Because anxiety feels different for everyone, suitable treatment methods vary. Many people can limit or overcome their anxiety symptoms without medication. If you’re experiencing stress, worry, fear, anxiety, racing thoughts, or difficulty sleeping, it can be difficult to cope. A few common ways of handling anxiety without medication are exercise, mindfulness, deep breathing, and therapy.
Why Pursue Anxiety Treatment Without Medication?
Although anxiety disorders are common and treatable, certain medications for anxiety may cause undesired side effects, and some may worry about what these adverse effects from anxiety medication might feel like. Talking to your doctor about medication and all of the potential side effects is important. Research and ask as many questions as possible to avoid complications and figure out what works best for you.
Anxiety medications can have side effects like increased anxiety or agitation, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, sweating, and sexual dysfunction.3 While these side effects aren’t necessarily common, they’re a reason why many people make the decision to receive treatment for anxiety without medication.1, 2
How to Treat Anxiety Without Medication: 17 Alternatives
Are you wondering how to treat anxiety without medication? Some people choose to embrace more natural remedies like meditation and exercise to minimize and manage their anxiety symptoms.
Here are 17 tips for how to calm anxiety without medication:
Psychotherapy helps individuals become aware of their negative biases, view encountered situations objectively, encode new information objectively, and use this information to reconstruct their worldview11 People often look forward to the extra support of meeting with a therapist on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which can also result in reduced anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of anxiety treatment. The therapist incorporates manuals or other psychoeducational materials and may recommend daily homework to help you learn adaptive ways to manage and reduce dysfunctional beliefs, develop adaptive coping mechanisms, and understand the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.6
Many people feel too busy or stressed to be present and focus on their breathing; however, meditation can help reduce anxiety by allowing more time to be mindful. It enhances your sense of mastery through self-observing cognitive attitude.3
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing other simple exercises. It aims to break down habitual automatic mental categories, therefore regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or outcome.5
Just like meditation, yoga can help people find more peace in their day and be more mindful. It promotes healthy work-life balance and reduces worried thoughts and behaviors. Yoga also promotes deep breathing techniques to relax the mind and body and increase oxygenation.4 This can easily be done from home or with an app of your choice.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is self-management of attention. To practice, start recognizing what happens to the mind and body when they get triggered. Repeatedly return your attention to a single neutral stimulus like your breath.5 Once you are more self-aware of bodily sensations in a comfortable place, it may become easier to be mindful in daily interactions.
Sleep is essential for healthy cognitive functioning.7 Having the right amount is essential to feeling more like yourself, and incorporating a daily and nightly routine may help initiate healthier patterns. Some people create calming rituals before bed, such as turning off all electronics 30 minutes prior to sleep, taking a hot bath, or writing in a journal.
6. Avoid Caffeine
At certain doses, caffeine can contribute to and exacerbate the effects of acute and chronic anxiety. For people who are chronically anxious or suffer from a panic disorder, consumption should be reduced or eliminated. You might consider replacing it with something like decaf coffee or tea.8
Engaging in any type of exercise can help people with mood state changes reduce their anxiety9As exercise training has antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, benefits include reduction in sensitivity to current stress and increased resilience in the face of future stress10
8. Stress Management
Managing your time and behaviors can help you to feel more organized and in control of your coping strategies. Stress management through a systemic approach can modify family dynamics and personal relationships that cause or exacerbate existing stress.12
Cognitive behavioral stress management approaches include, emotion- or problem-focused cognitive coping skills, self-monitoring of stress intensity, thought record keeping, and time management.12 When you become more aware of internal and external stressors, you can create healthier boundaries.
9. Eat Nourishing Foods
Knowing what kinds of food provide the best anxiety-related benefits can help you make smart choices about what to incorporate into your diet. For example, foods or food-related habits associated with less anxiety include vegetables and fruits, omega-3 fatty acids, mega-9 fatty acids, nuts and seeds, breakfast consumption, green tea, herbal tea, soy, saffron, culinary herbs, anti-inflammatory foods, veganism, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins C and E.13
10. Self-Care Routine
Self-care is defined as engagement in behaviors that maintain and promote physical and emotional well-being. These behaviors include sleep, exercise, use of social support, emotional regulation strategies, and mindfulness practices.14 Self-care routines can bring more balance to your life.
