12 Ways to Relieve Anxiety in Adults, Without Therapy or Medication


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12 Ways to Relieve Anxiety in Adults, Without Therapy or Medication
A young man sitting on the floor with his knees bent, laying his head on his knees and closing his eyes.

Small amounts of anxiety are normal, but sometimes anxiety becomes overwhelming. The proportion of people living with anxiety has risen by over 25% over the last couple of years. The rapid increase appears to be fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic along with the cost of living crisis. 

Although more people are experiencing anxiety, access to therapy, medication, or specialist care is limited. Knowing the right tools to relieve anxiety can provide comfort, help you cope, and give relief until you can see a mental health care provider. 

We examined peer-reviewed studies, consulted mental health experts, and searched the web for first-hand accounts of anxiety relief to create a list of anxiety-management strategies you can explore on your own.

What Is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is the feeling you have when you experience or anticipate a challenging situation or outcome. It's a normal emotion that alerts your mind and body to potentially challenging situations. 

Anxiety disorders occur when feelings of anxiousness become excessive and interfere with your daily life. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions affecting over 25 million Americans — 30% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety? 

Symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person. They can also depend on how anxious you are. Some symptoms include: 

  • Panic

  • Irritability 

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Restlessness 

  • Nervousness 

  • Feeling tense 

  • Racing heartbeat 

  • Excessive worry 

  • Urinary incontinence 

  • Quick, shallow breaths

  • Concentration difficulties 

  • Diarrhea or constipation 

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep 

What Tools Can Relieve Anxiety in Adults?

We examined several anxiety relief practices, herbs, supplements, and devices. Some had more scientific evidence to support their use, while others were more experimental. 

We classified anxiety relief resources into two groups:

  • Therapeutic techniques 

  • Other anxiety relief tools 

Here are the techniques, tools, and tips that can help you feel calmer and less anxious.

Therapeutic Techniques for Relieving Anxiety in Adults 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing — or box breathing — exercises have been proven to reduce feelings and symptoms of anxiety. It’s an effective way to create feelings of calmness without spending any money, seeing a therapist, or taking any pills. 

Studies show that deep breathing relieves stress and enhances psychological well-being. It also aids muscle relaxation and reduces physical signs of anxiety, such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, and dry mouth.

One study found that even one session of focused deep breathing exercises measurably relieved anxiety in adults.

Research shows deep breathing exercises work by sending calming messages to your brain and reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that regulates anxiety and stress. When cortisol levels are low, you feel less anxious and more relaxed.

“The best way to relieve anxiety instantly is by using deep breathing techniques. Deep breathing lowers cortisol by increasing oxygen in the brain and essentially ‘turning off’ cortisol. This action has a calming effect,” says Sarah E. F. O’Brien, a licensed clinical social worker and certified clinical anxiety treatment professional in Maryland. 

How you can practice deep breathing exercises on your own: 

  • Find a safe, quiet, comfortable place and sit or lie down.

  • Inhale deeply, hold and exhale.

  • Use methods like square breathing: Inhale for four counts, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four. Repeat.

  • Or just focus on breathing as deeply and slowly as you can. 

  • Be mindful and focus on the breaths you’re taking. 

  • Be patient and consistent to see results. 

  • Consider using an app, virtual guide, or audiobook to begin. 

Cognitive Reframing

Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique used to change the way you think about a situation, person, or object. Cognitive reframing works by shifting your perspective from one that upsets you to one that makes you feel empowered.

“When our automatic thoughts are dysfunctional — causing distress without inspiring constructive action — and allowed to linger in the focus of our attention, they invade our self-talk and provoke anxiety. These dysfunctional thoughts are almost always incomplete, unreasonable, or wrong,” saysJohn F. Tholen, a cognitive psychologist and the author of Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind. “We can manage anxiety by collecting and shifting our attention onto balanced and reasonable alternative ideas that reassure, inspire hope, or motivate self-assertion,” he says. 

