How to Treat Anxiety Naturally

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Worry and stress are normal parts of life. But if anxiety causes you to avoid daily activities or relationships with other people, it’s time to seek help.

Medication is one possible option, especially when it comes to treating more severe anxiety problems. But you can also learn how to treat anxiety with lifestyle changes and other stress management methods. Here’s what you need to know about natural ways to manage anxiety.

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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s normal response to danger and other stressful situations. It affects your body and mind and prompts feelings of fear, dread, and worry.

It’s normal to feel anxious if you’re giving a speech, taking a test, or entering a new social situation. But anxiety can also be persistent and interfere with daily life. If you’re consistently feeling anxious or worried, your doctor may diagnose you with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Other more severe anxiety disorders are panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. They affect about 40 million adults.

Whether your anxiety is mild or severe, it can cause both physical and mental symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Avoiding situations that create anxiety.
  • Chest pain.
  • Compulsive behavior (constantly checking things).
  • Dizziness.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Fearing the worst will happen.
  • Feeling overheated.
  • Feeling tense or nervous.
  • Having trouble concentrating on tasks.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Intrusive thoughts and memories.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or leisure time activities.
  • Not being able to catch your breath.
  • Not wanting to try new things.
  • Obsessive thoughts.
  • Shakiness.
  • Sweating.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Trouble maintaining friendships and other relationships.
  • Worry about the past or future.

How to Treat Anxiety Naturally

If you suffer from GAD, your doctor may recommend medication and/or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both approaches can help calm those with anxiety disorders.

But there are also steps you can take by yourself to relieve symptoms of anxiety. These lifestyle changes may be enough to help you feel better without medication.

Build downtime into your daily routine

You can help manage anxious feelings by taking time for yourself each day. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, a soothing bath, or a walk in the woods — time to de-stress is an important part of your mental health.

Connect with family and friends

Being around other people in a positive setting can help you banish anxious thoughts. Talking about your feelings with trusted friends, family, or a counselor can also help put them in perspective.

Take time to connect with friends and family on a regular basis. To build your social network, join a community group, worship center, or book club. Sometimes just being around other people can help you gain perspective on your worries.

Eat healthfully

A diet of whole grains, lean meat, and fresh vegetables may not prevent anxiety but can help you combat it. Avoid eating sugar, white flour, and food that’s fried or full of preservatives. A poor diet can lead to mood swings and leave you feeling lethargic, run-down, and more prone to depression and anxiety.

Exercise regularly

When your body feels better, your mind will too. Physical activity produces brain chemicals (endorphins) that act as natural painkillers.

Choose an activity you enjoy, whether it’s swimming, jogging, dancing, or walking. Thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week is ideal. But even a brisk 10-minute walk can improve your mood and help you feel more able to cope with stress.

Limit alcohol and caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can greatly increase feelings of anxiety and contribute to insomnia. Alcohol is a depressant but can also interfere with sleep and general feelings of well-being. Eliminating or cutting down on both can help you feel calmer and more in control of your worries.

Practice deep breathing

One of the simplest ways to calm anxiety is to take deep, slow breaths. By focusing on the process of inhaling and exhaling (which you normally don’t think about) you divert your mind from your anxiety. Deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve, which prompts a state of relaxation.

Practice good sleep habits

Your body and mind function best when you’re well-rested, but worry and fear can keep you up at night. Not getting enough sleep creates more anxiety, triggering a vicious cycle.

Consistent sleep habits are key to a good night’s rest. They include:

  • Avoiding any type of screen (TV, computer, phone) at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Abstaining from caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including weekends.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Not using your bedroom for anything but sleep and sex.

Unplug at regular intervals

It’s great to know what’s happening in the world, but getting caught in a 24-hour news cycle can trigger anxiety. You may start to feel like the world is a terrible place and you can’t control anything. It’s better to take breaks (schedule them if you need to) and unplug completely.

Whether it’s television news or social media, it’s also best to set overall limits on screen time, especially at night. The blue light from screens can reduce melatonin production, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

When to See a Doctor for Anxiety

Anxiety becomes a serious problem when it interferes with your everyday life. Worrisome thoughts may prevent you from going to work or school, or cause you to avoid social situations. Anxiety can affect personal relationships with friends and family.

If you’ve had consistent anxiety for six months or more, you should talk to your doctor. They may recommend medication, therapy, or treating your anxiety with natural methods. They may suggest a combination of those things as part of your treatment.

The good news is that there is help for every form of anxiety.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Psychology Today, Natural Approaches to Anxiety, Link

Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Exercise for Stress and Anxiety, Link

Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress, Link

CDC, Coping with Stress, Link

American Medical Association, What doctors wish patients knew about managing anxiety disorders, Link

National Library of Medicine, Anxiety, Link

Sleep Foundation, Anxiety and Sleep, Link

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.