How To Manage Anxiety Without Meds

By Anni


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.

How to manage anxiety without meds from someone who has been there.

How To Manage Anxiety Without Meds

1. EXERCISE

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. 🙂

P.S. Want a more comprehensive action plan for conquering anxiety once and for all?

There are many more tips where the 5 in this post came from!  🙂  I’d love to share with you everything I learned on my own journey of overcoming anxiety.  My Conquer Your Anxiety eBook Bundle will give you a step-by-step action plan, teaching you how to:

  • Give your body exactly what it needs to achieve calm.
  • Banish anxiety-fueling beliefs for good.
  • Process fears and worries so that you don’t get stuck in them.

Just click here to find out more! 🙂

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. When I started reading your article my anxiety that I have been dealing with today increased! I also have had anxiety my whole life and also am a highly sensitive person. I’m floored that you were able to express exactly some of the things that I deal with. I am continuing to manage this on my own terms and refuse to be labeled by anyone. Your article has just reaffirmed to me that I just need to keep searching and continue to find my own healthy solution to this brutal thing called anxiety. This is my first time ever posting anything on the Internet…. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! It’s nice to know that I’m not crazy or in this alone.

    1. Hi Adam, thanks for writing. You are certainly not alone in this struggle. The solutions are not the same for everyone, but keep searching for your thing. 🙂

  2. I started to read this article because recently iv had the worst time with my anxiety and being social has been a very big task but my job is being a waitress so I just have to get on with it. All the books I have read and all the people I have spoke to all say just push yourself or you’ll grow out of it HOWEVER, As you explain in your second paragraph if I just push myself into anxious situations it won’t help I’ll just be anxious doing it anyway and iv been looking for that explanation for ages! I just couldn’t find the words to explain it.also as you say in paragraph 4 focus on something instead might just help my anxiety. I’m so glad I read this
    Thank you very much for the help

    1. Hi Katie, I’m so glad to hear that you could relate to this article and that it was helpful. I hope things get better for you.

  3. This article nailed it for me. I have really bad anxiety and I do use meds but I also have a special needs children so I use the meds also as a way to focus. I feel with always being on the move with my son I never feel like I have down time. Thank you for being so open about your situation. It helps alot to know there are other people out there with the same issues. I have taken up running so let’s hope I can stay on track. Thank you again!!

    1. It is really hard to find down time with kids, isn’t it? And I imagine it is even harder with a special needs kid. I would be a total wreck without running. Hope it helps you too.

  4. Anni,
    Just reading your article made me feel better. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who suffers from this. But it is comforting to know there are others out there living with and fighting Anxiety. No one can really understand how it feels to have an Anxiety disorder, only the ones who have it can understand. Thanks for sharing how you deal with anxiety. I love how you approached a new way of dealing with it. I will definitely try some of some of your ideas.

    One thing that works for me when especially when I have really tough day or late night, is watching videos of “Soldiers coming home” or ” People are awesome” videos”. Any kind of tear jerker video makes me feel better. Even songs that make me cry (like “Live like you were dying by Tim McGraw) feed that “hyper sensitivity” part of me and I feel better. A good cry, not because I feel bad but because something I watched or listened to touched my heart. Is good medicine. If it work for a 54 year old man like me. It might work for you.

    Thank you again for your ideas.

    JRR

    1. Hi Joe, Thanks for your comment. There are definitely others with anxiety out there. So you are not alone. And I totally support listening to sappy songs to get the emotions out. I do that too. 🙂

  5. Wow! This hit home. Thank you for this. Im going to read your other articles. Maybe i can find my peaceful regimine since meds are just not an option for me. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for staring your story. At the moment im in the train to travel to home. I had a talk with my Jobcoach and i started to cry: i have a ptss (post traumatic stress syndrom) and my head feels like its crashing… so she gives me the permission to go home and get some rest. I work with criminal youth. When i were in the train i went to pinterest and saw your page! It helps me to read this cause i need this at the moment. Thanks and greetz from Holland

    1. Thank you so much for writing, Maartje! Isn’t the internet awesome for allowing us to randomly connect with people across the world? But anyway, I very much hope you got some good rest and feel better soon. 🙂

  7. Love this post! I was on anxiety meds for years, and I never found they actually helped. Exercise was the best thing for me. I stopped taking them last year and was ok, but still a little anxious sometimes, but what finally fixed my anxiety was coming off the contraceptive pill!! I will never take artificial hormones again!!
    Thanks for posting this 🙂 x

    1. Thank you Emily! I was on all kinds of hormones for fertility treatments and I totally agree that artificial hormones can mess with you big time.

