How to Manage Anxiety Without Taking Meds

The weekend after the presidential election an old friend and I met for dinner. She works for the government and on Wednesday when she realized that her professional environment may drastically change in the new year, she experienced her first panic attack. Anxiety—and the panic attacks, insomnia, appetite changes, and stress that go hand in hand with it—is something that I’ve battled for years. My friend asked me for tips on how to handle an unshakeable growing nervousness. Here’s what I told her.

Seek Professional Help

If anxiety is affecting your life negatively, say you’re afraid to leave the house, it could be time to seek professional help. A therapist is an objective bystander who you talk to on a regular basis. You can openly discuss your worries and concerns without fear of being ridiculed or punished. The only downside to a therapist is that they may encourage you to try medication. To avoid this situation, make it clear from the get-go that you want to learn the skills to manage anxiety rather than take a pill to mask it.

Workout

It may sound cliché, but a good old-fashioned workout is a great way to ease apprehensiveness. When anxiety hits, book the next class at Soul Cycle, tie on your tennis shoes and hit the streets for a run, grab your gloves and start boxing, or head to your favorite yoga practice. Not only will the exercise immediately get your mind off your angst, it will also get the feel-good brain chemicals flowing. When you’re feeling positive, you’re less likely to feel hopeless and experience anxiety.

Meditate

Anxiety is a useless emotion—worrying about something that has not happened will not make you more productive nor will it change the final outcome. While it’s easy to understand this, that anxiety is a negative emotion, it’s not so easy to quiet a racing mind. This is where meditation comes in. Practicing meditation helps you quiet an overactive brain. It teaches you how to separate mental action from yourself. Instead of giving into your fearful thoughts, you can take a few deep breaths and step away from the anxiety. You can let the worry go and focus on mindfulness.

Phone a Friend

There is a reason the word “rant” exists. It feels good to discuss your concerns, complaints, and worries with a trusted friend or advisor. If something is eating away at you, call a friend and ask for a coffee date. Don’t post an unnecessary diatribe on Facebook that you’ll regret later. In the long run, that won’t decrease your overall anxiety. Meet a good friend in person or talk to them over the phone. Expressing yourself in real life with a person who loves you the way you are can do wonders for anxiety levels.

Practice Gratitude

A lot of the anxiety I personally experience involves me obsessing over the things I don’t have. A boyfriend, 401K, dental insurance, a salary that allows me to take lavish vacations and buy Chanel handbags—these are things that I lack. When I start to get down on myself for not having an engagement ring on my left hand, I grab a piece of paper and a pen and take a few moments to be grateful for the things I do have. I have a incredibly loving and supportive family and tight-knit group of friends. I have a job that allows me to work from anywhere in the world. I have a closet full of clothes and the disposable income to shop at Zara if the desire arises. Remember not everyone has running water, electricity, toothpaste, and bananas. The next time you find yourself anxious for what you don’t have, think about what you do have.

Turn Up the Tunes

Music can be therapeutic and although it made sound cheesy, listening to the classical radio station has long been a way of calming myself down. There’s something soothing about the delicate sound of a piano or violin playing lightly in the background. When anxiety has got you down, put on your favorite song or musical genre. Let yourself enjoy it—dance if you want to!

Do an Errand

Sometimes all it takes is a mental distraction to snap you out of a downward anxiety spiral. Worried about an upcoming meeting at work? Get up out of your desk and run an errand. Do something that will take your mind off of what it is you’re worrying about. If you have no errands to run, go to the grocery store and buy an apple or green juice. Perform a task or chore and give it all of your energy. Empty the dishwasher and focus on placing each plate in its proper place. Organize the bathroom cabinet. Fold the laundry. Make a list of Christmas gift ideas. Open your book and read for 10 minutes. Do something—anything—that will take your mind off of the anxiety-causing thoughts.

How do you calm your mind when it’s racing?