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Depression and Anxiety Special Report

Managing Anxiety Without Drugs

Do you worry excessively? Johns Hopkins provides nine strategies to help you take control of your anxiety.

We live in anxious times, full of bad news. We worry about our families, our country, our basic health and safety. But while a little bit of worry can be a good thing -- it can steer us away from taking unreasonable risks, for instance -- free-floating anxiety can be paralyzing, unproductive, and self-defeating. If you think that you, or someone you love, has an anxiety disorder, then therapy or medication may be in order. But even if you're receiving treatment, or if you're bedeviled by garden-variety over-worrying that doesn’t warrant treatment, the following tips may help.

  • Anxiety tip #1: Notice and name. The first step is to identify your patterns. What specific triggers are linked to your anxiety? Notice what sets your anxiety in motion, and give it a name. Once you bring it into the forefront of your consciousness, you can begin to make sense of it and then to address it.
  • Anxiety tip #2: Develop a plan. Many of us run ourselves ragged by not addressing our worries. One classic example: We’re afraid of getting breast cancer, but we don’t schedule the mammogram -- instead, we spin our mental wheels. Write your specific worry down, and then develop a plan to address it. Tackle one or two worries at a time. Once you’ve completed those, go on to the next on your mental list. This task-oriented process can give you a feeling of satisfaction; more importantly, it makes you feel less vulnerable, more in control of your life.
  • Anxiety tip #3: Move. Exercise is one of the best self-treatments for anxiety available. It doesn’t matter whether you go for a walk, join a water aerobics class, dance, play tennis -- what does matter is that you get regular exercise, at least every other day. In the interim, whenever one of those cycles of ruminative worry hits, even simple activity -- minor housecleaning, a few minutes of gardening, some simple stretches, even just getting up and walking around for five minutes -- can help jog you out of that negative feedback loop.
  • Anxiety tip #4: Breathe. A number of breathing techniques can alleviate anxiety. For one thing, many people find that when they’re anxious, they breathe shallowly, from the upper chest -- and when breathing is shallow and fast, the body responds with an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. In bad moments, they might even be holding their breath. Instead, take a few moments and simply notice your breathing patterns. After a few breathing cycles, take a deep breath. Let your belly be soft and relaxed, and breathe from your lower abdomen. Repeat -- and use this technique any time you notice that you're tense or worried.
  • Anxiety tip #5: Nurture your spirit. Meditation and prayer trigger the relaxation response, helping calm the mind and body. Even the simplest of prayers or affirmations can help you let go of a worry and put everyday problems into perspective.
  • Anxiety tip #6: Reframe your thoughts. Free form anxiety often is triggered or accompanied by a litany of negative internal "chatter." The good news is, the brain is an adaptive organ, and it is possible to break out of the negative mode. However, it takes patience and persistence. The first step is to notice when the negative labels start bouncing around in your mind. Simply notice that your thinking is following a particular track, in a nonjudgmental manner. Next, learn how to talk to yourself in a constructive and rational manner. What would you say to a dear and beloved friend in this instance? Try saying the same thing to yourself. This process is a hallmark of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Anxiety tip #7: Watch the toxins. Many people use alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine as short-term solutions for their anxiety. The difficulty is that self-medicating with these substances only creates more problems in the long run. Break the cycle. Similarly, be careful with comfort food—this is one of those times that too much of a good thing can make you miserable.
  • Anxiety tip #8: Don’t watch the news. Use discretion with television, newspapers, and other sources of news. Of course, it is important to know what’s going on in the world, but our current culture—“all news, all the time,” highlighting the latest disaster in endless replays—can easily trigger or feed anxiety.
  • Anxiety tip #9: Don’t worry alone. In the absence of realistic feedback, we often can spin some fairly creative doomsday scenarios. If something is troubling you, get the reassurance and reality checks you need. Consult someone you trust—a friend, family member, or a religious advisor, for instance. Anxiety often diminishes when we share our worries, and practical solutions to problems may emerge in the course of the conversation.

  • For more Depression & Anxiety articles, please visit the Depression & Anxiety Topic Page

    Posted in Depression and Anxiety on June 13, 2007

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