  8. I loved this. I hate taking meds for the same reason…all I’ve heard through this journey with anxiety is “you need something”. Anxiety is a daily struggle for me and the physical symptoms can be so relentless…I have learned my own ways to deal (reading, exercise, educating myself on anxiety, checking out when I need to and not feeling bad about it and finding new things I enjoy that make me happy)….you’re awesome for this ??

  9. Thank you for this article. Wow. I can relate totally I love the part where you sometimes crave to live here life of a hermit! Me too!!! Also that anxiety is a physical issue! The running. Love it. I have been walking more lately but I miss the harder workout of a run and it’s not because I want to be this great athlete it is because like you said, when you run you are literally tricking your body to believe you are getting away from the threat you are anxious about. The fight or flight response. Thank you so much for putting all this into words. brilliant!!!

  10. Wow! My life exactly!! It seems like I wrote this! I manage (or try to) my anxiety doing the same things you do. I’ve also been super sensitive all my life and living with anxiety problems daily. Exercising I the best therapy for me!

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    Gaby

  11. I’m so glad I got to read your article because I’m at the point in my anxiety where I’ve lost interest in being the ‘attention-seeker’ that “Can’t get treatment” and am actually starting to attempt controlling it on my own. Reading this definitely helped and gave me a few tips and helped me understand myself better. I’m only in high school, so it’s kind of hard for me to mindfully get the treatment I need without parental support, but I promised myself a few months ago that I would go out for track next year since I absolutely LOVE to run and most of my other hobbies actually keep me cooped up in the house in front of my laptop (lol oops, but I guess there’s not much else for me to do without a license or somewhere to escape nearby). Thank you so much for posting your experiences and wisdom, it really helps.

    1. Hi Abbey! Sorry it took me so long to respond to you. I’m glad to hear the article was helpful and I hope you continue to keep searching for solutions that help. It’s hard when you are young and don’t have the support you need, so it’s awesome that you are trying things like going out for track. Running has been a giant help for me and I hope it is the same for you. On a side note, I even met my future husband on the high school cross-country team. 🙂

  12. I also choose to be med free dealing with my anxiety.
    I am older than you, but can relate to much of your experience. Medication restricted me from “nornal” every day activities. I was always lethargic and couldn’t think …felt like my brain was fuzzy all the time. I live how I want to and do much of what you wrote about and find myself better able to deal with my anxiety. Acceptance was a big part of dealing with my anxiety. It is just how it is for me.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Stay well…and look after you!!!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Lori! Lethargic and fuzzy are the exact words I would use too. It was the same for me. And yes to acceptance! Once I stopped fighting it so much and giving myself the breaks I needed, I started feeling much better. 🙂

  13. When I saw this article, I thought it was a gift from God. I have been on Clonipin for as long as I can remember (15 yrs?). Nov 1, I will have no more insurance. (stress). I am searching for alternatives to meds. I am anxious. I am overly sensitive to everyone around me. I am up in the night with racing thoughts. I would prefer sitting in my chair to just about anything else in the world. My husband makes sure that I live an exciting and fun filled life but nothing makes this crazy, shaking feeling go away. Thank you for letting me know that I am not the only one in the world that feels this way.

    1. Hi Kay, I am SO sorry to hear about your loss of insurance. As if you need another source of stress on top of suffering from anxiety! Please do know that you are definitely not the only one with the crazy feelings, and while it might not be possible to make them go away completely without meds, it is possible to alleviate them a good bit and still find ways to enjoy life.

