6 Tips to Control Anxiety without Medication

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.-Mark Twain

Mark Twain aptly describes how the perception of trouble causes anxiety even when no issue exists at all. I think we all know this, but we can just as easily forget it. Whether our troubles are imagined or real, the anxiety is a concrete and measurable experience.

So, how do we control anxiety when Twain’s wisdom escapes us?

This “List of 6” is a rhyme to remember because these items will help reduce your anxiety without medication of any kind. Actually, medication is a solution that people turn to when these basics are ignored or forgotten. Then, medication becomes a surrogate for the real thing: relaxation. These simple techniques are well documented as effective tools to combat anxiety. Each causes the “relaxation response” in the body and the mind.

The List of 6

  • Take a breath
  • Take a walk
  • Eat a healthy meal
  • Laugh
  • Soak in the sunshine
  • Make a plan for when anxiety strikes
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is felt as tension in the body such as the knots we get in our stomach or the ones on our shoulders. It’s a physical experience. As our mind wonders through the details about which it cannot satisfactorily resolve, anxiety is a kind of anguish – a pain in the mind gnawing away at our mood and taking up space within. Anxiety can build over time or suddenly erupt within us.
Anxiety is a two-way street: there is always a co-occurring psychological (mental) and physiological (physical) component. My expertise is on the later – the physiology of anxiety. It’s a chemical experience of stress hormones and a mechanical breakdown of breathing. In almost all cases of anxiety, deep breathing lowers the amount of stress hormones, and hence anxiety, to acceptable levels. This allows you to proceed forward in your tasks of challenge, whereas not taking that breath stops you in your tracks and can even worsen the anxiety.

Take a Breath

A client of mine, Janine, works in the Human Resources department of a software firm. She was suffering from frequent anxiety at her job. She called me one evening saying she was a little “weirded-out” by a breathing technique I trained her to use at work. Then, she immediately broke out laughing.

I asked her why she was laughing. She said, “I’ve been at this job for five years and most of that time with a lot of anxiety. I had no idea how simple it was to lower my anxiety just by belly breathing. Before learning this, I would go home grouchy to my kids and my husband from a day of anxiety. And all that time it was mostly from not breathing right. My husband and kids have a new mom.”

I stopped breathing! How can that be? I mean how does a person just stop breathing…?-Janine
She realized that, when under pressure and feeling anxious, she would hold her breath or as she said, “I stopped breathing! How can that be? I mean how does a person just stop breathing in front of a computer?”

I told her it was a common habit for people to hold their breath while trying to concentrate, or in a state of anxiety.

Take a Walk

The reason why a 20-minute walk is so effective is because it resets rhythm on several levels in the mind and body. For example, do you ever notice that walking is naturally rhythmic? This is due to the balancing of upper and lower body movements with left and right side movements. In other words, as the right arm is ‘forward,’ the left arm is ‘rearward,’ and the right arm is countered by the opposite side leg in a forward position. This dynamic balancing of forces is soothing to the body because it loosens tight muscles and tones loose ones. Walking also encourages deeper breathing, which accounts for half of its effectiveness for relaxation.


Also Read: The Role of Stress in Addiction

Eat a Healthy Meal

Unhealthy foods like sugars, starches, and heavy meals eventually trigger more anxiety.-David Rubenstein
I know many of us want comfort food when trying to deal with anxiety, and there is a time and place for that approach. But, beware of this simple thought that unhealthy foods like sugars, starches, and heavy meals eventually trigger more anxiety. Think of the feeling, for example, of overeating. When your stomach is too full, it impairs breathing from the belly (diaphragmatic breathing), thus triggering the release of stress hormones, and putting you right back where you started: full of anxiety. There is a consequence to eating non-healthy foods, and that is more anxiety. But, I just have to say that ‘sometimes, warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.’

Laugh

Long known as the best medicine, deep laughter produces large amounts of serotonin, endorphins, and sometimes oxytocin – all the good stuff hormones that make us feel great, even if only for a while. Laughter also slows or stops the production of the stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. The key here is that laughter must be considered a dose of anti-anxiety medication. As with any appropriate medicine taken properly over time, it’s likely to work very well. If you think about that old battery-operated laughing voice recording, when played, it almost always makes us laugh. Even the thoughts of laughter are therapeutic. Brain scans reveal that just thinking of laughing causes the brain to change from an anxious state to a relaxed state.

Laughter also slows or stops the production of the stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.-David Rubenstein

Soak in the Sunshine

It’s all about vitamin D, which is a necessary nutrient for avoiding depression. So, not having enough sunshine leads to depression, which by definition is a type of anxiety. Also, it just feels good to get a bit of sunshine.

Make a Plan

According to wilderness survival rules, when something goes wrong, the advice is to stop, look and listen. This time-honored edict is the model for number six.

It’s embarrassing because I throw a tantrum, I throw objects – it’s like I’m a child and I can’t help it.-Daniel
Years ago, a client of mine named Daniel suffered from highly exaggerated stress responses to losing his wallet or keys. He told me, “It’s embarrassing because I throw a tantrum, I throw objects – it’s like I’m a child and I can’t help it.” So I helped him develop a simple plan to follow whenever the items went missing – and that happened a few times a week.

The plan went like this: Daniel would sit down on a particular stair in his two-story house immediately after he realized one or both were missing. He had to stay there for three minutes as counted on his clock or watch. Naturally I suggested some deep breathing. Not only did this simple plan stop the tantrums, but in a few months he stopped losing the keys or wallet altogether.

The Triple Threat Approach: Having a plan written down on paper, and then using the rest of the list in the order they appear, is extremely effective at managing anxiety. On average it will work more than 90 percent of the time to take that anxiety from a high to low state in a matter of minutes.
When you have ‘a program’ in place as outlined above, you might find that the troubles you once saw were actually never there at all.

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