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13 Methods of Anxiety Relief that Don’t Require a Prescription

13 Methods of Anxiety Relief that Don’t Require a Prescription

People with chronic anxiety know what it’s like to seek help and not find the perfect method for anxiety relief. The truth is, there is no perfect method. Your anxiety could strike at any time for any reason, and you could be left helpless until it passes.

Now that you’ve faced the truth of what anxiety is (i.e. a mental illness that doesn’t need a reason to strike), you can face the truth of how to relieve your anxiety. The purpose of this article is to provide you with unique and practical ways for anxiety relief.

1. Activate your body’s natural relaxation response with deep breathing

Any article or book about anxiety relief will tell you that one of the top methods for relieving anxiety is to focus on your breathing. Deep abdominal breathing activates your body’s natural relaxation response which helps alleviate anxiety.[1]

Here are some tips for how to breathe to trigger that response:

  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in deeply until the hand that is on your stomach is higher than the hand that is on your chest.
  • Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth to a count of 8 to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat as necessary to reach a rate of 6 to 8 breaths per minute

2. Find your “happy place” by using visualization techniques.

Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, he was the hockey player turned golfer who couldn’t keep his anger in check until he learned a visualization technique to calm himself down.

Your anxiety may not have you ripping the heads off of clowns at a mini-golf course, but you can probably relate to the feeling.

When your anxiety strikes, use the following techniques to help you with visualization:[2]

  • Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm and center yourself.
  • Imagine you are in a place of your own creation where everything is exactly the way you want it.
  • Focus on having different senses in your happy place. Don’t just visualize a scene in your head, create the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that come along with it and visualize them.
  • Stay in your scene for 5 to 10 minutes (or until you are relaxed).

3. Use mindfulness to center yourself in the here and now.

It has been said that depression is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the past, whereas anxiety is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the future. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that many of the anxieties we face come from worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.

Much of our anxiety comes from a focus on something that doesn’t exist in the present moment. Bring yourself back to the present moment by using the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique to acknowledge the following things around you:[3]

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  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

By the time you are done, you will find yourself back in the present moment focusing on the here and now. This will relieve any anxiety that you have about future events.

4. Question your thoughts and stop believing what your anxiety is telling you.

One of the main things about anxiety is that it has little to do with what is in front of you. Often anxiety can be a result of things from our past that we haven’t resolved. So try the following method for relieving your anxiety:[4]

  • Find the deeper thing that is triggering your anxiety.
  • Realize the silliness of that thing.
  • Acknowledge the thought that is causing your anxiety.
  • Realize you are doing the best you can with what you have.
  • Release the thought and give yourself permission to see new possibilities in your life.

5. Practice radical acceptance via the paradoxical intention.

Viktor Frankl created what might have been the weirdest psychological solution ever: the paradoxical intention.[5] It’s rooted in the idea that trying to suppress a thought or feeling is only serving to make that thought or feeling stronger. So instead of resisting it, you actively strive to create more of that thought or feeling in your life.

It’s a “face your fears” kind of therapy and it’s been proven to be effective. I like to call it “leaning in.” Instead of resisting the thing you fear, try leaning in to it. Put your entire focus on the thing that is causing you anxiety, puff out your chest, and tell your anxiety to bring it on.

The beauty of this method is that it reduces anxiety by relieving you of the fear that your anxiety brings you. When you purposely make it bigger than it really is and you welcome your anxiety with open arms, it will dissipate. Hence, the paradox.

6. Turn your focus to meaningful activities that give you a deep sense of purpose.

While we are on the subject of Viktor Frankl, he actually created another form of therapy that is widely effective for anxiety relief. Frankl believed it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment.

His method of logo-therapy has three main parts: dereflection (focus on other people), paradoxical intention (focus on the thing causing your anxiety), and Socratic dialogue (self-discovery through meaning-centered words).[6]

The point is to play with your anxiety to the point where it no longer is intimidating to you. Once you’ve done that, you open up your ability to choose what gives you meaning in life. When you turn your focus to the very purpose of your being, your anxiety and worry gets stripped away because you are truly engaged with the present moment.

So, find activities that give your life meaning. Some of them have big overarching meaning (like your job) and others give you purpose for a short period of time (such as a good book or puzzle).

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7. Embrace daily meditation as a part of your life.