  14. Wow this is exactly how I feel! I was just messaging a friend saying I don’t want to take meds but I think it may be necessary. Then I saw this article on my Pinterest feed. Perfect timing! Great info…thank you!

  15. Have you ever heard of a trait called “empath”? I have been researching it and realize that I am one which explains a lot. Look it up..maybe you’are one too.

  16. I have a close friend that suffers from many of the same symptoms. She identifies herself as an empath. I recommended that she try 5-HTP, GABA and a really, really good magnesium supplement. Now, 3 months later, she reports, major improvement. I use these supplements regularly myself and swear by magnesium. It changes my life. Having said that I also meditate, workout and consciously limit my exposure to news and information that I just don’t need to know about. All of these are good practices. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Tara, I actually started taking magnesium myself a few weeks ago after reading about all the benefits. I was already doing pretty well with the things listed here, so I’m not sure if it’s making any difference, but it’s definitely not hurting anything. 🙂

  17. You somehow expressed exactly how I feel daily. I love that you don’t take the “do it anyway” approach. I, too, am an avoider of the news. I feel like a subpar citizen for this sometimes, but the benefit I get from staying off news sites, and websites like Facebook is astronomical. It’s refreshing to meet someone who understands. Thanks!

  18. You wrote everything I’m thinking and feeling. I took myself off meds last summer and I’ve been toying with trying again because my anxiety seems so out of control lately. Everything amd everyone annoys me. I’m so stressed out and uptight. I’m trying to get back to running and just started hiking. I gave up Facwbook for Lent, and it’s a daily struggle, but it’s also kind of nice! My kids say I’m not addicted to my cell anymore. Lol. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest and am going to try to make bread and healthy muffins tomorrow! They may turn out horrible, but I’m going to try!

    I need to find more thimgs to occupy my time and my mind. My husband doesnt “get” my defective brain so I’m on my own.

    Thank you for this article 🙂

    1. Hi Stephanie, thank you so much for reading and commenting. In my experience, Pinterest is much better for mental health than Facebook. 🙂

  19. Hi anni everything you road i recognize. I excercize dont watch news only sitcoms. I only do wat ik want to do. No pressure . It Just ‘took a long time before i figured it all out. I also watch what i eat. Everything’ clean’ and take vitamins. Thank you for writing you re story it made me deel less different?

  20. Thank you!! You nailed it! I’m new to this anxiety at age 47 but I’m determined it isn’t going to rule me forever. Your article is dead on!

  21. What a great article! I too tried all kinds of meds for anxiety and while they may work for the short term, they were not a long term solution for me. Exercise has been the ONLY long term solution. Then two years ago I was diagnosed with schwannomatosis, which is a genetic condition that causes benign tumors to grow on the peripheral nerves. I had surgery to remove two tangled up on my sciatic nerve in my hamstring. Suffice it to say this is a very persistently painful condition which causes all kinds of added anxiety. I couldn’t walk let alone exercise for the longest time. My anxiety sky-rocketed! I got very depressed and wanted to just give up. But this anxiety is unbearable so ironically my ANXIETY is exactly what pushed me to get back on my feet. I CAN walk and I walk now like I may not be able to tomorrow. I had to re-learn how to walk. I started slow back in February and now I can go 3.5 mph on the elliptical for half an hour a day. I turn 42 tomorrow and I’m determined to use my anxiety as fuel to claw my way back to fitness. It takes a certain kind of strength to find one’s way, to keep trying until you find what works. Just don’t give up. All you have to do is take one tiny little step at a time. It may take longer than others but you’ll get there ?

    1. Hi Amber, thank you SO much for sharing your story! It’s truly an inspiration. I love how you describe anxiety as the fuel. That’s an awesome way to look at it. 🙂

  22. Thank you for validating some of my behaviors. I am less anxious when crafting or decorating my home. I socialize only with family. Friends sitcom is my go to for escape. Mornings are my worst time as I anticipate strife and trying to meet expectations. Since my retirement my anxiety increased to the point I required medication. Holidays are the worst and Christmas gathering with my son in law and my father is an extremely stressful.
    I found therapy unhelpful as the therapist trivialized my need to have my family get along.
    I look forward to more of your posts.

