There are many ways to treat anxiety without medication, from various types of therapy to dietary and lifestyle factors.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 19.1% of adults had an anxiety disorder during the past year.
Anxiety treatment without medication can and does work. It is important for people to work with a knowledgeable provider and discuss their specific concerns about medication.
Keep reading to learn more about treating anxiety without medication, including through psychotherapy, diet, alternative therapies, and more.
Exercise can help manage symptoms of anxiety and, in some people, may even be a substitute for other types of treatment.
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis found that aerobic exercise — especially high-intensity exercise — could be particularly beneficial.
However, the authors of that study caution that the wide variability in types of exercise included in the review and the small sample sizes of many studies limits the data. Scientists must continue their research to prove conclusively that exercise is an effective treatment for anxiety.
Psychotherapy is a highly effective intervention for anxiety. In fact, the American Psychological Association emphasizes that therapy is typically more effective than medication. This is because psychotherapy gives a person the chance to talk about their anxiety, explore coping mechanisms, and work through experiences that contribute to their anxiety.
Some people find that changing their diet helps reduce anxiety. Options to consider include:
- Reducing caffeine: Try reducing caffeine intake, especially late in the day or before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can speed up activity in the brain and body, making a person feel restless and anxious. Several studies suggest a link between caffeine and anxiety, including a
2015 analysisof schoolchildren that linked high caffeine consumption to higher stress and anxiety.
- Drinking less alcohol: Though few studies have directly assessed the link between alcohol and anxiety, many find that people self-medicate with alcohol. Some drinkers report an improvement in anxiety symptoms when they stop drinking or reduce their alcohol consumption.
- Keeping a food log: Keep a food log to assess whether anxiety is worse after eating certain foods. A 2019 study found a correlation between a high intake of saturated fats and added sugars and higher overall anxiety in adults. The study suggests diet may affect mental health, but it did not establish a causal link.
Many foods may also contain nutrients that could help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety can be very isolating. Support groups help people with anxiety feel less alone. They may also offer practical wisdom that can help a person find the right provider, talk to their loved ones about their anxiety, or manage the process of seeking workplace accommodations.
Support groups come in many forms, such as anonymous online message boards, in-person meetings, and virtual sessions. Some therapists also facilitate support groups. A person should consider their schedule, comfort level, and goals when deciding which type of support group to try.
People with anxiety need support from loved ones. Education about anxiety may help families better support children and other loved ones.
Educational and workplace accommodations may also help. They can prevent anxiety from causing additional stress, such as from the loss of a job or a failing grade.
Some people find that complementary and alternative treatments, such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic care, help their anxiety symptoms. A 2018 systematic review of 13 mostly small studies suggests that both acupuncture and electro-acupuncture may ease anxiety.
While some studies report promising results, there is no conclusive data showing these treatments work. So people trying alternative remedies should use them as a complement to other treatments, not substitutes for care.
Other alternative therapies may also have some benefits in treating anxiety.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a newer anxiety treatment that uses magnets to create a weak electrical current in the brain.
This current may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that relieve anxiety or change how the brain processes anxiety. Doctors are not totally sure how it works.
Various stress relief techniques may help ease anxiety. The right approach depends on the person and the type of anxiety. For example, people who feel anxiety about work may find that the right organizational system relieves their fear of missing a deadline, while people who feel anxious while home alone at night might invest in an alarm system or get a dog.
Some strategies that can work for different types of stress and anxiety include:
- progressive muscle relaxation, which focuses on steadily relaxing individual muscle groups
- deep breathing techniques, such as counting breaths or meditating
- writing in a journal
- spending time with a pet
- engaging in pleasurable self-care activities, such as reading a book or taking a bath
Most people experience anxiety from time to time. When a person has anxiety so intense that it undermines sleep, daily functioning, or relationships, it is time to seek help. This type of anxiety is a medical condition. And while medication is an option, it is not the only treatment.
A doctor can help with getting the correct diagnosis, ruling out physical health issues, and finding therapy and other remedies.
A person should contact a doctor or healthcare provider if they experience the following:
- They feel chronically anxious for no clear reason or have constantly shifting anxieties.
- Their anxiety is disproportionate to the stress they feel, such as if a person who has a relatively safe and comfortable life is chronically afraid of violence or starvation.
- They experience panic attacks or physical anxiety symptoms, such as a racing heart or stomach pain.
- Their anxiety treatment does not work or suddenly stops working.
Anxiety can feel physically and emotionally exhausting.
It may cause conflict in relationships, make work and school more difficult, and trigger chronic feelings of fear and isolation.
Anxiety is treatable without medication using the right combination of lifestyle changes, therapies, and support.
If a person is concerned about their anxiety, they should reach out to a mental health professional or doctor and not delay care.