With the increasing stressors of modern-day life, many people are searching for ways to decrease anxiety without medication. Although drugs may offer a quick and easy band-aid approach, some people don’t like the side effects of anxiety medication. There are lifestyle and dietary practices you can try that could provide long-term benefits that you won’t find with pharmaceuticals.
In this article, we’ll explore seven research-backed ways to relieve anxiety and stress and calm your mind when you’re feeling anxious.
If your doctor has prescribed you medication, follow your doctor’s advice. Keep in mind that some medications cannot be stopped without professional guidance, so open up a conversation with your prescribing doctor about any changes you want to make.
Potential Ways to Decrease Anxiety Without Medication
Ashwagandha for Stable Moods
One of the most powerful herbs to decrease anxiety is ashwagandha. This root has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient medicine of India, for thousands of years to calm anxiety and build strength and resilience.
Due to its calming effect on the mind, reports show that ashwagandha can significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Some research even shows that this herb can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6750292/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/
What’s more, animal trials show that ashwagandha may be just as effective as the pharmaceutical anxiolytic drug Lorazepam for reducing anxiety.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711300800306?via%3Dihub
Take this quiz to find your formula for a personalized blend of herbs and supplements that support stable moods, focus, and mental sharpness.
Lion’s Mane for the Nervous System
Lion’s mane is a type of medicinal mushroom known for its positive impact on the brain. In fact, some people claim that the mushroom resembles a brain with its many folds and complex structure.
Research shows that lion’s mane may stimulate something called nerve growth factor (NGF), which regulates the growth, maintenance, and survival of nerve cells. Through this action, lion’s mane could have a positive impact on your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for your stress response.
In one study, participants taking lion’s mane for four weeks showed significant reductions in anxiety, irritability, and depression.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20834180/
Although it is possible to cook with this mushroom, the most accessible way to get lion’s mane into your routine is in a supplement form. Many people take lion’s mane as part of a medicinal mushroom blend, as a powder blended into a shake or morning coffee, or in capsule form.
Diet to Reduce Feelings of Anxiousness
There are a handful of foods that have been studied to decrease anxiety, such as fermented foods, and fatty fish like salmon.
While the DHA in salmon can support brain health, the probiotics in fermented foods may enhance your population of healthy bacteria in your gut.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25998000/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25431880/Research has made connections between the species of friendly microbes in your gut, and your mood— specifically anxiety.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.4161/gmic.2.4.16108
With that being said, there is no magic diet that cures anxiety, but a dietary overhaul, in general, could do wonders for your mood if you haven’t been focusing on what you put in your body.
In addition to including fermented foods and fatty fish, focusing on a diet that’s rich in whole foods will give your mind and body the nourishment it needs.
At the same time, cutting out processed foods and foods high in sugar will support blood sugar levels. Research shows that there is a possible link between uncontrolled blood sugar and symptoms of general anxiety disorder, so starting with diet may make a significant difference in how you feel day to day.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4963565/
Deep breathing is an ancient practice that’s been used for thousands of years to calm the mind and bring balance to the body.
Today, parasympathetic breathing exercises are becoming a popular way to bring your body out of a state of “fight or flight” and into a relaxed “rest and digest” mode. When you take long, deep breaths, you’re signaling to your brain that you are safe. If you weren’t safe, you wouldn’t have the luxury of slowing down.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709795/
This state of safety is regulated by the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. Therefore, when you signal to your brain and body that you’re okay, your parasympathetic branch takes over, quieting down the fight or flight (sympathetic) mode.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16624497/
Here’s an example of a simple deep breathing exercise:
- Breathe in slowly for a count of 5
- Hold your breath at the top for 3
- Breathe out slowly for a count of 8
- Hold your breath at the bottom for a count of 3
- Repeat for five rounds or for two minutes
The great thing about deep breathing exercises is that you can do them wherever you are, even if you’re sitting in a meeting or stuck in traffic.
Mindfulness Meditation for a Calm Mind
Along with deep breathing, meditation has been used as a powerful way to calm anxiety for thousands of years.
While deep breathing works with your physiological response to anxiety, meditation starts with the mind. Therefore, meditation practice may take time to develop, but the results can be life-changing if you stick with it.
There are many forms of meditation, but mindfulness meditation has been most well-researched for anxiety and stress. At the core of mindfulness meditation is the concept of noticing your thoughts non-judgmentally, and without trying to push them away, allow them to shift as you objectively pay attention.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772979/
This may sound a bit complicated, but the practice itself is actually deceivingly simple. Deceivingly, because as humans, it is our nature to overcomplicate things.