  23. I’ve taken a med that was supposedly to mitigate hot flashes after a full hysterectomy. Med was actually an anti-anxiety med which, yeah, made me feel fuzzy – dizzy. I had less enthusiasm for everything, including sex. So I weaned off. Because it was addictive for me. Dr. said it wasn’t.
    Also I was told the hot flashes would diminish, but it has been 10 years, so I have doubts.
    I do also have anxiety (maybe because of all this, heart probs, diabetes, & chronic financial issues…) but I have a supportive family, and have found through trial & error several of your coping mechanisms – some exactly the same distractions! Not dwelling on the negative thoughts by distraction allows me to get back to sleep in the middle of the night – even if only for a short time.
    Keep blogging! I applaud your willingness to share and help make these issues manageable for so many of us. I don’t think there are enough folks willing to put themselves out there like this. Ha! I’m not. But that’s why I’m reading your stuff! ?

  24. Thanks so much for sharing, really good ideas! I have definitely become aware of my limitations or as you say, avoidance behaviors ? I can relate with feeling exhausted whenever I push myself through uncomfortable circumstances. I watch some Bachelor as well lol but also have some other ways I cope. I pray and spend time connecting to my faith, find some time to enjoy some peace and quiet. I have also taken “fasts” from things like social media or electronic devices for up to 40 days and I’ve found it a great time to recharge and reconnect. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Kristina,

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your own tips too. I’ve had really good results with social media fasts too. Actually, I’ve just ended up deleting all those apps from my phone permanently. I’m probably the only blogger in the world who totally neglects her facebook page. 🙂

  25. I was given the option today to take medication for debilitating anxiety. But the doctor shared an article with me (wish i got the exact name of author) that in a side by side study exercise creates just as much serotonin as some anti-anxiety medicine. Wait. What? So your advice is super helpful. And ironically I am on 4th day with no news. I decided that given the speed in which news travels I was reading the one in a gazillion chance that some freak accident killed someone and I would fret about it all night. I have enough garbage in my head. So my war against anxiety means exercise (and I am a couch potato) because your running example makes so much sense. I’ll be cutting out sugar and no news. I know I have a chemical imbalance in my body. Hopefully I can cure it without drugs. But living like this is no way to live so if medication helps you. Take it.

    1. Hi Lolli,

      How nice that your doctor gave you some options to consider! The cool thing about exercise is that it works on all your neurotransmitters and there’s no guess work about dosage etc. For example, some anxiety sufferers actually have an issue with GABA more so than serotonin and exercise helps with that too. But anyway, I hope you find what you need to feel better!

  26. I can relate to everything you have talked about, even your strategies for keeping anxiety at bay, I do all those same things. I am very much an introvert married to someone who is very much an extrovert. How does that happen? Anyway, I am crying because I feel like I have found a friend in the struggle for peace and happiness. Thank you!

  27. Hello,

    Thank you for sharing what works for some people. However, most suggestions mentioned don’t work in the real world. Triggers are not often controlled in that way, sometimes they come to you and are uncontrollable AKA which is part of what the definition of anxiety actually is. This blot or article seems like it’s for low anxiety or undiagnosed folks that think they might have anxiety. Get yourself diagnosed by a professional, if not multiple prior to deciding whether medicine is NOT for you. Sometimes it takes being on meds to realize its not for you. Good luck and thank you to the author for your efforts in helping others!

  28. Hey Anni,

    Very nice post from starting till the end I got so engrossed reading it. I am studying psychology and this is one of the interesting subjects. Going by the times, people are really anxious about the future. They are seriously ill and they need help. And yes one can fight anxiety without meds. I agree it ain’t easy. But as they say, it is worth it.

  29. Thanks for your suggestions. They make perfect sense to me. It's so easy for the anxiety to take hold. I will try your suggestions. Again, thank you.

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