Cognitive reframing involves redirecting our attention, perspective, and “frames” of thought. One study conducted on 56 people with social anxiety disorder showed that cognitive reframing relieved various forms of anxiety and post-event processing. You can practice cognitive reframing with the help of a therapist or by yourself. 

How to Practice Cognitive Reframing by Yourself

Recognize your distressing thoughts and ideas. Consider how they affect your perspective and influence your feelings. 

Now, consciously consider the possible outcomes of each distressing thought. Are there other aspects that you haven't considered? Could there be another way to look at things? Can you imagine a scenario where things can work out well in the end? 

For example, if you’re distressed about an upcoming speech, you could ask yourself what you’re most worried about. If the answer is: “I will make a fool of myself. Everyone will hate it.” Then you can reframe that by thinking: “I have been given a great opportunity. I will do a great job. People will benefit from my speech. I will prepare. I have nothing to worry about. This too shall pass.” 

For more effective cognitive reframing, it could help to pair the process of thoughts and outcomes with other helpful practices such as meditation, mindfulness, gratitude journaling, affirmations, and visualization. 

These practices help you notice negative thoughts, keep intrusive thoughts away, and help you track positive, empowering ideas that can affect the actions you take and the overall perspective you adopt.

Behavioral Activation 

Behavioral activation is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique that focuses on using your behavior to improve your feelings, emotions, and mood. It works by helping you notice and practice helpful behaviors while avoiding behavior that worsens your anxiety. 

"Behavioral activation helps us take action on things we enjoy when we may be feeling resistant to doing anything. It uses behavior to help people feel better when they may be struggling with their mental health," says Rebecca Lockwood, a life coach and Neuro Linguistic programming trainer. 

Begin with small amounts of the activities you enjoy and increase these gradually. “It’s believed that if you are feeling low, doing the activities that you love and enjoy will help you to feel better. If you do too much at once, it could potentially cause a [negative] association in the brain that [causes] you to stop enjoying that activity too," says Lovkwood. 

Behavioral activation has been proven to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can practice behavioral activation on your own or with the help of a therapist.

How to Practice Behavioral Therapy at Home  

The University of Michigan produced a helpful workbook that teaches you to practice behavioral activation on your own. You focus on identifying behavior that calms you and then practice it deliberately. 

Some behaviors that may create feelings of calmness and well-being include: 

  • Sex 

  • Yoga

  • Naps

  • Reading

  • Writing 

  • Singing

  • Drawing

  • Dancing 

  • Walking

  • Laughing

  • Stretching 

  • Self-massage

  • Listening to soothing music 

  • Playing a musical instrument

  • Playing with your kids or pets

You can also explore other safe, healthy activities and behaviors that improve your mood and feelings. 

Journaling

Journaling is simply writing or recording your unfiltered thoughts. When you journal, you can keep track of your thoughts, feelings, challenges, and other issues that affect your emotions. You can journal on paper, use an app, or a voice recorder.  

Cherise Small is a licensed clinical social worker from Philadelphia who helps people with anxiety. She advises people to develop coping skills and create an “anxiety toolbox.” Three tools she recommends for your toolbox: movement, meditation, and journaling. 

“It’s very important to take the time to express what causes anxiety. And journaling is a great way to remove the thoughts from inside your head and onto paper,” says Small. “Also, if you don’t enjoy writing, consider using voice journals that you can download on your laptop or phone.” 

Journaling works by helping you: 

  • Stop a cycle of brooding and overthinking 

  • Understand your thoughts better 

  • Have an outlet for your feelings and thoughts 

  • Identify anxiety triggers 

  • Note helpful activities/situations 

  • Reduce feelings of distress 

  • Improve mood and well-being 

Journaling can help you reduce feelings of anxiety; the practice improves your wellness by providing an outlet to improve memory, boost self-confidence, track progress, meet goals, and gain insights. 