11. Practice Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations can self-motivate, encourage positive life changes, or boost self-esteem. If you find yourself using negative self-talk, positive affirmations can combat these often subconscious patterns and replace them with more adaptive narratives, like “I am enough,” “It is OK to make mistakes,” “I love myself,” and “I deserve happiness.”16
12. Write In a Journal
Journaling can be used to log thoughts, record behaviors, and express yourself on a daily basis. Writing in a journal provides many benefits, including personal growth and development, intuition and self-expression, problem solving, stress reduction, health benefits, reflection, and critical thinking.16
Biofeedback is a non-invasive psychophysiological intervention—used as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other therapies—offering a visible and experiential display of the mind-body connection. With biofeedback, physiological signals are detected by sensors attached to a person’s body and accurately fed back to them in real-time. This auditory or visual feedback enables people to identify the physical signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety, including shortness of breath, muscle tension, increased heart rate, etc. In turn, someone can learn how to self-regulate their physical responses and improve their overall health and functioning.17
There are different types, techniques, and ways to engage in biofeedback (in-person/at home with the assistance, guidance, and supervision of a certified professional). To find out if biofeedback might be the appropriate intervention to address your symptoms of anxiety, it is highly recommended that you first consult with your doctor or mental health clinician who can determine if this is suitable for you and refer you to a professional experienced in this practice.18
Hypnosis or hypnotherapy is a technique that’s often misunderstood despite its vast empirical research. Hypnosis can be a safe, complementary treatment used to address a variety of health conditions, including anxiety. Hypnosis for anxiety can help a person learn how to engage their mind and thoughts to manage emotional distress and improve anxiety-related symptoms.19
Although hypnosis sessions may vary depending on a person’s specific concerns, it generally consists of bringing someone to a deeply relaxed yet focused sleep-like state. Then, they can be receptive to the suggestive phase which directs their attention to more adaptive thoughts and behaviors. Keep in mind that hypnotherapy should be performed by a trained professional and may not work for everyone including people with chronic psychological disorders.19
15. Practice Deep Breathing
Engaging in regular deep breathing exercises has shown to be an effective short- and long-term technique for reducing stress and anxiety. This is because deep breathing induces a relaxation response in your body by increasing oxygen levels, slowing down your heart rate, decompressing your muscles, and stabilizing your blood pressure. In turn, your mind clears up, allowing you to feel more balanced and in control of your emotions.20
When your anxiety starts to surge, pause and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, letting the air go all the way down to your diaphragm and feel your belly expand. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth, as if you’re expelling all your worries away. This calming technique can be done anywhere for instant stress relief. However, making this a habit can have an even greater impact on your overall health.20
16. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is another non-invasive, clinically effective outpatient intervention known to help a variety of mental health conditions. There are different types of TMS, and the course of treatment can vary. During the procedure a small coil is placed on a person’s scalp which then releases a brief magnetic pulse, altering nerve cells that assist mood regulation. These changes in brain activity may alleviate the symptoms being treated.21
Although TMS has been used for depression and other clinical concerns, researchers have started to examine its potential application to anxiety disorders. A recent meta-analysis found that TMS can be a safe and effective therapeutic option for reducing symptoms of anxiety with reportedly sustained improvement after treatment. To determine if TMS is suitable for you, consult with your health care practitioner or mental health counselor first.22
17. Join an Anxiety Support Group
Studies have found that support groups can help to ease symptoms of psychological conditions including anxiety, minimize isolation and manage stress.23 Consider joining an online or in-person support group to enhance your recovery and help you feel less alone. During these meetings you get to talk about your struggles with other people who are having similar experiences. This can also be a safe and validating space to process difficult emotions, learn healthy ways to cope, and receive valuable feedback.23 You can begin your search by contacting organizations like Anxiety.org or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, racing thoughts, irritability, or excessive fear and worries that prevent you from participating in normal daily activities, it might be time to seek professional help or find a therapist. Therapy for anxiety can help you identify your triggers and come up with an individualized treatment plan.24 Consider starting your search in an online therapist directory.
Final Thoughts on How to Treat Anxiety Without Medication
Anxiety treatment without medication is valid in certain situations; however, if you’re thinking about going off of your prescribed medication, consult your doctor. If you’ve never been prescribed anxiety medication, starting with the natural approaches in this article can minimize your anxiety and increase self-awareness. Consistently practicing these tips will help build a strong foundation and increase your feeling of emotional regulation and control.