Do you need anxiety relief? If so, you’re not alone.
The number of people suffering from mild, moderate, and severe anxiety has sky-rocketed in recent years.
Per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.”(1)
What’s worse, anxiety is also affecting teens and children, the tune of 25.1% of children between the ages of 13-18…that’s 1 in 4 teenagers.
I know I am not alone in my concern over this disturbing trend—both as a medical doctor and as a parent.
Although we all experience anxiety at some point in our lives, this level of chronic anxiety is anything but normal…especially for growing children and teens.
But there is great hope. Despite what we have been led to believe, the majority of anxiety disorders can be remedied without resorting to side-effect-laden drugs.
I know, because I was able to resolve my own anxiety and panic attacks by making specific lifestyle changes, and I have helped countless patients do the same.
Read on to learn how to address the root causes of anxiety with my top 12 ways to treat anxiety without drugs.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #1: Stop feeding your anxiety
It has been shown that specific foods, such as sugar, gluten, and corn syrup for example(2)(3)(4), can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
The main reasons foods trigger anxiety are:
- Food sensitivities, which are unique to each individual and range from gluten and dairy to dyes and preservatives.
- Certain food affect your gut health which impacts your gut-brain connection (more on this to come).
- And how foods either nourish or deplete key nutrients, such as B12, friendly bacteria, vitamin D, and iron, all crucial to our mental and emotional well-being.
To uncover food sensitivities, I recommend either embarking on a one-month elimination diet of sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs (as outlined in my book Bloom) and an IgG and IgE food panel to confirm.
Specific panels can also be run by a functional MD to check for nutrient deficiencies. To learn more about the gut-brain-connection and anxiety, read on…
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #2: Cut back on screen time
This is, perhaps, the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to reduce anxiety and promote more happiness in your life.
Though excess screen time via handheld devices, computers and television is still a relatively new phenomenon, the research is starting to pour in on its mental health effects…and it doesn’t look good. Particularly for children and teens.
San Diego State University professor of psychology and author Dr. Jean M. Twenge reports the more time teens spend on their phones the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Teens who spend more than 3 hours a day on their phones also have higher suicide rates, and get less sleep than they need…which can trigger more anxiety (5).
For adults, excessive screen time has been shown to damage the gray matter of your brain and has shown a clear link to increased anxiety, depression and stress (6).
This should come as no surprise considering how stressful it is to be constantly bombarded by information, texts, social media gossip, ads, and the 24/7 news cycle.
Again, if you do one thing to try and reduce your anxiety, start with cutting down screen time as much as possible.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #3: Work on your gut health
As mentioned above, we now know the gut and the brain are intimately connected through the vagus nerve, also know as the gut-brain axis or gut-brain-connection.
So, what your gut feels your brain feels and vice versa. Hence the term “gut feelings”.
So, what’s the best way to work on your gut health to reduce anxiety and promote a peaceful mind?
The key is enhance your gut bacteria diversity, also known as your gut microbiome.
As strange as it sounds, the more bacteria you have living in your digestive tract, the healthier and more robust your digestion, immunity, and mental wellness will be.
Some of the best ways to increase your gut bacteria diversity are:
- Eat probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, kefir, kim chi, saurkraut, and kombucha, at least once per day
- Eat prebiotic-rich foods, which act as a food source for probiotics, such as onions, leeks, garlic, bananas (slightly green), leafy greens, asparagus, jicama, and potato skins.
- Avoid antibiotics whenever possible, to do this effectively and safely it is best to educate yourself and partner with an integrative physician who understands and can recommend appropriate natural antibiotic alternatives.
- Spend time outdoors, the natural world is teeming with beneficial microbes that will help enhance your gut health.
- Stop over-sanitizing, within reason of course, but consider switching out antibacterial hand soaps and hand sanitizers with natural soap and water, use natural cleaners and play in the dirt! Soil is chock-full of gut-healthy microbes, and connecting with the earth has added anti-anxiety benefits.
- Consider taking a probiotics supplement in addition to eating more probiotic-rich foods. Research has shown probiotic supplementation, specifically a strain of probiotics known as “psychobiotics”, can help reduce anxiety and stress by reducing cortisol levels(7).
…which brings me to my next point.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #4: Walk around barefoot
Believe it or not, extensive research has shown a lack of skin-to-dirt connection with the earth can have serious consequences to our mental and physical health.
For example, the study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found the practice of “grounding” the human body to the earth, also known as “earthing”, reduced cortisol levels resulting in improved sleep, less pain and less stress and anxiety(8).
Earthing has also been shown to reduce inflammation(9), which is now a recognized cause of depression and anxiety.
Reaping the anxiety-busting benefits of earthing or grounding is as easy as walking around outside barefoot for 20-30 minutes a day, swimming in the ocean or using an earthing or grounding mat while you sleep or work at your desk.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #5: Harness the Healing Power of Flowers (Bach flower essences)
Homeopathic Bach Flower Essences are an incredible tool for helping take the edge of anxiety and stress.
Created by British physician Dr. Edward Bach after he suffered an emotional breakdown and cured himself using homeopathy, these remedies are made from a variety of flowers which Dr. Bach found correspond with different emotions.
The most popular Bach Flower remedy is Rescue Remedy, available in a tincture, child’s formula, and pastilles at most pharmacies and natural food stores, and it is wonderful for anxiety.
Other single flower essences for anxiety (available at health food stores and select natural food stores) include:
- Aspen: fear of the unknown.
- Cherry Plum: fear of losing control, anger outbursts.
- Elm: feelings of overwhelm, not enough time in the day.
- Mimulus: for all types of fear.
