Experiencing anxiety at certain times in life is normal. However, people with anxiety disorders have intense and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. These feelings can interfere with daily activities like going to work or school. To help manage these emotions, some people take medications like antidepressants, sedatives and anti-anxiety medications. While these medications can be effective at treating anxiety disorders, some can also be addictive.
If you have a history of substance abuse or feel that you are at a greater risk for developing a dependency on anti-anxiety medications, you may feel better handling your symptoms without medication. Fortunately, it is possible to do this using mind-body techniques and following healthy lifestyle choices. Below we cover five effective ways to handle anxiety without the use of conventional medicine.
Exercise is often suggested as a way to treat all types of things, ranging from depression to anxiety to drug and alcohol addiction. While you might get tired of hearing to exercise more, there’s a reason why this is an accepted form of therapy for so many health conditions. It works!
Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, which are natural, mood-boosting chemicals in the brain that make you feel happy. Just as antidepressants work to create this response, so does physical activity. When you have more of these feel-good chemicals in your brain, your mood and outlook on life improve.
And, since your brain has trouble focusing on two things at once, exercise can take your mind off your problems. If you exercise outdoors, you also get a boost from being in the fresh air. Natural sunlight lifts energy, mitigates pain and gives you a daily dose of Vitamin D, which is important for your immune system and inflammation levels.
2. Live in the Present
When you live with anxiety, your mind has a way of traveling to the past to obsess over what went wrong or traveling to the future to fixate over what could happen. A big step in stopping these uncontrollable feelings is by focusing on the present.
Living in the moment has an incredible number of benefits aside from reducing anxiety, including better physical health, improved relationships and greater self-control. Holistic practices like mindful meditation can help you stay focused on the present so that you can see clearly and think more realistically. Here is a great article on living in the moment and stopping yourself from worrying.
3. Eat a Clean Diet
Research shows a strong connection between what you eat and your mental health. Certain foods may contribute to feelings of anxiety, such as sodas, processed foods, fried foods, artificial and refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine. These foods create changes in the body that make it more difficult to deal with stress.
So what foods should you be eating?
In general, focus on clean foods that you find on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Some of the best foods include:
- Asparagus (it has natural anti-anxiety properties)
- Foods rich in B vitamins like avocados and almonds
- Foods rich in zinc like oysters, cashews and egg yolks
- Probiotic foods such as pickles, sauerkraut and kefir
- Fatty fish that contain omega-3s like salmon and sardines
- Foods rich in magnesium like leafy greens
To make things easiest for you, we recommend following a Mediterranean diet that has brain- and heart-boosting benefits. The foundation of this diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. You can also eat a limited amount of red meat and moderate portions of dairy. Because of its flexibility, the Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest to stick to.
4. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Practicing relaxation techniques for even a few minutes each day can provide a sense of inner peace. The reason for this is that relaxation techniques invoke a “relaxation response”, which is the opposite of a stress response. You can use these techniques to prevent anxiety or in the moment when you are feeling anxious. The more you practice these strategies, the easier they are to implement into your everyday life.
Here are some examples of effective relaxation techniques:
- Deep breathing. Take long, slow breaths while disengaging your mind from distracting thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to calm your mind and body when anxiety creeps in.
- Guided imagery. For this technique, you can look at pictures or think of them in your mind. These images should consist of calming and relaxing places, experiences or scenes to shift your mind’s focus.
- Body scan. This technique requires you to focus on deep breathing while relaxing your muscles. It’s an excellent way to support the mind-body connection while releasing tension in certain muscle groups.
- Mindfulness meditation. To meditate, you’ll need to sit in a quiet room and bring your mind’s attention to the current moment – no drifting into the past or future. Mindful meditation can also help with depression and chronic pain.
- Yoga, tai chi or qigong. These exercises combine rhythmic breathing with various postures and flowing movements. They distract your mind, increase balance and flexibility and support the mind-body connection.
5. Seek Counseling
Even though many types of anxiety disorders exist, research shows that they are driven by the same processes. For example, people with anxiety disorders tend to feel overwhelmed by their emotions and have negative reactions to them.
The good news is that people with anxiety can learn healthier, more effective ways of responding to situations. A form of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach you ways to identify and manage factors that play into your anxiety. CBT is highly effective for treating anxiety disorders and can even help you uncover the reasons for the anxiety, whereas medications only treat the symptoms.
Help is Available for Treating Anxiety Disorders
Because anxiety can be crippling at times, it’s understandable why some people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol or find themselves dependent on anti-anxiety medications. If you are concerned about this, stay positive that there are plenty of effective ways to manage anxiety without medication.
Talking with a mental health professional will also open up other ways to tame your emotions and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. And, if at any time in your journey you need professional holistic outpatient treatment for a substance use disorder, contact Continuum Recovery Center. We treat both anxiety disorders and substance use disorders and give our clients the tools they need to thrive in their everyday lives.