Here is a classic mindfulness meditation technique:
- Set an alarm for five to ten minutes
- Sit in a quiet place
- Simply pay attention to your breath
As you sit in silence, you will notice your in-breath and your out-breath. If you’re like most people, it won’t take long before your mind starts to wander— this is normal. The key to mindfulness isn’t to remain close to your breath for the duration of the meditation but rather to come back to your breath as much as possible.
Meditation could enhance the gray matter in your prefrontal cortex, building new pathways that assist with emotional regulation.https://www.hindawi.com/journals/np/2020/8830005/
Furthermore, by allowing thoughts to stream into your consciousness without holding on to them, you train yourself to see things more objectively instead of getting stuck in story loops which are often at the root of anxiety.https://www.anxiety.org/can-mindfulness-help-reduce-anxiety
Targeted supplementation could be just the thing to keep you level and focused. Here’s how to get started.
@docamenCan stress actually damage the brain? Let’s discuss. #fyp #foryou #braintok #PradaBucketChallenge♬ original sound – Daniel G. Amen, MD
Cut Back On Caffeine
Caffeine can offer a great pick-me-up when you’re tired or need an extra boost, but some people find that caffeine increases feelings of anxiety. In fact, research shows that if you have any type of anxiety disorder, you are more likely to be sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
If you’re a coffee drinker, you could try cutting down or switching to a light tea like white tea or green tea. However, many people that tend towards anxiety find it best to avoid caffeine altogether— at least until they get their anxiety under control.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0165178185900782
Sleep and anxiety have a snowball effect. While anxiety can keep you tossing and turning at night, not getting enough sleep results in more anxiety the next day.
Research shows that a poor night of sleep impacts the activity of your prefrontal cortex, which is involved in your ability to think clearly and process feelings. When you don’t get enough sleep, you wake up feeling foggy, and anxious thoughts and emotions are more likely to dominate than if you had gotten more rest.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0754-8
Prioritizing sleep when you’re already anxious may sound like an uphill battle, but there are a handful of helpful things you can do to make sleep much more attainable. These include:
- Turning off electronics at least one hour before bed (no phone, no TV, no computer).
- Wear blue light-blocking glasses to increase melatonin production naturallyhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21552190/
- Set a bedtime and stick to it; this will help to train your body and get you in tune with your circadian rhythm
- Stop eating at least two hours, but preferably three hours before bed. When your digestive system is still working, it makes it more difficult to slip into rest mode
Can muscle relaxers decrease anxiety?
Muscle relaxers have been used to decrease anxiety by producing physical relaxation, making it easier to rest and sleep. However, the effects of muscle relaxers on anxiety are short-lived, and these types of medications can be addictive. Always consult with a doctor before taking muscle relaxers.
Does exercise decrease anxiety?
Exercise can help to improve mood and may have an impact on feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps with sleep and feelings of confidence, two factors that can play into your ability to manage anxiety symptoms and stress states.
Is there an anxiety medication that does not decrease libido?
Most anxiety medications increase levels of serotonin in your brain, which enhances feelings of calm and relaxation. Unfortunately, that calm and relaxation can also impact your libido. However, there is some evidence that the drug Sertraline® may have a minimal impact on libido.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007725/
The supplements mentioned above will not affect libido like a prescription would. Talk to your doctor about different ways to approach anxiety.
Can anxiety decrease your appetite?
Anxiety impacts people differently, but a common side effect is loss of appetite. This is due to the shift of energy towards your sympathetic nervous system, which puts you in “fight or flight” mode, shuttling blood away from your organs of digestion to your limbs so you can run.
Can breathing decrease anxiety?
Deep breathing exercises signal your mind and body that you’re safe and triggers your parasympathetic nervous system. When your parasympathetic nervous system is active, it decreases physical symptoms of anxiety by slowing your heart rate and breathing, allowing your body and mind to relax.
Breathing can help you in the moment, and the best thing to do once you’re under control is to determine the root cause of your anxiety. A licensed therapist can help here.
Can alcohol decrease anxiety?
Alcohol can create the illusion of decreased anxiety at the moment, but it actually makes anxiety worse in the long term. Continued consumption of alcohol will raise your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which will feed into your anxious feelings.