5 More Ways to Manage Anxiety Without Drugs

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This is a guest post by Laura Schoenfeld, a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Public Health, and staff nutritionist and content manager for ChrisKresser.com.

You can learn more about Laura by checking out her popular blog or visiting her on Facebook.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to your life?” Christian Verse (Luke 12:25)

Last week, I wrote about my top three ways to manage anxiety without drugs. I really enjoyed reading the comments, especially from those of you who have had success making specific changes in your diet or lifestyle that have made a big difference in your day to day anxiety. Thanks for sharing your recommendations!

Since it’s clear that there are many different ways to manage anxiety that can be helpful, I thought this week I’d point out a few more adjustments you can do in your routine to make your anxiety a thing of the past. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but the following strategies are easy to incorporate into your daily life and can make a big difference in your mood and general outlook.

Feeling anxious? Here’s 5 more ways to manage your anxiety without drugs by @AncestralizeMe

1. Move It

Exercise is well known as a stress-relieving activity. (1) Most forms of exercise will provide a benefit, and team sports and activities practiced in the outdoors seem to be particularly beneficial for stress reduction. (1a, 1b) As long as you’re not overtraining, you’ll get a boost in mood from physical activity.

I personally recommend a regular yoga practice to all my clients dealing with anxiety. While any type of exercise will have benefits compared to no exercise at all, I believe yoga is one of the best options because of the research backing its efficacy in reducing stress and anxiety, and because it combines physical movement with attention to the mind-body connection.

Yoga has the potential to reduce both state (i.e. immediate) and long-term anxiety in a wide range of people. (2, 3, 4, 4b)  It is thought that yoga alleviates the “hyperarousal” of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that occurs in anxiety, specifically by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). (5) You may have heard of the SNS referred to as the “fight or flight” system, whereas the PNS is the “rest and digest” system.

By activating the PNS, yoga is able to help soothe the edginess and overly-aroused feelings that come from anxiety. I recommend doing an hour or more of yoga at least once a week, if not more, for the most consistent benefits. (If you don’t have a yoga studio nearby, check out YogaGlo, which offers online classes for a small monthly fee.)

If you hate yoga, though, don’t force yourself. Any activity that addresses the mind-body connection can be helpful in reducing anxiety. This includes targeted treatment methods such as mindfulness based stress reduction, as well as other movement-centered activities such as tai chi. (6, 7) Find an activity that you enjoy that isn’t adding additional stress to your body and you’ll experience the benefits of improved mood, and reduced anxiety.

2. Talk It Out

While my tips here are for avoiding drugs in the treatment of your anxiety, that doesn’t mean I think you should completely eschew all forms of professional help. Seeking out a mental health specialist can be an enormously constructive way to manage your anxiety, and it helps significantly to have someone guiding you through treatment. Much like working with a nutritionist can help you get your diet on the right track, working with a therapist can make a big difference in your recovery from anxiety, especially if you suffer from a more severe form.

There are many different types of therapists that can help you work through your anxiety using a variety of techniques. Here’s a list of your many options. Some of the more common techniques used are psychoanalysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and group therapy. Again, these are just a few of the more common styles of therapy, but as you can see from the list, there are hundreds of options to choose from and any number of them may be effective in helping you reduce your anxiety.

If getting a therapist isn’t in the cards for you financially, simply talking to another human being about your worries can be helpful, whether that’s a supportive parent, spouse, friend, or even coworker. (8, 9, 10) Just make sure you’re doing it face-to-face or over the telephone if necessary, as using email or social networks to “talk” about your troubles doesn’t have the same benefits, and may actually make anxiety worse! (11)

3. Pump Up The Jams

Music is one of the most well-studied treatments for situational anxiety, and listening to your favorite tunes during times of stress can make an immediate difference in your mood. Dozens of studies show that music helps relieve stress, reduce pain, and improve mood for those in health care and other settings including those undergoing surgery, women about to give birth, those with Alzheimer’s disease, abused women living in shelters, those in hospice, cancer patients, those with psychiatric illness, and more. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21) And there are plenty more studies than those listed proving the benefits of music therapy for mental health. In case you don’t believe me that music is incredibly powerful in its effects on the brain, I recommend you watch this amazing video. (Seriously, it’s jaw-dropping.)

