Reducing Anxiety Without Medication
We live in a world of constant information. Images, opinions, and stressors are thrown at us in every format imaginable. Television, radio, podcasts, social media, even our safe places like schools, houses of worship, and the dinner table seems to now be places of potential conflict. While stressors and anxiety are not new, shielding our bodies and minds from these ever-present triggers has become increasingly difficult. And since living in a bubble is not an option, we need to understand how to protect ourselves when these mental health challenges approach. If we understand that they will exist, we will be ready with tools to handle them before the notion becomes overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.
The most important thing to mention is that we understand that anxiety and stress manifest in different ways in different people for this conversation. There is a distinct difference between daily and moderate stressors and the anxiety they can cause, and the debilitating, crippling anxiety that manifests in some as anxiety disorder and can lead to addiction and self-harm, isolation, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. While it is important to develop and practice an arsenal of self-guided anxiety-reducing behaviors, we recognize that sometimes the thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming. Even when we do our best to moderate and understand them, we may need more help. If your stress and anxiety, or the anxiety of someone you love, has reached these levels of self-medication or self-harm, we ask that you immediately reach out to a mental health professional or helpline.
If the stressors and anxieties are moderate — uncomfortable but manageable without professional intervention — there are several methods one can take to mitigate their impact on your mood and mental health.
Mindfulness. To start, being conscious of what’s happening around you is critical. Sometimes life blurs past us, and we don’t realize that we are subjecting ourselves to triggers and stressors that are unnecessary. Simply stated, seeing and understanding this is called mindfulness. Mindfulness gives us the tools to shut off the noise and identify what’s happening at the moment. Breaking it down, part by part, and addressing it or avoiding it can empower us to see things through a new lens the next time we see the trigger coming. These habits are buildable, and the more you identify and work through the stress in the moment, the easier it becomes to do it in the future.
Breath. Once you identify the stressor and understand that it is in your control how you react to it, the second component of handling stress and anxiety without medication is probably the easiest as it is fundamental to our survival. Breathe. Deep, measured breath is more powerful than we understand. Our bodies are designed to work on the rhythm of the breath. The rhythm paces us to slowly regain control over a situation and come back into our bodies rather than react externally. While the stress may be too significant to meditate away, the idea of slowing down with breath can retrain your brain to understand that it can’t all be handled at one time. Breathing through oncoming anxiety reminds you that you are in control and protecting your body and mind.
Nutrition. No one said that carrots will ever make you happy, but they won’t make you sad. Junk food, fast food, and processed foods loaded with unidentifiable artificial ingredients are a recipe for emotional disaster. Not only does our skin, waistline, and mood change when we consume poor-quality foods, but we don’t absorb nutrients and minerals that are the building blocks of our bodies. These components are required for us to function correctly, and when they are deficient, they can influence how our bodies are fueled, how we digest, and even the function in our brains. Without proper nutrition, people aren’t getting the fuel they need to keep their serotonin levels up. Many studies on this topic have reported feelings of a fog being lifted once they started eating better. If your body is only working to process fatty and sugary foods, it isn’t getting enough nutritional value to elevate your body to its optimal level. As a result, your body feels slower and less energetic, directly impacting your brain.
Ensuring we’re receiving enough vitamins and nutrients is essential to our physical and mental health. Omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin B-12 improve brain function, energy levels, and metabolism. If you are looking to shift your diet, start in these three areas and note how you feel afterward and how your anxiety disorder levels have been impacted.
Exercise. Your physical health is directly tied to how your body and brain respond to stress. Poor eating and exercise habits, for example, can lead to high blood pressure. A healthy body is better equipped to regulate and handle stress. Elevating our heart rate, taking breaths of fresh air, being out in the sun and nature are all forms of healthy behavior that can alleviate anxiety. You don’t need a fancy gym membership or expensive sneakers, but you need to make an effort to move your body. Sometimes this release of energy and the production of endorphins create a sense of well-being, often significantly increased from before we started the exercise. Exercises like yoga are not only excellent for our physical selves, but the practice is developed to center our thoughts and our breath, forcing us to check in and heal our racing minds. Sometimes exercise combined with better eating can lead to physical improvements like weight loss or reduction of comorbidities, ultimately improving mood and anxiety control.
Developing these habits is critical in preventing anxiety. One mental health study found that participants were 25% less likely to develop anxiety disorders with regular and intense workouts over the coming five years. Additional research has shown that the quality of one’s diet can directly impact their mood and the subsequent development of anxiety disorders.
Sharing Your Feelings. Sometimes we are too close to our thoughts and feelings to see that they are not only “normal” but shared by others. Often, talking about this can help us process stressors and frame them in a logical and manageable way. For some, talking to a professional offers comfortable anonymity allowing them to speak freely, while for others, confiding in good friends or family can release the same. Some use journals or artistic mediums like painting or writing to channel their feelings creatively.
However, you choose to manage stress isn’t what’s most important; it’s the action of identifying the triggers and creating a routine to control them. Mindfulness, deep breathing, proper nutrition, and exercise, combined with an honest conversation, can all take you in the right direction. Regular practice incorporating these daily can determine your mental wellness and stress management in the long term.
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