I was 16 when I had my first encounter with anxiety. At the time, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop my incessant worrying, difficulty in taking deep breaths and immediate dread upon waking from a full night’s sleep. Nearly 20 years later I’ve managed to identify and understand my feelings of anxiety much better, even though I’d do anything in my power to rid myself of them forever if I could. My perfectionist nature, coupled with my tendency to worry often places me in the hands of anxiety. I’ve spent time with a therapist as well as a general practitioner over the years, to help me in particularly difficult moments. They’ve helped me to make lifestyle decisions that have aided me in avoiding medication, of which I’m very grateful. While not every person can make such a decision to fight anxiety without medication, there are many who can and want to. Here are some of the ways I’ve been able to handle my anxiety, medication free.
I can tell my anxiety is at it’s peak when I can literally feel it weighing heavy in my chest, and I have a hard time taking regular, deep breaths. My last big anxiety attack (that’s such a strong word) I visited my GP because I was worried I was having heart issues. But after several blood tests and some discussion on some of the issues I was having with work, he confirmed that it was “only” anxiety. Since unchecked anxiety can have long term effects on your body, such as high blood pressure, he recommended that I engage in regular exercise. Now, I never look forward to a trip to the gym more than when I’m having a period of anxiety, because I realize my body is craving for a way to release it through some sweat and exertion. Whether it’s a long run, aerobics class or yoga- find something that allows your body to work hard and burn off your nervous energy. It may be difficult to get started but you will feel the physical effects after and be so glad you did.
2. Cut Back On Caffeine
The first thing my doctor asked me on my last visit to him with anxiety was concerning the amount of caffeine I was drinking. I assured him it was only 1-2 cups of coffee per day, or maybe even just tea. Contrary to what I thought, even that much caffeine can be too much for a person battling anxiety. Even though I wasn’t getting shaky hands or the feeling of a caffeine rush, my morning coffee may very well have enhanced my already anxious feelings without my realizing it. You don’t have to get rid of caffeine all together if you are only prone to bouts of anxiety, and not on a day to day basis. For me, I cut back until I can get through the anxious period, and then just consume it moderately. Be just as careful when drinking tea, as many can have just as much, if not more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee.
3. Essential Oils
Even if you aren’t fully committed to the power of essential oils (admission: I’m not!), you can find some relief when it comes to anxiety. When I’m having a particularly agitated time, I like to open up my Cedarwood essential oil and just take some deep breaths, while smelling directly from the bottle. Cedarwood is also great for bouts of depression, and it can be diffused or a few drops placed into your hands and then inhaled. Ironically, Cedarwood is rarely included on lists of oils for treating anxiety, but the aroma is comforting to me and can help calm me down. Other helpful oils can include lavender, vetiver and bergamot- all which smell equally as good! I really suggest looking into essential oils if you would like to avoid medication for managing your anxiety.
Meditation, zen, prayer or engaging in moments of silence, this tip may come in different forms for you. For me personally, I spend more time in prayer during anxious times than any other. It brings me peace, a reprieve from constantly thinking about what is making me anxious. It’s giving my power to someone stronger than I, who can handle my anxiety far better. I realize not everyone shares my personal beliefs, but I can reassure you that deliberate and disciplined times of mediation can and will help alleviate your anxiety. Take whatever time you can to simply sit, take deep breaths and try focus on things besides your anxiety.
5. Talk About It
Before this article, I’ve been pretty private about my struggles with anxiety. I don’t share it with random people, but I do feel better when I can talk about my difficult moments with trusted family and friends. While I definitely advocate talking with a therapist, not every person feels comfortable doing so and some issues just need a quick conversation with a friend to help alleviate your anxiety. If you’re struggling with a particular issue that is bringing on the anxiety, try talking about it. People outside your worldview can bring a new perspective and take away the needless worry that you may be having. Just like physical exercise is a way for anxiety to leave the body, talking about what you’re struggling with is another way that can aid in giving your mind the break it needs.
This article isn’t mean to supersede any advice from a doctor in regards to managing anxiety. I understand that my situation, and yours, could be completely different. If you are having extreme symptoms of anxiety, please see a doctor to get the help you need.