Although this article is about managing anxiety without medication, let me start off by saying that I’m not trying to argue against people taking meds to control anxiety symptoms. I know they help some people and that’s awesome.
But they just didn’t work for me. I tried countless combinations over several years and the side effects proved to be too unbearable in the end. I felt like I was just exchanging one set of problems for another.
So the purpose of this article is not to argue against taking meds, but to share some thoughts and tools with those who, for whatever reason, are not taking meds and want to learn how to manage anxiety naturally.
After many years of fighting my anxiety and losing the battles over and over again, I have finally come out on top. Below are five of the things I do to keep anxiety symptoms at bay.
(Pssst, I like to share my personal experiences managing anxiety with the hope that some of my discoveries might resonate with others. Making lifestyle changes has greatly contributed to my own well-being, and as a life coach, I help people make impactful changes in their own lives. But I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. If you have questions about the appropriate intervention for you, please consult a qualified professional.)
How To Manage Anxiety Without Meds
It’s kind of funny that anxiety is called a mental problem when it actually feels very much like a physical problem to me.
I’m fairly convinced that I was born a highly sensitive person. More jittery than average. Then in childhood, I had some experiences that didn’t exactly enhance my sense of security.
And so here I still am, at age 40+, a deer in headlights. Any hint of conflict, disagreement, or disapproval – spoken or unspoken – warrants a fight or flight response for my body. A tension in someone’s voice. A questioning look. My body interprets them as threats. And the body doesn’t consult the rational mind. The decision to react with fear is made in a split second before I have a chance to think.
So here’s what I do. I give my body what it’s asking for. My body wants fight or flight. For an hour a day, I give it flight.
Ages ago, our ancestors fled predators on the savanna. I run on the treadmill in my basement. But it works. Somehow running fools my body into thinking that it got away from the lions and tigers and calms it down.
If I run for a half hour a day five times a week, I notice a significant decrease in physical anxiety symptoms. If I run for an hour a day seven days a week, I reach cool as a cucumber bliss. 🙂
2. FACE TRIGGERS ONLY WHEN IT’S WORTH IT
Sometimes I wish I had a clear-cut phobia, like, say, bananas. I could just avoid bananas and that’d be that.
It gets a lot more complicated when anything and everyone is a potential anxiety trigger. Constantly fighting anxiety and “doing things anyway” is exhausting. Yes, I can ignore my anxiety and make myself do anything.
But even though I can talk myself into doing anything, I can’t always prevent the physical stress response from switching on. Those symptoms are still going to happen and they are going to tax my body.
I admit that I’ve fantasized about becoming a full-time hermit. 😉 But in the end, I’ve settled on a compromise. I don’t go out or do as much as an average person. And I’m sure some mainstream psychologists would label my lifestyle as some kind of “avoidance behavior.”
But I call it creating a world that I can be healthy and happy in. It no longer matters to me what psychiatrists, psychologists, or well-meaning neighbors think a person SHOULD be able to do or what a worthwhile life is. All that matters to me is that I’m able to do what I WANT to do and reach whatever goals are worthwhile to ME.
So I don’t let anxiety stop me from hanging out with people I love. Or doing things that are meaningful to me. Or going places I’m interested in. Or becoming a writer when clicking “publish” scares the shit out of me. 🙂
But I have dropped all the extra. I have dropped other people’s shoulds, other people’s conventions, and other people’s expectations. I say no to people a lot. I decline. I refuse. I stay home when my body needs a break.
3. DON’T BUY INTO THE FEAR FRENZY YOUR BODY LIKES TO PUT ON
The stress response is governed by the autonomic nervous system, which means that it switches on without my conscious control and I can’t prevent it from happening.
But what I do after it switches on is under my control.
So I do my best to not make it worse. I try to keep my breathing calm and my muscles relaxed.
And even if my body is sending panic signals, I don’t automatically let myself believe that something terrible is actually happening. That’s something that’s up to my rational brain to make a decision about. And if something terrible really is happening, then I try to think about ways I could cope with it.
Simply not buying into my body’s fear frenzy is often enough to help my body calm back down quickly. And when it doesn’t help immediately, at least I know I’m not making it worse.
4. REPLACE WORRY WITH EXCITEMENT
Something else that helps is keeping my mind occupied with things I’m naturally interested in.
If you tell my anxiety to just stop thinking about it, just stop worrying about it, or just think positive, it will ignore you with the same intensity as my four-year-olds when I tell them it’s dinner time in the middle of a Paw Patrol episode. But if you distract my anxiety with something fun and interesting, it will forget about itself.
I would be lying if I said that I never worry or ruminate or lay awake at night obsessing. But I do it A LOT less when I have something positive to think about. Your interests may not match mine, but here are some examples of things that keep my mind occupied so well that I forget to worry:
- Read books
- Write blog posts
- Figure out the personality type of everyone I know
- Redecorate a room (or a whole house!)
- Get organized
- Plan and plant a garden
- Try new recipes
- Plan a trip
For me, making plans for things to look forward to is a way to replace negative anxiety with something awesomely positive.
5. FIND TIME AND WAYS TO REST AND RELAX
My brain and body, imperfect as they may be, are the only brain and body I have. If I don’t take care of them, nobody else will. In the past, I have gone from one anxiety-provoking situation to another, without breaks, and ended up in a state of permanent stress. And when you are in a state like that, it’s extremely difficult to get out of it.
So these days I try to listen to my body and make sure it has enough time to rest and relax in between the stresses of life. As often as possible, I try to break the stream of stress and give my body a rest. I let myself check out. I let myself shut out the world with music. I let myself veg on the couch and watch reality TV.
Some people meditate or do breathing exercises. I watch the Bachelor. 😉 But hey, whatever works!
Are you learning how to manage anxiety without meds? Do you have any tips or advice to add? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