Everyone struggles with anxiety at one time or another. While for some, the feeling is temporary or situational, for others, it may be completely debilitating. It’s common for people to feel like they should simply be able to “snap out of it” or “get over it,” when the reality is that an anxiety disorder is a serious mental health issue that must be addressed accordingly. Therapy and medication regimens are some of the ways anxiety can be treated. There are also things you can do yourself to better cope. Banyan Treatment Center’s former Clinical Director of Mental Health Services, Rob Cole, LMHC, shares some expert tips on how to deal with anxiety without medication.
What Anxiety Feels Like
Those who are struggling may find their anxiety to be unmanageable, having it greatly impact their everyday lives. This is known as having an anxiety disorder, which involves extreme fear and worry.
These feelings persist over great periods, and while situational anxiety dissipates rather quickly, an individual suffering from a true mental health disorder will find that the feelings get more and more severe the longer they struggle.
Anxiety can cause feelings of tension, nervousness, or an inability to relax. In addition to a major sense of nervousness, anxiety may also feel like an intense sense of dread, or you might even fear the worst. While experiencing these symptoms, it’s also common to feel as if others are looking at you.
Because anxiety also comes with a lot of worrying, it often gets to the point where the individual may fear bad things will happen if they stop worrying. This may then cause them to worry about the anxiety itself, causing a vicious cycle.
How to Manage Anxiety Without Medication
Anxiety is one of the most common and difficult mental health disorders to manage. Fortunately, managing anxiety without medication is possible, and when you have difficult moments, there are steps you can take at home to manage your symptoms.
Be aware of your anxiety, and learn to better understand it.
Many people would be surprised to learn how cyclical anxiety really is. We often have thought patterns that simultaneously keep us in a state of fear while acting as an internalized security blanket. Practicing self-awareness can serve to break this anxiety cycle and give more agency to those that are struggling.
One way to practice self-awareness is to keep a log of your anxious feelings. Write down the situations that cause you anxiety and what you feel in your body at those times. Write down the date, time, location, and other possible factors that could be impacting your anxiety when you are feeling anxious. This can help you build a visual and gain a better perspective on your anxiety. Learning how to deal with anxiety without medication becomes easier when you understand more clearly how it affects you and what triggers your anxiety attacks.
Learn new relaxation techniques - and use them!
Learning new relaxation techniques is another way of dealing with anxiety without medication that can help decrease the intensity of your symptoms. Simple breathing techniques can be helpful, although they do take practice. Sometimes when we are anxious, symptoms can manifest and affect us physically. For instance, we may experience rapid breathing, feelings of restriction in the chest, and other distressing physical sensations that make navigating these moments that much more difficult.
Learning how to practice slow, calm breathing can help reduce this effect. Practice slow, deep breaths through the nose to help ease these unpleasant symptoms. Box breathing is another excellent option. First, exhale to a count of four, hold the empty lungs for a count of four, inhale for a count of four, hold that air in the lungs for a count of four, exhale, and repeat.
Counting gives you something to focus on while simultaneously relaxing the body. Other techniques for promoting relaxation include mindful meditation, yoga, deep stretching, or taking a hot bath. These are all activities that can assist with progressive muscle relaxation.
Challenge negative thought patterns.
Often, individuals who are suffering from an anxiety disorder struggle with negative thinking, either about themselves or regarding future situations. For example, one might think, “I know I’m going to say something wrong. I must be stupid.”
It’s important to remember that feelings are not always facts, and they must be regularly challenged if we are struggling with this sort of negative self-talk. If we believe that a situation is threatening, then we are more likely to feel anxious. However, individuals with an anxiety disorder often overestimate the degree of danger or discomfort in a given situation.
Use your anxiety log to help with this. Writing down your feelings either before or immediately following an event that causes anxiety can help you to move on to the next step of challenging those thoughts.
Use realistic questions, such as “how many times has such and such actually happened?” to counterpoint your exaggerated fears. By responding to these questions with the recognition of facts, your anxiety will begin to diminish.
Practice behaviors that can help manage your anxiety.
Anxious thought patterns feed on the unknown. Whether it is the uncertainty of how a situation will pan out, how a person will react, or how we will be affected, all play a part in the anxiety cycles that have so much control over our lives. By exposing ourselves to this unknown, we can better prepare ourselves and mitigate the fear we have come to rely on.
For example, if public speaking causes you intense anxiety, practice speaking in front of one person or a small group and receiving feedback. This will help you slowly address the fears you may have regarding the situation and ultimately help you to better manage it in the future.
Keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, skipping meals or loading up on sugary and carby foods can lead to blood sugar drops that can make you irritable, jittery, and anxious. Instead, try to eat three balanced meals and two snacks a day. Choose foods that are high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, nuts, small servings of lean meat, and low-fat milk or cheese.
Before making any changes in your diet, make sure to speak to your doctor. This is especially important if you are diabetic. Work out a meal plan with them that will support your physical and mental health.
Feeling wound up can lead to anxiety, which is why we recommend switching out coffee for herbal tea. Stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and certain illicit drugs can contribute to anxiety symptoms, so be mindful of what you’re consuming.
Depending on your schedule, this might be easier than done. But anxiety and poor sleep are closely linked. Poor or insufficient Z’s can worsen anxiety symptoms, which can make it more difficult to sleep. As you can imagine, this can lead to a vicious and unwanted cycle.
If you have problems falling or staying asleep, speak to your doctor about other ways of inducing sleep. You can also try setting up a nighttime routine for yourself, including running a bath, drinking a decaf tea meant to help promote better sleep (such as chamomile or lavender tea), and avoiding screen time.
Get Anxiety Treatment at a Banyan Rehab Center
Treating anxiety without medication is absolutely possible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still take the steps necessary to care for ourselves. Many of those struggling with an anxiety disorder need professional help to overcome the obstacles they are facing. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and with the right help, those who suffer can go on to live happy, healthy lives.
Several of our Banyan rehab locations are equipped with a variety of effective mental health programs that give our patients the careful consideration they need to break the anxiety cycles they find themselves trapped in. These programs utilize various therapy modalities – such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and equine therapy – to help clients develop the skills needed to manage their symptoms outside of rehab.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, or any other mental health diagnosis, call one of our Banyan Treatment Center locations today at 888-280-4763 or send us your contact information for a free assessment.