How to Practice Journaling on Your Own 

  • Don't worry about the medium. Start writing anywhere you want. Don't worry about having a beautiful, new journal or the latest app. Start with whatever you have. 

  • Ease into it. You want to make journaling a habit, but you shouldn't try to do too much at once. Aim for a page and see how much you can write. Try to write regularly.

  • Don't overthink it. In the beginning, aim to write for just a few minutes. You can set a timer as a guide.  

  • Focus your journaling on what matters to you. 

There are many types of journaling, including:

  1. Gratitude journaling

  2. Expressive writing 

  3. Thought diaries 

You can try different types until you find one you like. 

Writing about negative or stressful things might worsen your feelings of anxiety. Instead, you can write about:

  • Things you’re grateful for

  • Good things you’re expecting

  • Pleasant things you experienced 

  • Anything positive that comes to mind

You can write lists, prose, poetry, or stream of consciousness writing that doesn’t follow rules. Remember, this is meant to be an enjoyable, soothing activity. Keep at it for a while and see if your feelings improve. 

Grounding Exercises 

Grounding exercises help you focus or “ground yourself” in the present, shutting out anxious feelings and thoughts. Grounding exercises go by several names such as 5-4-3-2-1, 5-5-5, 3-3-3, observe-distract-self-soothe, but they all involve increased mindfulness and focus on the now. 

Grounding techniques can be physical, mental, or soothing. 

How You Can Practice Grounding on Your Own 

You can practice grounding on your own in various ways. The key is being present and conscious of the real things you can see, feel, smell, taste, and touch.

Mental grounding techniques: 

  • Count to 50 or say the alphabet. Then do it backward. 

  • Imagine a pleasant place. 

  • Describe things you can see, touch, hear, or taste.

  • Think of or watch something funny. 

Soothing grounding techniques: 

  • Think of your favorite things. 

  • Say loving things to yourself. 

  • Schedule and practice self-care. 

  • Say affirmations and inspiring words to yourself. 

Physical grounding techniques: 

  • Focus on your breathing. 

  • Run some water over your face and hands.

  • Focus on stretching parts of your body. 

  • Grip an object as tight as you can and release it slowly while you picture transferring negative feelings to it. 

These therapy-based tools are useful for relieving anxiety. But they might not work in all cases or for everyone. Try them and note how well they help you calm yourself. 

Anxiety often has triggers and, when the triggers are addressed, it often improves. It's worthwhile to identify any sources of anxiety (such as a toxic relationship, stressful environment, or bullying) and work towards removing or avoiding them when possible. 

If you don't feel any relief or your anxiety seems to worsen, you might need more help. You should speak to a mental health professional if anxiety affects your daily life.

Other Anxiety Relief Tools

Apart from the techniques we’ve discussed, other options exist for adult anxiety relief, from ancient remedies to ultra-modern devices. Most of them have not been through rigorous scientific testing for effectiveness and safety. You should use them with caution, discussing them with your healthcare provider when possible. 

Meditation Apps

Meditation or mindfulness is an ancient practice that focuses your attention and shuts out distractions. The focus could be on yourself, an object, a thought, or an activity. Meditation has several benefits, such as:

  • Lowered stress levels

  • Lowered blood pressure 

  • Decreased anxiety 

  • Improved sleep 

One study found that meditation can enhance mood, memory, attention, and emotional regulation in people trying it for the first time. Another study found that 15 minutes of meditation improved mood, outlook, and emotions

Meditation can be challenging for beginners. To help, many apps provide guided meditations. Popular meditation apps include Calm, Headspace, and Healthy Minds. Downloading a meditation app is free, but you need to pay a monthly subscription to access all the benefits; Headspace costs $12.99/month, Calm costs $14.99/month, and Healthy Minds is free. 

Experts agree that meditation can relieve anxiety, so using an app to ease into the practice is worth trying. 

Psychedelic Therapy 

Psychedelics are substances found in mushrooms that can change your thoughts and feelings. The use of psychedelics is still experimental, but some first-hand accounts say it was effective and helpful.