There are many proven benefits of daily mediation. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that you will gain control over your emotions (and experience anxiety relief). There is no major challenge to meditation.

The aims of effective meditation are the following things:

  • A quiet place free from distraction.
  • Strong focus on your breathing.
  • Clearing your mind of distracting thoughts.

If you can achieve those three things, then you’ll reap the benefits of meditation.

If you struggle with clearing your mind, remember that you shouldn’t resist distracting thoughts. Acknowledge them as they arise and then bring your focus back to your breathing.

8. Create a regular exercise routine and stick to it.

Benefits of regular exercise include: lower stress hormones in your body, improved quality of sleep, and higher confidence.

Exercise has also been proven to increase endorphins in your brain which make you feel good.[7]

The key is to make it regular enough to be beneficial without overloading yourself. If you decide you’re going to exercise 7 days a week, you’re going to find that is an impossible goal. Something will eventually come along and knock you off your rhythm and you will feel guilty.

Set a goal to exercise three days a week for an hour each session. That’s frequent enough to make a significant impact without disrupting your life too much in the process.

9. Reduce intake of known anxiety triggers such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

Sadly, some of life’s greatest pleasures can also be huge triggers for anxiety.[8] Other common triggers include negative self talk, poor sleeping habits, stress and fear of failure.

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As an anxious person, your goal is to try to remove or manage these triggers as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk in some monastery somewhere. You’re here to live, so live your life to the fullest.

The key is to understand what triggers your anxiety so that you can find ways to manage it. If you know yourself and how you react to certain things, you can make a plan for how to best reduce your anxiety when you experience those things. But, at the end of the day, things like caffeine and nicotine are actually causing much of the anxiety you feel. So try to avoid them whenever possible.

10. Write or talk about your anxiety.

Keep a journal that you can reference when you need it. If you’re not a writer, then get a portable recording device and talk into it.

One humorous method that I use to manage anxiety is what I call the “man in the chair” method.

I’ll pretend like the FBI or some government official is tasked with listening to my life through my phone. So, I pretend to have a conversation with that person about my issues.

I know it’s silly (which helps relieve anxiety through humor) and totally crazy, but there’s an intangible benefit for imagining that somebody is listening to your thoughts. You speak more freely and you tend to put your thoughts down in a way that distances you from them. That distance will create anxiety relief.

11. Create strong connections with people.

One study found that women, in particular, benefit from from spending time with friends and children.[9] The benefits come from a release of Oxycontin which happens when spending time with people you care about.

Another study found that the men and women with the fewest social support often suffer the most with anxiety and depression.[10]

Often our mental illnesses drive us to do the opposite of what we need to do to manage them. Anxiety can make a person pull away from people.

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But no person is an island, and you need to try to make connections with at least one other person. Don’t let your anxiety pull you away from people.

12. Find ways to bring more laughter and amusement into your life.

An interesting study done among people with cancer found that people who were in the laughter intervention group actually experienced a decrease in stress.[11] Even crazier was that laughter also increased disease resistance within cells.

So, the old proverb “laughter doth good like a medicine” is actually scientifically true.

When in the throws of anxiety, you can find relief by watching a stand up comedy special or a funny TV show.

Better yet, buy tickets and physically go see a stand up comic with a friend. Laughter is a great medicine, but laughter among friends is the cure to many of life’s ills.

13. Listen to soothing music.

A study on the effects of music on the human stress response found that listening to music can initiate faster recovery in the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine and psychological stress response.[12] That’s a fancy science way of saying that music is a great form of anxiety relief.

People’s tastes in music are vastly different. What one person might find soothing might not have the same effect on you. This is one of those cases where you have to know yourself and what you find relaxing.

Conclusion

If you’ve noticed, this article focused less on the “tips and tricks” side of anxiety relief and more on lifestyle changes. Because a person with chronic anxiety knows that in order to manage anxiety and stress, you have to find new ways of living and coping.

You build your lifestyle to help you reduce triggers, calm yourself when anxiety hits, and snap back quickly when it hits you.

So make it your goal to create a lifestyle that helps you do that. This is your life. Isn’t it time you found the freedom you’ve been looking for?

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

James Leatherman

The founder of Happymindsets.com and is passionate about personal growth, psychology, philosophy and science

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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