Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States, impacting as many as 40 million adults. That’s nearly 20% of the population. And believe it or not, 1 in 3 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 have an anxiety disorder. Most often, anxiety is treated with talk therapy and medication. Although some people find relief with these types of treatment, many still struggle to manage their disorder daily. And the side effects of anxiety medication can be severe. If you’re interested in drug-free anxiety management techniques, we’re covering everything you need to know about anxiety tracking apps, lifestyle changes, and more.
But before we dive in, let’s learn a little more about anxiety medications and why more and more people are interested in taking a more holistic treatment approach.
There’s no denying that dealing with heart-pounding panic, sleepless nights, and paralyzing fear is difficult. When anxiety starts to severely impact our quality of life, medication can certainly help. But is it always the best treatment available?
The role of medication in anxiety treatment
There are many different medications used to treat anxiety disorders, including traditional anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines (which are for short-term use) and SSRI antidepressants (which are for long-term use). While both types of medications can help relieve anxiety, they also come with serious side effects and safety concerns.
Benzodiazepine side effects include:
- Dependence or addiction, which can cause severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them
- Extreme fatigue
- Unsteadiness, loss of balance
- Slurred speech
- Memory problems
- Blurred vision
- Muscle weakness
- Digestive disturbances
- Incontinence (loss of bladder control)
Long-term use can also lead to feeling dulled and slow, feelings of isolation, loss of confidence, and weight problems. And once you stop taking benzodiazepines, you may also experience withdrawal symptoms.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) side effects include:
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or shaky
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
Usually, these side effects improve with time. And unlike benzodiazepines, SSRIs can be taken long-term and have a lower risk for dependence/addiction.
Benefits of drug-free anxiety treatment
There are many reasons to consider treating anxiety more naturally. Top benefits include:
- Fewer and less severe side effects
- Higher success rates with learning-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy
- Treating the problem at the source instead of just masking the symptoms
- Being more in control of your health
- More cost-effective
Drug-free anxiety management techniques
Treating anxiety with a more natural approach will take some trial and error. What works for a friend or family member may not work for you. Here are some top ways to treat anxiety more naturally.
1. Use an anxiety tracking app
Knowledge is power. Certain things make us anxious, and certain things make us calm. Knowing which activities in your daily life contribute to stress and anxiety can be a powerful tool in learning how to manage your disorder more effectively.
AQ™ is an anxiety tracking app that allows you to take “before and after” tests that measure your anxiety levels to help inform you more about which activities make you anxious.
That homemade meal you made that you thought helped you relax? It actually made you more anxious. The more “before and after” tests you take, the more informed you’ll be about which activities are helping make you calmer.
AQ™ also offers a 24/7 wellness monitor that measures your stress levels throughout the day. When you’re anxious, the app will send you relaxing soundscapes or breathwork exercises that are scientifically designed to help enhance calm and relaxation.
2. Get moving
Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on mood and anxiety. Exercise also releases endorphins which boost energy and improve overall well-being. Try walking, swimming, dancing, running, cycling – anything that gets your heart pumping! You don’t need to do anything too intense – just 30 minutes per day can do wonders.
Meditation reduces feelings of worry and tension while increasing self-awareness and concentration. Studies show meditation can quite literally lead to structural changes within the brain. More specifically, it can impact these three areas:
- Amygdala – the “fear center” of the brain that’s responsible for regulating emotional responses to stress
- The prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that controls decision making and high-level cognitive functioning
- The hippocampus – the part of your brain that is responsible for memory and learning
People with anxiety tend to have an overactive and enlarged amygdala, which triggers your “fight-or-flight” response even in the absence of a threat. Meditation can help decrease the volume of the amygdala. And the smaller it is, the less it’s able to dictate stress responses.
4. Try cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy where you learn to control your thoughts and behaviors by challenging negative thinking patterns and replacing them with more positive ones.
It helps people understand their emotions better and cope with stress in healthy ways. Cognitive-behavioral therapists believe that our thoughts affect how we feel, so they help patients challenge unhelpful thought processes and replace them with more helpful ones.
They also teach relaxation techniques and mindfulness skills.
5. Talk to a trusted friend or family member
Talking to friends and family members about your anxiety can really help. They might not know exactly what to say, but being able to share your concerns with them can help you feel more understood and supported.
6. Get ample amounts of sleep
Getting enough sleep every night can significantly improve symptoms associated with anxiety. A good night’s rest gives your brain the chance to process all the information coming into it during the day.
Sleep deprivation causes changes in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormonal imbalances affect neurotransmitters involved in regulating emotions, making it harder to cope with everyday stresses.
7. Eat a nutrient-dense diet
When we eat right, we tend to feel better overall. Eating foods high in fiber and low in sugar can make us less anxious because they keep blood glucose steady. In addition, eating healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish can lower cortisol levels.
8. Practice breathwork
Breathing exercises have been proven effective at reducing anxiety by increasing oxygen levels in the brain. Try this simple breathing technique: inhale through your nose slowly while counting down from five then exhale out of your mouth counting down from five. Repeat until you feel calmer.
9. Take breaks throughout the day
When we’re stressed, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed fast. Taking breaks throughout the day can help us refocus and recharge. A quick walk around the block or a few minutes spent doing nothing can do wonders for your anxiety levels.
10. Connect with nature
Nature provides many benefits, including increased happiness and reduced stress. Spending some quality time outside will refresh you mentally and physically.
11. Show yourself compassion
Studies have found that more self-compassion is associated with reduced anxiety. Next time you’re feeling anxious, acknowledge it, but be kind to yourself. Think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing was happening to them and instead direct those encouraging and compassionate words towards yourself.
12. Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. Too much can lead to increased anxiety or stronger symptoms for those with an existing anxiety disorder. Instead, opt for decaf or herbal tea.
13. Try neurofeedback
Neurofeedback is a type of brain training that works to change the way your brain responds to various stimuli. As mentioned, people with anxiety often have a hyperactive amygdala.
Neurofeedback helps teach individuals how to control that activation, which can help people find long-lasting relief from their anxiety disorders.
In conclusion: drug-free anxiety management techniques are worth exploring.
There’s a wealth of research supporting drug-free anxiety management techniques. If you’re struggling to manage your mental health, it’s worth trying these treatments to see if they work for you.
Be sure to continue taking your medication unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Most often, these techniques are most effective when used in conjunction with medication.
Here’s to a happier, healthier you.
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