Dr. Denise Renye is a licensed clinical psychologist and sex therapist, PsyD. MA, MEd in San Francisco, CA
I spoke with a friend of a friend recently who said he copes with anxiety solely through medication because that’s all he’s been exposed to. It got me thinking about how some people don’t know what else to try for anxiety other than pharmacological interventions because they may not have considered therapy as an option. Even those who have considered therapy might not be financially able. This can make a big difference in your ability to manage anxiety in healthy ways.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older — about 18.1% of the population. Anxiety disorders are easily treated, but only 36.9% receive treatment.
Therapy and medication are two ways to manage treatment, but they’re not the only ways. Here are some strategies for dealing with anxiety that don’t require medication or therapy.
7 Non-Pharmacological Strategies To Help Anxiety
You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Anxiety is associated with energy; it’s why we have expressions like “fidgeting nervously,” or “a nervous tic.” Exercise is an outlet for that anxious energy. There are many studies that show regular exercise is beneficial for anxiety.
2. Change Your Diet
Did you know that 95% of your serotonin receptors are located in your gut? It makes sense that what you eat can have an impact on your mood. That’s true and in fact, a 2016 study found healthy eating can alleviate anxiety. Are you eating a lot of processed foods like frozen dinners, shelf-stable cookies, or potato chips? These foods could be contributing to anxiety. What happens when you try eating different foods?
It’s not uncommon for a person to experience swirling thoughts when they’re anxious. Thinking about the future in a negative way can promote anxiety such as repeating to yourself: “I don’t look good in pictures,” “No one will come to my party,” “Everyone hates me,” or “What if I lose my job?” Writing those thoughts down, letting all your worst fears become expressed, can help release them from your brain and soothe the anxious parts of yourself. This is especially helpful if you suffer from insomnia.
It seems so easy because we all breathe throughout the day. But conscious breathing can make it easier to manage anxiety. I’m a proponent of breathing into your belly, alternate nostril breathing, and circular breathing. I also offer a guided, complimentary, breathwork meditation. Start by setting a timer for 30 seconds and then working up to three minutes. Then, feel how you feel after you have breathed with intention and awareness. Breathwork is a great way to encourage a pause. Many of us are trained to fear a pause and to fear silence. Anxiety can cause your brain to run away, imagining a future ten times ahead. Sitting in silence and pausing allows your brain to return to the present moment. Noticing the present moment, being with the pause, the silence, you may notice things aren’t as terrible as they first seemed.
5. Yoga & Meditation
Although there are many types of meditation and yoga, almost all of them can help with anxiety. Try different kinds until you find the one that works best for you. Many of the characteristics I mentioned above are present in yoga and meditation, including focusing the mind, breathing work, and pausing.
Because it can provide access to the inner world, I see a spiritual practice as complementary therapy and depth-coaching. Spirituality can simply be defined as a feeling of connection to something greater than oneself. It can provide meaning and purpose in your life. Emotions such as peace, joy, and awe can be derived from a meaningful connection with an entity greater than yourself. In other words, a spiritual practice — tailor-made for you — can help you cope with anxiety.
Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as tapping) combines cognitive therapies with Acupressure to treat psychological distress. EFT was found to significantly decrease anxiety scores even after adjusting for the effect of control treatment. In 2019, researchers discovered that EFT can help physiologically. This means that participants reported feeling better and their bodies showed a decrease of resting heart rate, blood pressure, and an alteration in cortisol levels.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Sometimes it’s really hard to manage anxiety on your own and you just may need support. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), meetings are a great choice if money is an issue. The meeting is open to all children who were raised in dysfunctional homes and alcoholic families. The program functions like other 12-step groups in that members share for a limited time and there’s a sponsor or fellow traveler to help a person through the steps. That means there’s a community of people to support you as you learn how to cope with anxiety. However, what’s unique about ACA is that it also addresses post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has literature devoted to nurturing an inner loving parent. You can calm your anxious parts by creating an attachment figure that is strong, secure and supportive within yourself. This is especially important if you are dealing with anxiety from your inner child.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, you don’t have to suffer through it. Anxiety can easily be treated with a variety drugs, therapy, as well as any of these methods that I mentioned. If one method doesn’t work, try another. You might need to give it a try for a while. It is possible to find relief. Start your search for a professional therapist today.
Anderson, Elizabeth; Shivakumar, Geetha. “Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety.” Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Facts and Statistics.” https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics, accessed November 18, 2021.
Bach, Donna; Groesbeck, Gary; Stapleton, Peta; et al. Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health. J Evid Based IntegrMed. 2019;24:2515690X18823691. doi:10.1177/2515690X18823691
Carpenter, Dr. Siri. “That Gut Feeling.” American Psychological Association. September 2012; 43(8): 50. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling
Clond, Morgan. “Emotional Freedom Techniques for Anxiety: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis.” J Nerv Ment Dis. 2016;204(5):388-395. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000483.
Null, Gary; Pennesi, Luanne; Feldman, Martin. “Nutrition and Lifestyle Intervention on Mood and Neurological Disorders.” J Evid Based Complementary Alt Med. 2017 Jan;22(1):68-74. doi: 10.1177/2156587216637539.
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