“New research into the use of psychedelic drugs [such as MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin] during psychotherapy to treat anxiety and depression has been promising,“ says Peter Vernig, VP of Mental Health Services, Recovery Centers of America.

“This approach is very new, and anyone looking to try a treatment like this should do their homework before making a decision. It’s very important to note that no one should self-administer these drugs to treat anxiety,” says Vernig. “This should only be done in consultation with a healthcare professional. If you’re thinking about psychedelics for anxiety treatment, you should also be aware that these drugs may be illegal in your area and many laws do not currently have exceptions for clinical use.”

Companies offering psychedelic therapy include Mindbloom, Nue.Life, and Journey Clinical. Cost varies depending on the company and program that fits your needs, but The Basics package from Mindbloom costs $1,158; a one-month subscription to Nue.Life costs $1,399 total and a four-month subscription costs $2,999 total. Partial reimbursement for some of these therapeutic services may be possible through certain insurance plans. Call your insurance provider to learn what they might cover. 

We don't advise you to try psychedelics on your own because there are considerable risks. 

Wearables 

What if you could wear a bracelet, vest, or headband that zapped anxious thoughts away? That's the premise behind anxiety-relief wearables. 

“Some wearables, like heart rate monitors and headbands that give rough monitoring of brainwaves, can be helpful tools for managing stress and anxiety. In most cases, these devices are intended to help a person effectively use coping strategies such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, meditation, and mindfulness,” says Vernig. 

They may guide you in a breathing or mindfulness exercise, remind you to take a break, warn you when your body is experiencing stress, or help you to use relaxation exercises more effectively by providing immediate feedback from your body, says Vernig. “This is usually most effective for mild to moderate anxiety and may be used alongside psychotherapy to help with more severe anxiety disorders.”

Some wearables go a step further to detect when you’re stressed and send calming vibrations to your body. 

Most experts are still skeptical, and there haven't been any large studies on wearables’ effectiveness. However, many first-hand reports such as this and this are quite glowing, so perhaps there might be some merit in these ultramodern anxiety-fighting devices. 

They seem to be safe, so it might be worth trying one if it fits your budget and lifestyle. All you need to do is buy one online and follow the directions. 

Some companies that offer anxiety-soothing wearables: CalmiGo, Apollo , Cove, Muse. Prices range from $99 with $19 monthly payments for Cove, $250 for Muse 2, and $349 for Apollo (which is considered one of the best overall anxiety relieving wearables).

Herbs and Supplements 

Experts hesitate to endorse herbs and supplements because there haven't been many large-scale clinical trials on them. And, because their quality is very loosely monitored, it might be hard to know if you’re getting 100% pure ingredients or a combo of colored chalk and blended grass. 

However, there are some herbs and supplements that may reduce anxiety symptoms and help people calm themselves. 

If you decide to try any of these herbs or supplements, don’t combine them with any medication without discussing it with your healthcare provider first. Many herbs and supplements can interact with medication and prevent them from working or make them harmful when taken together.

If you decide to try them, you should buy herbs and supplements from trusted sources and use them in moderation as part of a wholesome anxiety control plan.

Herbs 

Herbs have been used to calm nerves for centuries. While the exact way most of them work has not been identified yet, research shows some herbs produce a calming effect. 

Some anxiety-relieving herbs are: 

  • Valerian root: This root is native to Asia and Europe and can be taken as a tea, tablet, or tincture. It has been found to promote calming effects and aid sleep. It should not be used with alcohol or sedatives because it induces sleep. Pregnant people, those breastfeeding, and children below three should not use.

  • Ashwagandha: This root has been used as medicine for centuries; it may reduce cortisol levels in the body and promote sleep. Ashwagandha is safe for humans and can be taken as a tablet or a liquid tincture. A study in rats showed that it could relieve anxiety as much as potent anxiety medication like lorazepam. Studies in humans also show that it has anxiety-relieving properties and works better than a placebo. About 250 mg a day for 60 days has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms

  • Lavender: Lavender is a flowering mint plant known for its calming effect. It can be used as a tea or aromatherapy oil. Research shows that lavender contains terpenes, compounds that have a calming effect on the brain. 

