How to Overcome Anxiety without Medication
When you’re juggling a career, motherhood, bills, keeping physically fit and propping up your social life, trying to have it all can really take its toll. It’s no wonder that so many women will experience episodes of anxiety during their lifetime. Although these difficult periods may be fleeting, when anxiety sticks around for longer than you’d hoped, you may be left wondering how to overcome anxiety.
Medication is a well-respected treatment for anxiety disorders. In this article we will look at additional ways to take control of your fears. These methods can be used as standalone ways of managing anxiety, or practiced in addition to pharmacological management.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a word to describe a type of fear. Often, the fear associated with anxiety relates to something that is in the future, rather than an event occurring right now.
The Science of Anxiety
In circumstances where we feel fearful, our body responds to protect us. This is best seen in the body’s fight or flight response to being in a dangerous situation, such as running away if you hear a loud bang. Although there may be a non-threatening reason for the noise, such as a door slamming, your body enters a highly responsive mode in case the noise is due to an explosion or a shot being fired.
In fight or flight mode, you may notice that your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes quicker and your muscles tense. These biological responses leave you better prepared to escape to safety.
Anxiety is often related to future events such as sitting an exam, attending a job interview, or getting on a plane. It can affect your sleep, appetite, concentration, and ability to enjoy life. In some cases, it can be so severe that you no longer feel able to work or leave the house.
The physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Heart racing
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Loss of appetite
The mental symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling nervous or tense
- Inability to concentrate
- Worrying about the past or future
- Being unable to relax or sleep
- Feeling tearful
- Obsessive thoughts.
Unlike fear, anxiety is often not a helpful biological response. The physical and mental changes of an anxious state can make it difficult to enjoy your leisure time, and may mean you avoid going to places or social situations that make you feel nervous. You may struggle to maintain relationships, and even have difficulty looking after yourself.
Overcoming anxiety is therefore vital to helping you enjoy a full life once more.
Anxiety in the USA
In the USA, over 40 million adults are affected by anxiety each year. There are many risk factors for developing anxiety, including personality, genetics, brain chemistry and certain life events.
Some people may have had anxiety as a child that has then continued into adulthood. With around 25% of children having an anxiety disorder, you are certainly not alone if you also felt anxious in childhood.
Can You Overcome Anxiety?
Although anxiety can feel heavy and difficult to manage, scientists agree that anxiety disorders are treatable.
Whether anxiety has only affected you in adulthood or has been your shadow for a long time, there are simple ways to take control of anxiety starting today.
Ways to Overcome Anxiety
Anxiety is a complex response to perceived threats. There is no one best way to overcome anxiety, and many people rely on a range of strategies to help them manage unwanted symptoms.
Talk it Out
The old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” has some truth to it. After talking to a friend, colleague, or family member, many people feel that the burden of their concerns has lifted somewhat. Talking about a problem out loud can help you to work through it, see the issues in a different light, or even help you work out what your next steps might be.
Lean on Friends
Talking to a friend or relative could help you to better understand what it is that you are feeling fearful of. If, for example, you feel worried about making a fool of yourself in social situations, you may be able to explore what it is that you fear, and what the “worst case scenario” might be. Often, the very worst thing you can imagine is unlikely to happen. Talking to a friend may help you to see this, but may also help you to imagine that even if the worst were to happen, you would manage.
After opening up to a friend, you may feel better able to cope with whatever is causing you to feel fearful, as well as managing any residual anxiety symptoms.
Both in person and online therapy can be hugely beneficial in helping you overcome anxiety. Although friends and family can be a great support network, working with a therapist allows you to talk in confidence about anxiety, the symptoms you experience, and how this affects your daily life.
A therapist will not only listen, but will also be able to suggest coping mechanisms you can try. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been proven an effective strategy for managing anxiety.
Online therapy provides access to expert advice from the comfort of your own home, which can be ideal if in person therapy might heighten your anxiety.
Take up Exercise
Exercise and regular activity have been proven to “positively impact the pathophysiological processes of anxiety”. It is likely that physical activity achieves this through psychological and biological mechanisms. Although the neurological pathways are not fully understood, exercise aids brain development and acts to breakdown the foundations of anxiety.
If you are feeling anxious, you may not feel like taking up a new sport or committing to running or cycling. The form of activity can be chosen to suit your circumstances. Some people may prefer to stay active by going for a daily walk, whilst others might choose to follow online aerobics or yoga classes.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep difficulties are commonly experienced alongside anxiety. You may find that you have trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or early morning wakening. Being exhausted can make your anxiety seem even worse.
Sleep hygiene involves creating a healthy sleep routine and atmosphere. Set a realistic bedtime and try to stick to it. For many people, a good time to go to bed is between 10pm and 11pm. Try to avoid using screens for an hour beforehand, and leave your phone in another room so that you are not tempted to look at it while in bed. Blue light can affect the circadian rhythm, therefore affecting your sleep cycle. For the same reason, it is best to avoid watching TV in bed. Make your room calm and ensure it is neither too hot nor too cold.
When you feel anxious, your appetite can reduce, and you may reach for convenience snacks rather than preparing meals from scratch. If possible, try to ensure you have plenty of protein, fiber and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals. Eating fruit and vegetables can help to nourish your body.
Although caffeine might give you a boost, it could also be worsening your anxiety. Because caffeine is a stimulant, you may want to cut back on coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
Alcohol can be a crutch for some people, but it’s not good for your health. Alcohol not only puts pressure on your vital organs including your liver, but it also acts as a depressant. This can therefore have a negative effect on your self-esteem and confidence.
If eating and drinking well is a struggle when you feel anxious, investing in healthy ready meals or asking a friend or neighbor to prepare a simple meal for you could be a great first step in helping you overcome anxiety.
Focus on Now
Much of your anxiety might be based on events in the future, or things that may never happen. Grounding yourself in the present is an excellent way to reduce your fear.
Practice meditation, write in a journal, or sit outside and focus on the sights and sounds around you. Mindfulness has been proven to be of benefit in managing anxiety. If you are new to this practice, you may find it helpful to listen to relevant information via a wellbeing audio guide or a guided mindfulness session.
Focusing on the safety of your current circumstances will help to draw your mind away from the anxiety you may feel about hypothetical situations.
Learn to Say No
If we’ve learned anything from the global pandemic, it’s that our lives before lockdown were incredibly hectic. Rushing from the office to social events, and then setting an alarm to workout at the gym before work the next day had a significant impact on our leisure time.
Learning to say no is vital to protecting your mental health. When invited to an event or asked to do something, consider whether you truly want to accept, or if you are doing it for someone else’s benefit. If you really don’t want to do something, politely decline.
Of course, there will be times when you need to do things despite not really wanting to. We all occasionally do favors for friends and family, or attend work conferences that we would rather not. The key is finding a balance by working out what you want to do, and what you can say no to.
Anxiety is a common condition that can affect your quality of life. Learning how to overcome anxiety can help you take control of your symptoms and make healthy emotional and physical choices.
Mild to moderate anxiety can be eased by talking to friends or professionals, with online therapy offering a safe place to discuss your concerns.