Anxiety is not uncommon and many are prescribed medication, sometimes along with other therapies to calm their fears and worries. Some anxiety medications come with side effects such as drowsiness, headaches, stomach upset, nausea, weight gain, dry mouth, and increased sweating. While these medications can help with immediate anxiety relief, they are not a long term solution. That’s where therapy and lifestyle changes come in.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
CBT is based on the premise that our cognition affects the way we feel and behave. Anxiety starts from negative and distorted thoughts and CBT works to teach people to be aware of the thoughts they are having. These thoughts are then challenged, and in the third step, replaced with more positive thoughts.
In CBT, you will learn skills and techniques to manage and overcome anxiety. Studies have shown that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. It is a therapy that will help you in the long term.
Exposure therapy is a type of CBT. In exposure therapy, a person is exposed gradually to the feared stimuli. It is carried out in several steps in a safe environment.
For example, if one has an extreme fear of dogs, your therapist may start by showing you pictures of dogs. Once you feel ok looking at the picture, your therapist may show you videos of dogs, followed by you looking at a real dog, and then petting a dog.
The gradual exposure will help you to slowly become less and less sensitive to the feared stimuli. This therapy is especially effective for those who have specific phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Psychoanalysis is based on the belief that our unconscious thoughts, feelings and desires affect the way we feel and behave. Thus, this therapy aims to release these repressed emotions and/or experiences. Our behaviours change once the underlying conflict is resolved.
Psychoanalytic therapy is often used to treat anxiety disorders as well as depression. It can, however, be a very lengthy process.
Art therapy can be carried out at home, or with a therapist. Art in itself can be very relaxing and can calm anxious thoughts. Just get some art supplies and you can get started.
Do not worry about what your finished product will look like but focus on the process of painting and creating. Some people find it easier to communicate when painting and will open up more when they are in the midst of it. Others who find it hard to talk about their fears and worry may communicate it through their painting.
Relaxation and relief techniques
Learning how to relax your muscles will help you to manage anxiety and face your fears. There are certain skills and techniques that you can learn and practice so that you know what to do when anxiety hits.
When a person is anxious, he or she will most likely take rapid breaths. Shallow breathing can cause the heart rate to increase, and other sensations that tell your body that you are in a stressful situation.
Deep breathing, on the other hand, allows oxygen to flow and relaxes your muscles and thus, signals to your body that there is nothing to be anxious about.
So the next time you feel anxiety coming on, try this:
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose
- Exhale slowly through your mouth
- Do it until you feel calmer
It is better that you practice deep breathing before anxiety occurs so that you know exactly what to do when you face an anxiety trigger.
Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation fires up specific brain areas that work to calm your nervous system. This is achieved by paying attention to your breath and body and accepting both your thoughts and feelings without judgement.
Meditation and mindfulness will help thoughts to slow down and has become more popular in recent years. A 2010 meta-analysis reported that it can be of real benefit for people who have anxiety disorders.
The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique
The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique uses your 5 senses to help ground you in the present when anxious thoughts are racing through your mind. Here’s how:
- Name 5 things that you can see
- Name 4 things that you can feel
- Name 3 things that you can hear
- Name 2 things that you can smell
- Name 1 thing that you can taste
This exercise can be used anytime and anywhere. Combine it with some deep breathing and you should see the anxiety start to reduce.
Take advantage of the natural solutions and remedies for anxiety that are provided by nature. Natural remedies do not contain chemicals and will help your body and emotions to heal in a natural way.
A healthy and balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates can do wonders in helping with your mood. Temperament can be affected by a high-sugar diet, low blood sugar levels, chemicals contained in processed foods as well as food preservatives. Mood changes can also be caused by dehydration.
Be aware of what you eat and whether your anxiety seems to worsen after eating. Keep a food journal so that you can eliminate foods that have an effect on your mood.
Some herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, green tea and ginseng can help to reduce anxiety and stress.
A study on the long term use of chamomile extract demonstrated that it significantly lessened symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Another study on green tea shows that students who consistently took green tea had lower stress levels as compared to students who were given a placebo. The reduction of anxiety in this group is attributed to the high content of the amino acid L-theanine.
Do remember to consult your doctor before adding herbal tea into your health routine as drug interactions might occur.
Aromatherapy is said to be able to promote health with the use of fragrant essential oils. Aromatherapy can help you to relax, promotes good sleep and is able to boost moods. It also reduces blood pressure and reduces heart rate.
A study on lavender essential oil is safe and a reasonable alternative to consider as it produces a calming effect without sedation. Another study on lavender oil demonstrated that it increases sleep quality and reduces anxiety in coronary artery disease patients.
Research shows that caffeine can cause or make anxiety disorders worse. It may add to your nervousness which is definitely not something good when you have anxiety. It plays a role in the occurrence of panic attacks for those who suffer from panic disorder. Thus, if you are suffering from anxiety, it is best to avoid caffeine.
Go for a walk
Sometimes going for a walk is all you need to do to calm the fears and worries. Exercise relaxes your tense muscles and the rhythm of going for a walk in itself helps you to ‘reset’. It is a great way to burn of anxious energy as well as the extra calories!
A study in 2016 found that exercise can help those who feel anxious because of quitting smoking. Additionally, a 2015 study found that exercise has benefits that are similar to established anxiety treatments. However, there were a few methodological limitations in this research and more needs to be carried out
Keep a journal
Journaling can help you to express yourself and it is easier to make sense of your thoughts and feelings when you jot it down.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings will also help you to discover anxiety triggers as well as the most suitable way for you to manage it.
Keep a pet
Pets can help relieve stress and reduce anxiety with their unconditional love and support. Spending time and caring for a pet can give purpose to those who are lonely or have difficulty making friends.
According to a 2016 survey of pet owners by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, mental health improvements from pet ownership was reported in 74% of pet owners. This survey also reported that 75% of the pet owners said that there was an improvement in mental health due to pet ownership in a family member or a friend.
Get adequate sleep
Anxiety can make it difficult for one to get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can cause anxiety disorders to worsen. In addition to this, sleeplessness can result in poor school or work performance, other health problems and is a risk factor for injury.
Here are some things you can do for better sleep:
- Avoid watching tv or scrolling through your phone in bed
- Avoid reading in bed
- Avoid caffeine before bedtime
- Sleep at night when you are tired
- If you can’t sleep, do not stay in bed
- Keep your room dark when you are sleeping
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Journal and/or write down your worries before you go to bed
Create a plan before anxiety occurs
Create a plan and write down the steps you will take when you are faced with an anxiety trigger. Knowing what you will do will help you manage anxiety. When you have an outlined, detailed program that you can follow, and actually use it, you will find that you will start to calm down and things are not as bad as they seem. The key here is being prepared.
There are many options for those who are looking for ways to treat anxiety without medication. However, if you have an anxiety disorder, do consult your health provider. Discuss your concerns with your doctor and be aware of the pros and cons of taking anxiety medication.