According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder, characterized by persistent and excessive fear or worry.
People who suffer from an anxiety disorder typically experience apprehension, jumpiness, restlessness, and irritability, as well as physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and sweating, among others.
But many of us who are not diagnosed with anxiety disorder still feel worry and unease, whether as a general feeling, or specific to an event, or uncertainty about the future. Luckily, relief from some of the stress and anxiety we encounter every day can be found by following these simple measures.
Treating Anxiety Without Medication
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers the following natural coping tips to alleviate anxiety without medication:
- Take a time out.
Doing yoga, listening to your favorite music, getting a massage, or tuning into a meditation app (like Calm) can help clear your head and lower your stress and anxiety levels.
- You are what you eat—and drink.
Consume nutritious, energy-giving meals and snacks. Do not skip meals, but do skip sugary treats as much as possible. Limit caffeine and alcohol, which can trigger anxiety and panic attacks.
- Make sleep a priority.
Adults who are between the ages of 18 and 64 require, on average, 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, according to the Sleep Foundation. However, if your body is under stress from illness or heightened anxiety, you may require more.
- Exercise daily.
The ADAA says that when your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and improve your ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking each week, 1.25 hours of a vigorous-intensity activity such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two.
- Just breathe.
Whether consciously meditating—an ancient practice that relies on deep breathing techniques—or merely attempting to stay rooted in the present, training your focus on the breath has been shown to quell the “flight or fight” stress response and calm the mind. Some experts suggest breathing in slowly to a count of four, followed by breathing out to a count of four, then repeating this process as long as needed.
- Ditch perfectionism.
Trying to be a perfect employee, spouse, athlete, or artist can induce anxiety. Understand that no one is perfect, and that striving for the impossible can cause unnecessary stress.
- Know your triggers.
Maybe that third cup of coffee tends to set you off. Maybe it’s lack of sleep, public speaking, or your mother-in-law visiting. Whatever it is that triggers your anxiety, notice your patterns. Then make changes when and where you can: limit caffeine intake or go to bed a bit earlier. When you can’t—the big presentation must be made, and holiday family gatherings—mentally prepare ahead of time with meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
- Welcome humor.
Laughter can curb anxiety. Rent a funny movie or hang with upbeat friends—and you’ll likely feel better for it.
- Get involved.
Whether it’s a church group or secular gathering, supportive social networks can give you a break from stress and anxiety—and make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.
- Talk to a friend or therapist.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tell your loved ones. If you still need additional help, seek the services of a physician or professional therapist.