While more evidence exists suggesting benefits for “soothing” styles of music like jazz or classical, I personally believe that any music that you enjoy listening to can be mood-boosting. You can download your favorite songs on iTunes, or sign up for an on-demand radio service like Spotify or Pandora. Use your phone, computer, or MP3 player to turn on your favorite music, and watch your stress melt away. You can even watch a 24-hour online music video for the song “Happy” if that’s the kind of music that gets you going!

4. Get Touchy

Speaking of stress-melting, physical touch is another form of therapy that is well-studied for its benefits in reducing anxiety and promoting mental wellbeing. Massage has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress by reducing cortisol and increasing serotonin and dopamine, all important hormones in the regulation of mood. (x) Massage has also been shown to decrease SNS activity, that good ol’ fight-or-flight response that is elevated during anxiety. (22) One study even showed that massage therapy reduced anxiety for massage therapists! (23)

Acupuncture is another form of treatment that uses physical treatment to address mental wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety. A recent study in rats showed that acupuncture reduced the stress hormone response in an animal model of chronic stress. (24) There is also evidence that acupuncture’s effect on anxiety is comparable to that of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of counseling often used for those with anxiety and depression. (24b)

Like any other form of therapy, massage and acupuncture can get expensive, especially if your insurance doesn’t cover it as a treatment (which many don’t.) Fortunately, you don’t have to spend big bucks to get the benefits of touch. Simply being warmly touched by your partner or spouse can significantly reduce your stress response, and even lowers blood pressure. (25, 26) If you’re single like me, you can use a furry friend to get those same touch benefits: petting an animal has been shown to increase oxytocin production, the “bonding” chemical that boosts your mood. (27, 28) So get snuggling!

5. Just Breathe!

This is the easiest, cheapest (it’s free!), and most immediately accessible way to reduce anxiety in any situation, whether at home, at work, in the car, or any other places that seem to trigger your feelings of anxiety. It’s a strategy that is used in mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation that is an effective tool to have in your arsenal for dealing with stress and anxiety. Deep breathing, also called “pranayamic” breathing by yogis, has been shown to activate the PNS (rest and digest!), decrease blood pressure, reduce cortisol, and slow the heart rate. (29, 30, 31)

Some yoga practitioners recommend 3 Part Breathing as an effective stress-management strategy, but even just simply breathing deeply and slowing the respiratory rate can help improve your response to stressful events. If you need a tutorial on deep breathing exercises, you can check out this helpful video.

Time To Take Action!

So there you have it! Those are my best tips for reducing anxiety. I hope you’ve found them useful and plan to incorporate at least a few of them in your daily life. I’ll say for myself, after writing that first article, I made it a point to switch to decaf coffee and I’ve already noticed a significant difference in my overall anxiety levels. I already practice yoga (though I could stand to do it more often), exercise daily, play team sports, cuddle with my fur baby, listen to music, and call family or friends when I’m feeling extra anxious.

While nothing can completely obliterate stress and anxiety from our lives, especially in our fast paced modern world, we can use these smart, evidence-based strategies to significantly reduce the overall impact that anxiety has on our wellbeing, and improve our general outlook on life and enjoyment of daily activities. Life is too short to be stressed all the time!

Okay, now you share: have you made any of the changes I recommended? Notice any difference in your overall anxiety levels? Share your experience in the comments below!

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  1. says

    Great tips all around. I suppose I naturally do most of these. Music does indeed soothe the soul. I think I’ll crank up some David Bowie right now! Might as well throw some chinups in there too, and get a hug.

  2. abigail says

    Good basic tips and for those of us Type A personalities who have battled anxiety over the years, we do need a reminder now and again to get back to basics. I personally find Yoga great for relieving anxiety and the Yogic breathing also helps.

    Self talk is another great tool – throughout my CBT it became apparent that most of us put that extra pressure on ourselves with negative self talk. Be mindful of what you say to yourself and lay off the constant self-critique!

    • says

      You pointed out two really good things.

      First. The negative self-talk – the reason why CBT is the most evidence-based therapy, when it comes to therapies, is because it works under the framework of cognitive restructuring, it tries to change your thinking patterns (also depending with which subtype of CBT the therapist is working), which works extremely well, especially for anxiety, stress, phobias, and certain(!) symptoms of depression. All of these have an underlying basis of disfunctional thinking patterns.

