleep cycle, which can aggravate anxiety. It's easy to self-medicate with alcohol, but doing so can come with steep side effects that affect anxiety symptoms.
Caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate, is a stimulant that speeds up your nervous system's energy levels. That can feel great initially, but the increased heart rate and nervous energy is also linked to anxiety. Try cutting back on your caffeine consumption, or stop ingesting it late in the day to minimize its effect on your sleep.
Fortunately, certain foods can help reduce anxiety. Add some of the following foods to your regular diet to help your body receive and produce the chemicals it needs to thrive without anxiety.
- Foods rich in B vitamins (almonds, avocados)
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (edamame, salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds)
- Antioxidant-rich foods (beans, nuts, berries, ginger, turmeric, spinach)
- Foods containing the amino acid tryptophan (soybeans, oats, poultry, cod)
- Foods that are high in zinc (seeds, beans, oatmeal)
- Foods rich in magnesium (nuts, spinach and other leafy greens, whole grains)
In addition, some people become anxious when their blood sugar drops, which causes the release of the stress hormone cortisol. By eating regular meals, you can avoid this blood sugar drop and the resulting symptoms of anxiety.
Psychotherapy is one of the most successful forms of anxiety help without medications — in fact, studies show that it can be more helpful than medication in treating anxiety. In psychotherapy, people can talk about experiences that may have triggered their anxiety and learn coping mechanisms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, known as CBT, is one of the most practically effective types of therapy for treating anxiety. In CBT, people learn how their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected, and they learn how to handle the negative thoughts that accompany anxiety. Therapists help you in pragmatic ways to stop thinking the worst, to break negative patterns, and to redirect your thought life in healthy ways. Studies show that CBT is particularly useful for people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder.
Other types of psychotherapy can also be useful in treating anxiety without medication. Many people find practical help in support groups, both in person and online, especially when they're mediated by therapists. Some therapists also use hypnosis to help people with anxiety relax, think about their problems in a new way, and incorporate suggestions for improvement in their behavior and thought life.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Studies show that meditation is useful in treating several emotional or mental health disorders, including anxiety. The mindfulness cultivated in meditation helps people become aware of their negative thoughts without dwelling on them. This awareness lets you treat those thoughts as something separate from yourself, so the feelings of negativity diminish and become less intense.
Meditation has positive, measurable effects on the brain. One study showed that daily meditation caused physical alteration of the brain, with the amygdala (the part of the brain associated with anxiety) shrinking physically after just eight weeks. Other studies have shown that people with a long history of meditation develop brains that adapt well to change and other stressors. Even over a short period of time, meditation shows positive results in people exposed to stressful stimuli.
Some health care providers recommend mindfulness-based stress reduction, which incorporates meditation instruction, for those with severe anxiety. In addition, yoga is a discipline that provides bodily exercise and the diaphragmatic breathing and mindful meditation that provides anxiety help without medications.
Successfully treating anxiety without meds often involves making sure that the body's chemistry is kept healthy through use of natural nutritional supplements. Yes, many of the nutrients the body and brain need for health can be taken in via food. For many people, however, supplements are an easy and reliable way to make sure proper levels of certain nutrients are actually ingested regularly.
Magnesium is a chemical that becomes easily depleted as a result of stress and anxiety. People who already have low serum magnesium can lose what little they have, resulting in more of the physical symptoms linked to anxiety. Those who eat a highly processed diet are unlikely to receive the levels of magnesium they need through food, making supplements a good idea.
In addition, studies have shown that people taking prebiotics produce less cortisol and respond with less anxiety to negative circumstances. Prebiotics are forms of fiber that encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Foods containing prebiotics include garlic, onions, asparagus, and barley. Similarly, probiotics, live microorganisms that also promote healthy gut flora, reduce anxiety-related behavior. Foods containing probiotics include sourdough bread, yogurt, tempeh, and kimchi. Of course, prebiotics and probiotics are also easy to access and take in supplement form.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, also known as TMS, has been considered an effective non-medication treatment for depression for quite some time. Studies now show that TMS is also valuable in treating general anxiety disorder (GAD) and PTSD.
In TMS, magnetic fields are used to create a weak electrical current that stimulates the brain's nerve cells. While scientists haven't confirmed the biological mechanism by which TMS works, it appears that the electrical current produced may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and restore normal brain activity to the amygdala. In essence, when the device is properly placed, the procedure activates parts of the brain with decreased activity, improving your mood and decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
TMS is noninvasive and is considered safe for almost everyone. The FDA has approved its use for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (which some consider a form of anxiety) and of depression. If you purchase a TMS device, you can perform the therapy at home. When choosing a TMS device, look for one that's FDA-approved (or at least has approval pending) and that's easy to use.
TMS doesn't require any type of surgery, and no electrodes are implanted, as is the case with some other types of nerve and brain stimulation procedures. It's more effective than similar methods, such as CES (cranial electrotherapy stimulation), because the strong electromagnetic field generated by a TMS device is able to penetrate further into the brain. TMS also provides a stronger response than tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) because the tDCS is so much lower.
Risks and Rewards of Home Remedies
Many of the so-called home remedies for anxiety involve activities that are well-known to be healthy — after all, everyone can benefit from meditation, exercise, and psychotherapy, no matter what ails them. The ways to manage anxiety without medication listed here are all strongly supported by the medical community with a proven track record for many people.
However, with an emotional disorder like anxiety, what works for one person may not be as effective for another. It's important to make sure that the steps you take to manage your anxiety are appropriate and clinically safe. That might mean making sure your TMS device is FDA-approved or that the supplement a friend recommended is considered safe.
It's also important to confirm that your anxiety doesn't stem from a physical cause, such as a brain illness. Knowing when to see your doctor about anxiety is crucial to making sure you're getting the right treatment.
When to See a Doctor
Many people who experience symptoms of anxiety never see a medical doctor because they don't realize something is actually wrong with them. They blame themselves for their own emotional state and never seek help. Others assume that a doctor will want to put them on medication that they don't wish to take, so they avoid seeking medical help.
A mental health professional can help you understand what's involved in getting a proper diagnosis and what your treatment options are — including natural anxiety remedies. You should see a medical professional about anxiety under the following circumstances.
- You feel anxious much of the time but can't point to what you're actually anxious about.
- You start to experience panic attacks or other physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat.
- You feel anxiety even though your life is generally comfortable and safe.
- You've been treating your anxiety, with or without medication, but the treatment stops working all of a sudden.
A medical doctor can rule out any physical issues that might be causing your issues and refer you to therapists and other health care treatment providers. For more details on neurostimulation solutions for managing anxiety without medication, reach out to us at Caputron today.