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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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