      While different schools of therapy (existentialist, humanistic, psychodynamic) all have issues for which they can be more convenient, it has been shown that CBT is by far the most evidence-based among these in terms of helping potential.

      Which brings me to mindfulness or (MBSR) therapy.

      It is a ‘newcomer’ in the field of therapies (at least in the western clinical setting and compared to CBT), however, it has been gaining a following in the past years for just reasons. It is another therapy that has been shown to be really effective against stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in particular too.

      The best part about MBSR is the fact that a person can emulate the thinking patterns on his own without the need for actual therapy.

      Being mindful of what we do – staying in the present and staying aware of ourselves, our internal cues (here comes mindful eating too), being non-judgmental of ourselves and just paying attention to our surroundings can work wonders. I really recommend it that people try this out.

      Otherwise, excellent article.

  3. gail letterle says

    I think you left out a major, that being NeuroFeedback. Anxiety/depression seems to be 2 areas that are at or near the top of the list for getting relief with NeuroFeedback. And, I’m speaking from recent personal experience, as well. It works. Of course, I think like anything else, it works better with an impeccable diet, a bit of regular exercise, and seeing my chiropractor regular schedule.

    For me personally, having added the NF on top of those other 3 have made a remarkable difference in the past 2 months as to anxiety/chronic depression and other issues.

    • Jackie says

      Gail,
      What specific kind of neurofeedback do you do? Have you heard of Neuroptimal? I guess it’s one you can do at home, and I’ve heard great things about it. I’m thinking about trying it.

      • gail letterle says

        Specifically, I’ve been using BrainPaint (www.brainpaint.com). I’ve done about 35 sessions though, I have to say. I was in a 60 mph collision, sustained a severe concussion about 15 years ago. Mind-bending divorce about 3 years later. I thought I was doing pretty well. Until I started the NeuroFeedback. I’ve done alot of personal work to address on-going anxiety/depression. Always had about 3-4 days where I thought I could conquer the world, and then about 4-5 days where it felt like the world was going to fall apart. Now…so far…. over 90 % of days seem like everything is fine. Sleeping better, more like we think of usual hours, after about 40 years of being a model night owl.

        Actually, I talked to someone at NeurOptimal just last week. I think it’s an excellent program that I’ll be looking into more in the near future.

  4. gail letterle says

    I think you left out a major, that being NeuroFeedback. Anxiety/depression seems to be 2 areas that are at or near the top of the list for getting relief with NeuroFeedback. And, I’m speaking from recent personal experience, as well. It works. Of course, I think like anything else, it works better with an impeccable diet, a bit of regular exercise, and seeing my chiropractor on a regular schedule.

    For me personally, having added the NF on top of those other 3 have made a remarkable difference in the past 2 months as to anxiety/chronic depression and other issues.

    • Ken says

      I am coming off short-term use of a benzo for a traumatic life event. As I taper off, the anxiety sky-rockets, so any technique to get that down is helpful. Picked up a few here.

      Along with my new found diet, thanks to you, I hope to be back on track again sooner than later. Thanks, Chris!

  5. michelle carey says

    I have suffered with depression and anxiety for years, slowly but surely I am understanding it more.
    Your tips are great and they work. I also have changed to decaf coffee and since I have been sleeping more soundly.
    Music is a wonderful mood changer, I avoid sloppy songs and get into some upbeat 80′s stuff that gets me dancing.
    I have a shoulder injury at the moment but yoga is on my list of to do’s.
    Furry friends, I have a lot of them and they cuddle like nothing else matters..lol.
    Trying hard to eat right but am just starting on that journey.
    Evventually, my goal is to get off all medication.
    That would be a dream come true.

    • Sherill says

      This is the first time I’m joining in a conversation. Clearly, these thoughts speak to me.
      Thank you for sharing. Nice to know I’m not the only one.

  6. says

    For any and all anxiety situations EFT is amazing!!! Emotional Freedom Technique is sometimes referred to as tapping. It is something that can be applied any time any where. I am a Certified EFT Coach and I have seen miraculous things happen with it. Try it out!!

    • Allison says

      Unfortunately EFT did nothing for me as I had a zinc:copper imbalance and dysbiosis that were undiagnosed. Since addressing these, anxiety/panic is mostly gone.