  • Passionflower: Passionflower is a large family of plants that can be taken in tablet form or as a liquid tincture. The passiflora incarnata species was found to have calming effects similar to potent sedative drugs called benzodiazepines.

  • Kava: Also called kava kava or piper methysticum, this plant in the pepper family is native to the Pacific Islands. It contains mood-altering compounds called kava pyrones. One study showed that kava was safe for humans and produced significant anxiety reduction in people that took 120 mg over six weeks. It’s consumed as a beverage.  

Supplements 

Many supplements claim to relieve anxiety and produce calming effects. But most claims have not been scientifically proven. 

“When using any dietary supplement, it’s important to ensure that it comes from a reputable supplier and to consider any potential side effects and interactions with other supplements or prescribed medications. When using dietary supplements to manage any mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder, be sure to consult with a mental health professional,” says Vernig.

The following supplements may relieve anxiety: 

  • Magnesium: This mineral influences nerve and muscle function. A study found that low magnesium levels were linked with higher levels of anxiety. Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados, cocoa powder, raisins, broccoli, oatmeal, carrots, and apples. You can also take a magnesium supplement if you aren't able to meet your dietary needs through food. 

  • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is a water-soluble vitamin that supports immune function and brain health. Research shows it may reduce premenstrual anxiety and anxiety in older women. Vitamin B6 is available in foods like poultry, beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, bananas, papaya, oranges, cantaloupe, and dark green vegetables. It can also be taken as a supplement if dietary levels are inadequate. 

  • L-theanine: This amino acid is found in green and black tea. One study showed L-theanine may reduce symptoms of anxiety. It can be taken by drinking tea or swallowing tablets. 

  • L-lysine and L-arginine: These amino acids influence the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain. Research supports that when taken together, these amino acids may reduce anxiety scores

  • High-dose, sustained-release vitamin C: Ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that supports wound healing, connective tissue, and several chemical processes in the brain and nerves. Research shows high-dose sustained release vitamin C may reduce anxiety and blood pressure spikes in response to stress. Vitamin C is found in oranges and other citrus fruits. It’s also found in strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, kiwi, and cruciferous vegetables. Vitamin C is not stored in the body; you need a daily dose of it. The recommended daily dose is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is the maximum amount you can take without harmful health effects. The UL for vitamin C is 2000 mg daily. Taking more than this can lead to complications like kidney stones, diarrhea, and tissue damage. 

  • Fatty acids: Your body needs essential fatty acids (EFAs) for good health, but can’t synthesize them. There are two groups of EFAs: omega-3 and omega-6. Research shows that EFAs may lower rates of mood disorders. You can get EPAs in foods such as fish and fish oil, flax seed, walnut, and soybeans. You can also find them as supplements. 

Bottom Line 

Anxiety can be relieved by certain techniques, tools, and lifestyle choices. There are many tools, therapies, and methods that can help you relieve anxiety, but the results may vary from person to person. 

While most of these tools and techniques are a great addition to anyone's anxiety relief toolkit, some, like psychedelics, should be used with caution. 

If your anxiety is mild, it should respond to an anxiety relief plan that includes one or more of the options discussed. If it doesn't respond, or it worsens, it is best to seek expert attention. 

Lifestyle and your choices around exercise, diet, and sleep serve as the pillars of your well-being. It’s hard for your body and mind to function well when any of them are inadequate. Investments in these areas can help you relieve stress and support your overall well-being; if you’re struggling with anxiety, see if practicing a consistent exercise routine, eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet, and getting enough quality sleep helps.

If you need some additional coping mechanisms, try one of the methods described above for a couple of weeks to see if it helps. Add another one if needed, and so on, until you find a well-rounded program that helps you handle with anxiety.