- Red Chestnut: fear of something bad happening.
Rock Rose: feelings of terror, trauma.
- White Chestnut: repetitive, persistent unwanted thoughts or fears.
All the Bach Flower remedies are affordable, completely safe (homeopathics are highly diluted substances manufactured under FDA guidelines using The Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States), and a small bottle lasts a very long time.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #6: Get your thyroid checked
As discussed in my book, Bloom, hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is one of the most under-diagnosed treatments affecting women.
Thyroid disease runs in families, and can often be triggered from the stress of a major life event, like a birth, death, or loss of a job. And one of its symptoms is (you guessed it): anxiety(10).
The trick with hypothyroidism is recognizing its symptoms and getting the right diagnosis, as doctors typically only run a TSH test, which doesn’t account for many other key markers of impaired thyroid function.
To get a true diagnosis, find a functional medicine doctor to run a comprehensive thyroid panel which includes:
- TSH: though not the end-all-be-all test, it does provide valuable information on how the thyroid and pituitary gland that governs the thyroid are communicating.
- Free T3: T3 and T4 are your body’s main thyroid hormones. T3 is the more active form of thyroid hormone that affects your metabolism and energy. Low levels can indicate hypothyroidism.
- Free T4: T4 is more of a storage hormone, thus the majority of T4 is converted to active T3 for metabolic functions and energy. Low levels may mean hypothyroidism.
- Reverse T3: Reverse T3 is also converted from T4 and helps slow down metabolism. High RT3 levels can indicate hypothyroidism.
- TPO antibodies: This test is to check for autoimmune disease of the thyroid known as Hashimoto’s.
- And thyroglobulin antibodies: This second autoimmune panel tests for Hashimoto’s disease.
To learn more about the little-known signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, check out my previous post: “The Thyroid Tests Your Doctor is Missing”
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #7: Address adrenal trouble
You adrenals are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop your kidneys, and help regulate hormonal balance, our sleep cycle, and stress levels.
When you experience chronic stress due to a demanding job, insufficient sleep, a big life change, or lack of stress management, your body defaults to a fight-or-flight response which triggers your adrenals to release a steady stream of the stress hormones: adrenalin and cortisol.
This is a natural process that has sustained mankind for millennia. However, we were never meant to remain in fight-or-flight for more than a few minutes at a time.
When stress becomes chronic with no means of release, adrenalin and cortisol begin to build up causing inflammation and symptoms of adrenal burnout including: fatigue, sleep disturbance, hormonal imbalance, and anxiety.
Your doctor can check for adrenal fatigue syndrome using a salivary panel or urinary panel, or may be able to diagnose it based on your symptoms.
Either way, once you begin to address adrenal fatigue syndrome through stress management, dietary changes, herbal and nutritional supplementation, and getting more sleep your anxiety will decrease significantly.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #8: Try Biofeedback (my saving grace)
When I experienced my health crisis in medical school, which included anxiety and full-blown panic attacks, one of the things that helped me most was a biofeedback tool called: Innerbalance™ by Heartmath.
A biofeedback device works by measuring your heart rate variability and breath, and alerting you when you need to take steps to switch from fight-or-flight to relaxation mode.
And it’s been proven to work.
A recent study conducted on over 5,500 people over 6-9 weeks found biofeedback technology was shown to reduce anxiety by 46%, depression by 60%, and fatigue by 50% (11). Pretty darn impressive.
To learn more about how biofeedback works, check out my previous post: “How Biofeedback Changed my Life”.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #9: Give yourself permission to sleep
Sleep deprivation is known to be both a contributor to and symptom of anxiety.
As anyone who’s suffered from a bad night’s rest to full-blown insomnia knows!
It’s even worse if you already suffer from anxiety, as your anxiety is heightened at bedtime by worrying about not getting enough sleep.
For anxious sleepers, biofeedback (as mentioned above) and meditation will be your best friends, as both will help you create calmness during the day which will yield a quieter mind at night.
You can also meditate right before bed to help you fully empty your brain and fall asleep faster.
I highly recommend the Headspace App’s Sleep Pack to get you started, or you can try other free guided meditations for sleep online.
Also, getting to bed early (like 9:00 PM) is prudent as it will put time on your side (so to speak), by giving you more time and space to fall asleep without worrying you won’t fall asleep fast enough.
And using something like the Chilipad to keep your body cool throughout the night has been very useful in helping many of my patients stay asleep throughout the night.
Drug-free Anxiety Relief Tip #10: Be honest with yourself
If you’ve tried all of the above and are still experiencing anxiety, it’s time to really be honest with yourself about what may be causing it.
- Are you neglecting your self-care…pouring yourself out completely every day without recharging?
- Is it time to take a break from social media and news sites? How do you feel when you spend time on these sites?
- Is there an unresolved emotional trauma that needs to be put to rest?
- Do you need to ask for help? At home, at work, or in your emotional coping skills?
If you can’t put your finger on it, consider enlisting the help of a caring counselor or psychologist. There is no shame in having a professional help guide you through your feelings, and it can indeed, help immensely in resolving stubborn anxiety, depression, and stress.
Most of us were never taught good emotional coping skills, and there is absolutely no need to suffer alone.
Plus, you can continue using these other 10 strategies while you talk through your anxiety with a qualified professional.
As a former anxiety-sufferer myself, I am passionate about sharing natural, drug-free solutions for overcoming what’s become a national epidemic.
I hope you will try out one, or all of these strategies, before automatically turning to potentially toxic drugs. And if you currently are on anxiety medication, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives before changing your treatment plan.
Now, get off this screen and start taking your next steps…