- Mental Health
How To Treat An Anxiety Disorder Without Medication
It is astounding how many people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an anxiety disorder affects about 40 million American adults over the age of 18 in a given year.
After miscarrying a baby in 2009, I developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks. Before that time, I didn't even know anxiety disorders existed, let alone how many of my friends and family suffered from them. I thought the doctors were wrong. I thought I had a brain tumor. But the doctor promptly put me on Lexapro and Wellbutrin, along with some Xanax for the really bad times. Now, five years later, I am still afraid to wean myself off of these medications. I have researched about natural ways to treat anxiety and wish I would have been aware of these methods before starting medication.
For many people, myself included, the idea of taking pills daily is not only inconvenient, but frightening. Many of the medications can cause side effects and long term effects including anxiety itself (go figure). Side effects I have experienced are severe night sweats and decreased libido. While severe mental illness can and should be treated with medication when necessary to prevent suicide or violence, there are methods for treating mild to moderate anxiety that should be explored before delving into the world of prescription medication and becoming dependent.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is the most effective option for treating anxiety disorders. CBT teaches a person how to see their negative patterns of thought. CBT says that your thoughts affect the way you feel, therefore if you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings. The problem in anxiety disorders lies in the way a person perceives themselves and the situations they are in. CBT guides patients to challenge their negative thinking with balanced thoughts that lead to better feelings. Although in the worst moments of panic, it can be hard to imagine this method works, many patients have said that it does. I have found this method most useful in preventing a full-blown panic attack if I feel one coming on. My husband has actually learned to help me by helping me balance my thoughts. In my most dire moments, I have a hard time thinking differently. Including friends and family in your life can be so helpful in making you feel not so isolated and more loved and cared for. Finding a good therapist who practices CBT is a major element in treating anxiety without medication. To learn more about CBT, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/basics/definition/prc-20013594.
- Coping mechanisms. This can vary from person to person, but whatever works should be applied. Activities like deep breathing, journaling, walking, stretching, guided imagery (imagining yourself in a place you would love to be) and progressive muscle relaxation are all things a person can do to get through the moments of panic before they reach a critical level. Progressive muscle relaxation is a fairly simple process where you lie down, then one by one, flex then relax each muscle you are aware of in your body starting with your face muscles. Even if you are not suffering from anxiety this is a great activity to do before bed. Sometimes you don't realize you are tensing up your muscles until you force yourself to relax them.
- Distraction. This is a powerful tool for anxiety sufferers. When the brain is forced to think about something other than the anxiety, it tends to calm down fairly quickly. Whether it is fast counting, reciting things from memory, doing a puzzle, preforming math equations or exercising, distracting your brain can be the quickest way to defuse escalating anxiety. The distraction method I employ most regularly is counting by tens. I don't have to think hard to do it, but it is just enough brain work to get out of the panic cycle.
- Talk out loud to yourself. This one is funny because people who are portrayed as crazy in films usually are talking to themselves. In a sense this is true. Not that people with mental illness really are crazy, but that if you are suffering mentally, talking out loud to yourself is surprisingly comforting. Hearing the words, “I am not crazy. This will pass. It’s happened before, and it’s not a big deal,” changes the thought pattern much like CBT does.
- Build a relationship with a fellow anxiety sufferer. In the most desperate moments of panic, a person can feel they are losing their mind. They feel like no one can help them and they will be locked away in the “looney bin” forever. Realizing how common anxiety disorders are, and that other people are experiencing the same thing can be a strong comfort. This method really can help anyone coping with anything difficult. To know that someone knows what you are experiencing and can sympathize is very therapeutic. The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) hosts groups for anxiety and depression sufferes regionally. To find your local group, visit www.nami.org and click on "Find Your Local NAMI" at the top.
- Know that you are in good company. Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson all are or were known anxiety sufferers. There is some consolation in the fact that even highly successful people can struggle with anxiety. See for yourself at http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/famous-people-with-anxiety-disorder. Having an anxiety disorder clearly does not have to hinder you from living a productive, successful life. Learning how to cope with it and realizing it is just a small part of your life can enable you to achieve more than you think you can.
- Let go of the stigmas against mental illness. For some reason, if someone suffers from diabetes, no one looks differently at that person. But if someone is suffering from anxiety, there is an embarrasment both on the part of the person and others who do not understand. Just like the person with diabetes can't control what's going on with their body, an anxiety sufferer can't control what is happening in their mind. It is nothing to be embarrassed about and if you do have to take medication, remember it is just an illness, like diabetes. Your brain is not producing enough of a certain chemical and the medication is supplementing that chemical.
Do You Take Medication For An Anxiety Disorder?
Psychotic medications are very necessary in some cases of anxiety disorders. But other options should always be explored if the person is not in danger of suicide or violence. There are plenty of other ways to cope with mental illness without taking pills all the time. DISCLAIMER: YOU SHOULD NEVER STOP TAKING PSYCHOTIC MEDICATIONS WITHOUT TALKING WITH YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER. TO DO SO COULD RESULT IN SEVERE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS.
Methods For Coping:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Coping Mechanisms
- Find Other Sufferers
- Realize You Are Not Alone
Here is a list of some great reading material about anxiety disorders:
- Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky
- The Anxiety and Worry Workbook by David A. Clark
- Depression-Free, Natually by Joan Mathews Larson
- The Anxious Brain:The Neurobiological Basis of Anxiety Disorders and How To Effectively Treat Them by Steven M. Prinz and Margaret Wehrenberg
Anxiety is not a laughing matter. But sometimes, you just need to be able to laugh about it. Watching movies like What About Bob can help ease some of the harsh reality of what you are going through. Check out some anxiety humor on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/yellowstarsand/anxiety-humor/.