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9 Ways to Relieve Anxiety Without Medication

Anxiety is a common struggle, and medication isn't the only route to finding some relief.

Woman journaling and drinking herbal tea next to a house plant
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Anxiety is a natural human emotion, but when it gets severe enough to interfere with daily life, it can be debilitating. According to the American Psychiatric Association, roughly 30% of people experience anxiety disorders. This more recent estimate is significantly higher than the 19% reported in the early 2000s by the US National Institute for Mental Health. Thankfully, anxiety is treatable, and there is a wide array of treatment options. 

Medications and therapy are two of the most common treatments for anxiety, and they're highly effective. But there are also natural anxiety remedies like exercise, meditation and breathing exercises that may be able to address your symptoms.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety -- in small doses -- is a normal part of human life. However, it can become a serious problem when it becomes too frequent, intense or disconnected from reality. Healthy anxiety levels can help warn us about potential threats and increase our reaction speeds. But with an anxiety disorder, people may feel overwhelming worry or fear about otherwise mundane matters. In these situations, the brain can become unable to function normally. Some of the more prevalent types of anxiety disorders are listed below.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: This is the most common type of anxiety disorder. When the onset of anxiety can occur around many different situations or events, without clear linkage to one kind, it is often categorized as generalized anxiety.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: OCD involves a combination of obsession and compulsion. The compulsions are often rituals or methods to prevent or reduce the intrusion of obsessive thoughts and feelings.
  • Panic disorder: Panic is similar to anxiety but dramatically heightened. A panic episode can feel like a heart attack or other life-threatening event and comes on with an overwhelming sense of fear or dread.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD is a response to a particular traumatic event or series of events. The impact of these events is so extreme that the mind and body can feel it recurrently.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Many people feel some anxiety when engaging in or thinking about social situations. However, it may be a social anxiety disorder if these feelings are debilitating and recurring. 
Essential lavender oil in bottle with dropper
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9 natural remedies for anxiety

Although natural remedies for anxiety can be helpful for many people, these are not always enough to deal with anxiety disorders. If you find that natural remedies don't sufficiently help with your anxiety, consider speaking about anxiety treatment with a medical expert in mental health.

Limit caffeine intake

Caffeine is a stimulant, and in many ways, anxiety is a state of overstimulation.  

Caffeine intake can impact anxiety in individuals, but the relationship is sometimes complicated. Some research has indicated that a high level of caffeine consumption is linked to increased anxiety in men but not women. However, other instances have shown that low levels of caffeine intake may be linked to reducing experiences of anxiety.

How caffeine affects your body can vary significantly between people. Suppose you notice heightened anxiety in the first hour or two after consuming caffeine. In that case, you might try consuming less next time and see if it reduces the anxiety.

Use aromatherapy to relax

Smell plays a special role in the human body. This sense is more directly connected to the brain than the other senses. Based on smell, our brains can determine important information about our environment and how we should respond. For instance, in a state of anxiety, the sense of smell becomes biased towards detecting threats.

Pleasant, comforting scents may be a helpful way to interrupt this cycle. Removing smells associated with threats and replacing them with ones related to comfort, pleasure and safety may ease anxiety. One study has shown a strong link between the inhalation of certain scents (in this case, rose water) and some patients' anxiety being reduced.

Try herbal tea or supplements

If you experience high anxiety levels, a warm cup of herbal tea could help in more than one way. The ritual of sitting still and drinking tea, as well as the consumption of warm liquid, can all help to calm and soothe the body. Add to this that research has shown some positive links between drinking some teas and reducing anxiety, and this anxiety home remedy begins to look even better.

Studies have selectively shown instances of herbal tea consumption being linked to a decline in experiences of anxiety. These studies have been limited in the scope of teas used and the demographics involved. However, many of them have provided significant data. One showed that lavender herbal tea could have a strong ameliorating effect on anxiety in older individuals. Another study is pursuing the long-term effects of chamomile on generalized anxiety disorders, with preliminary research showing some promise.

Practice deep breathing

Many therapists and psychologists recommend breathing techniques for reducing anxiety and finding calm. One benefit of deep (diaphragmatic) breathing is a reduction of the presence of cortisol -- the stress hormone -- in the body.

One deep breathing technique that's shown significant promise is known as box breathing. The core of this technique involves taking full breaths and holding for a count of four at each stage of breath. The simple version looks like this: breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four and repeat the process.

Meditation and mindfulness

Both meditation and mindfulness techniques have been shown to reduce experiences of anxiety. However, studying these approaches within a clinical framework has been challenging, and further research is needed.

Many people report positive mood and anxiety impacts from meditation and mindfulness practices. A meta-study of research on the effects of mindfulness-based therapy has shown a significant correlation between mindfulness practices and a reduction of anxiety. Similarly, a meta-analysis of studies on meditation as a treatment for anxiety showed promise. However, in the latter case, it was specified that while these practices can reduce anxiety experiences, their clinical impact on a disorder needs further study.

Exercise daily

Regular exercise is one of the most recommended anxiety home remedies. The Mayo Clinic states that exercise may help by releasing endorphins, occupying your mind, improving confidence and encouraging social interactions.

While you don't technically have to exercise every day, maintaining five days a week is recommended. Exercising less may still have benefits for anxiety, but are likely to be less pronounced.

Use journaling to process things

Journaling is a technique that has been used to help cope with anxiety for a long time. With anxiety, the mind often fails to process emotions and events in a healthy and coherent manner. Journaling these feelings and events can help the brain slow down and process the individual components. While journaling may make the emotions feel sharper at first, it can also help reach resolution and catharsis.

Regular journaling can help to reduce or prevent heightened anxiety, although the impact varies between people. Some studies have sought to take journaling into the digital age and have tested online positive affect journaling. Like other studies of journaling as an anxiety coping mechanism, the online PAJ study found that people reported some improvement in symptoms after sufficient time using this technique.

CBD products

Recent studies and trends have looked at CBD, a cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants, as a treatment for anxiety. A limited meta-analysis of such research has found that CBD may be a helpful tool in treating anxiety. However, more study is required to understand which disorders and under what circumstances CBD would be a viable treatment.

In part due to the legal status of CBD and the plant it's derived from, quality research has been limited. As the market and legislation stabilize (CBD can be derived from hemp, now federally legal) more research will be conducted. Until then, using CBD for anxiety is likely to be controversial among medical professionals. More clinical trials are ultimately needed to determine the benefits and potential side effects of CBD products.

Sleep with a weighted blanket

Studies have shown that using weighted blankets may help reduce experiences of anxiety. Research in this area has been limited, and further study is needed before weighted blankets become a clinically accepted remedy for anxiety. But for most people, there is little to no risk of trying weighted blankets to aid in anxiety. The sensation of lying under these blankets can be similar to receiving a hug.

The bottom line

While chronic and severe anxiety treatment often needs the assistance of a medical professional, many day-to-day anxiety symptoms can be somewhat alleviated through natural anxiety remedies. If you still experience chronic or severe symptoms despite utilizing anxiety home remedies, speak with a medical professional (likely a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist) to discuss anxiety treatment plans. Although often focused on counseling and medications, many of these plans may incorporate natural anxiety remedies.

For more advice on mental health, here are five tips to reduce anxiety before bed and get a better sleep, plus seven stress-relief strategies that really work.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.