  7. Jan says

    Thank you for including the inspirational video of the gentlemen, living in the retirement home, who was once again allowed to listen to music from his past. That was amazing and beautiful! Thank goodness for the woman who reintroduced it to him. What a blessing. Loved it!

    • Abigail says

      Linda – Magnesium is great, I take it regularly as even though I eat a well balanced diet with lots of organic veggies I find that I need that extra boost. In fact as Chris asserts in various articles, most people are deficient.

      I have recently been struggling with low mood, feeling like I’m getting a cold but not actually getting one! and low energy. I re-started my magnesium regime and within 3 days I’m feeling tip top again.

  8. marcus volkeq says

    Apparently yoga is helpful for some people dealing with stress and anxiety but a lot of people with severe anxiety find slow-exercise counterproductive. HIgh intensity exercise and weight training helped me incredibly with my anxiety in the past, some people need to exercise all of their stress out, I believe this works by resolving the fight/flight dilemma of stress.

    I noticed you still haven’t mentioned the gut microbiome either, I think resolving gut dysbiosis is a potential cure for a lot of individuals with anxiety, as opposed to just managing your symptoms.

  9. says

    14 years ago I got anxiety attacks out of the blue,I was pout on paxil,buspar, and tranxene, and zanax also. For three years I lived this way I didn’t worry, but I gained allot of weight and almost felt like a zombie.I found 5-htp and took myself very slowly off the meds. Note I take nothin, unless I start to feel over whelmed. Then I go back to the 5-htp. I do exercise and co allot of self talk.my biggest issue now is I cannot seem to lost weight,I eat a low carb, real food diet,I feel good busy not weight loss.

  10. Botox says

    Nice post.All tips are so important.This article has some good basics for anxiety management but most people that have anxiety are copper toxic.I am waiting for next post.Thanks.

  11. John McDonell says

    There are at least three things to add – first is pray … meditating is about oneself… praying always involves another.
    #2 is laughter …. life is …. not life is so serious …
    #3 is an aerobic form of exercise called rebounding (or skipping-a-rope) works on the body’s cerebellum which coordinates movement and mood. One can only feel elated when doing such activity – its hard-wired!

  12. says

    Hi Laura,
    when I first saw that there is again an article about anxiety I was like oww no not again. But when I startet the read an get more openly I realised that you hit it again :) The tip with the music and the physical touchs are great and I’m glad to share this article again.

  13. Allison V says

    You might want to find out whether you respond to ASMR (auditory sensory meridian response). There are many channels on YouTube. If you respond to it, you will get a delicious and calming physical response, much like getting massage. Different things set it off in different people – things like tapping, soft whispering, or crinkling noises (there are many other triggers). If you don’t respond, the videos will seem extremely strange and boring.

    I’ve only learned recently that ASMR is

    1. a named phenomenon
    2. not experienced by everyone and
    3. possible to elicit intentionally

    I enjoy it because it’s relaxing, but I know many people use it to reduce anxiety and to help with sleep. Worth trying!

  14. says

    One of the 2 biggest PHYSIOLOGICAL drivers to anxiety, and I stress this word because obviously the events and circumstances in one’s life can drive anxiety, are as follows.
    Reacitve Hypoglycemia or chronic recurrance of low blood sugar will cause anxiety in many people. Eating by the guidelines of any Paleo diet will solve this problem. Second, hidden food allergies can drive such a response. When I eliminated Gluten for example my life-long anxiety pretty much disappeared.

  15. says

    So glad that you mention the power of touch in managing stress. As a Nurturing Touch Practitioner – or as the media loves to refer to us, Professional Cuddlers – I see how helpful warm, accepting touch is to my clients on a daily basis. Throw in Re-Parenting/Re-Mothering therapy and you have tools you can take with you to help you assess the false beliefs you hold that are the underlying cause of your anxiety.

    Hugs!

  16. says

    I’ve struggled with severe anxiety for years but haven’t really aggressively dealt with it until recently. I do everything from yoga, to meditation and breathing, to everything listed here. By far the best thing though has been talking it out. I see a therapist to help me work on communicating and expressing my anxiety as I am really bad (but working on getting better) at expressing my thoughts and feelings. I am a firm believer in managing anxiety successfully without the use of drugs!

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