At its core, anxiety is a good thing: It’s the body’s natural response to danger. But when it becomes irrational or all-consuming, it turns into a disorder. Certain forms of anxiety require medication. In some cases, recovery can be difficult without it, but for some of us, alternative medicine and a few lifestyle changes can make all the difference in the world.
This is not a doctor’s advice, and you should consult with your healthcare provider if you’re suffering symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Although there are varying degrees of anxiety with varying degrees of symptoms, generally it can cause feelings of dread, trouble concentrating, tension, irritability, restlessness, and a sense of constantly anticipating the worst. Physically, it can cause trouble sleeping, a pounding heart, frequent urination, muscle tension and twitches, headache, insomnia, and fatigue.
If you’re suffering from the above symptoms, here are some steps you can take:
1. Lay off the Caffeine
If you’re feeling anxious, giving up caffeine should be your first step because it only aggravates the problem. Caffeine intensifies feelings of restlessness, irritability, and fear, especially if you’re sensitive to it. If you love the taste of coffee, switch to decaffeinated coffee or espresso (espresso has less caffeine than drip coffee). Or if you can’t give up caffeine completely, switch to tea, which generally contains much less caffeine.
2. Try Pranayama
Pranayama—or breath work—is one of the best ways to alleviate anxiety because it drastically slows down the central nervous system. Try these deep-breathing exercises:
Start by breathing naturally, relaxing the face, forehead, and jaw. Watch the breath as it expands and contracts in the rib cage. Begin by breathing into the belly, then into the rib cage, and then into the chest. Slowly release the breath from the chest, ribs, and belly. It may help to place the hands on the belly. Continue for 5 minutes.
Using your right hand, cover the right nostril with your thumb. Breathe in for four counts and then using your ring finger, cover your left nostril and exhale the breath for eight counts. Repeat for 5 minutes.
3. Stay Grounded
Anxiety is energetically caused by a blockage in the first chakra or the Muladhara chakra. This “root chakra”—or energy center—is responsible for our survival instinct; if it’s imbalanced our minds can float off into a world of irrational fears. The deep-breathing method above can help with grounding, as can a number of yoga postures described below.
Knee to Chest
Lie on your back imagining your body sinking down into the earth. Feel the energy from the ground beneath you rising upward. Bend the right leg and hug it into the chest. Hold for 10 breaths and then switch sides.
Lie on your back and then bend the knees to connect the bottoms of your feet with the ground. Clasp the hands underneath the body and lift the chest. Hold for five breaths and then release. Repeat once more.
Half Locust Pose
Lie face down, stomach on the floor, legs together, arms placed along the side of your body, palms facing down (toward the floor). Lift your right leg as high as is comfortable and hold for five breaths. Switch sides. Repeat once more.
4. Try Acupuncture
Anxiety can be caused by an imbalance or blockage of energy or life force in the body. In Chinese medicine, this is referred to as Qi. Blockages occur along passages in the body called meridians. A number of acupuncture points can help to unblock these lines of energy. Additionally, research has shown that many of the acupuncture points are located close to nerves, and when the needles are placed they release chemicals in the body that can help regulate emotions.
5. Try Massage Therapy
Research has shown that regular massage therapy reduces levels of cortisol—or the stress hormone—in the body and increases serotonin and dopamine, the body’s feel-good chemicals. Getting a massage every week or every other week can help keep the brain’s chemicals in line, and it can also reduce the physical tension that builds up in the body and leads to mental tension.
6. Use Anxiety to Your Advantage and Get Excited!
Sounds weird? A Harvard Business School study revealed that getting excited helps with performance anxiety more than attempting to calm yourself down. Participants in a study performed better when they got excited about their task than those who were calm, sad, angry, or anxious.
Anxiety can be a painful experience, especially when it takes over your life. But a number of alternative therapies and simple lifestyle changes can help alleviate and reduce your symptoms.