Relief from anxiety symptoms: 7 practical treatments that work

23 January 2024

Introduction

It’s not just the fast-paced rhythm of modern life, anxiety’s been around for a while. First described in 1621, today anxiety is defined in terms of a persistent state of uneasiness, apprehension, or fear.

Anxiety can be a one-off occurrence or become an ongoing struggle for others. Affecting 1 in 3 people at some point in their lives, it is the most common mental health issue. So it’s not surprising that the causes are wide and varied. They include stress, trauma, medical conditions, genetics, and brain changes. About 25% of people experiencing anxiety will need medical treatment.

Dive in and explore these seven proven approaches to reducing anxiety. From Aruveydic herbs to fantastic devices, you’ll find that these practical tools can help navigate tricky times and pave the way for better well-being. Or maybe these will prompt to look further and deeper into other methods that soothe and promote wellbeing.

Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you are experiencing severe or persistent anxiety symptoms, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and treatment.

1. Breathwork

Someone once told me that you can’t panic when you’re breathing slowly. I needed to try out one scuba dive that went pear-shaped. When stress took over and I desperately wanted to tear off my vest and mask, I heard those words. I shut my eyes for a few moments and focused on slow, deep, even breaths. I recovered and went on to enjoy an epic dive. True story.

Breath has to be one of the simplest yet powerful tools for managing anxiety. Deep, intentional breathing can activate the body’s relaxation response, reducing stress levels and promoting a sense of calm. To get you curious, here are three popular methods.

Diaphragmatic Breathing: Focus on breathing deeply from your diaphragm (belly) rather than shallow breaths from your chest. Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand, then exhale through your mouth.

Box Breathing: Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and then pause for another four counts before starting the cycle again. This technique helps regulate the breath and calm the nervous system.

4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this cycle several times to induce relaxation.

2. Weighted blankets and toys

Weighted blankets and toys have morphed from the therapist’s room to the home. They’ve really gained in popularity in recent years because of their calming effect on the nervous system. It’s caused by deep touch pressure that mimics the sensation of being hugged or held, promoting a sense of security and reducing anxiety.

Studies have shown that the use of weighted blankets can improve sleep quality and decrease symptoms of anxiety. They work for people of all ages and provide a simple, non-stigmatizing solution. More and more classrooms and other everyday environments have blankets available for moments of overwhelm.

3. White noise

With a simple fan-like buzz or gurgle of a gentle stream to a range of 30+ programable options, these devices are strangely effective at aiding relaxation and sleep.

White noise machines can be valuable, especially for those who struggle with racing thoughts or falling asleep. The machine produces a consistent background noise that helps drown out disruptive sounds and creates a soothing environment. The gentle hum of white noise can mask other auditory stimuli, promoting relaxation and improving overall mental well-being.

Along with the straight-up machine, the technology is commonly integrated into lamps, diffusers, or cleverly disguised as nursey toys making for double-duty in the bedroom.

Used to help settle all ages from infants to the elderly, these devices are particularly good for travel as they can distract from unfamiliar background noises.

4. Exercise

The simplest and easiest DIY way to soothe is movement. From walking figures of eight to a solid gym workout, physical activity helps to reduce anxiety in several ways. The most obvious is that it distracts from the feelings and provides a different focus. What we don’t see is the way exercise can benefit our body chemistry and help shift our brains into a different gear.

Essentially, an increased heart rate increases the availability of neurochemicals such as serotonin and GABA which soothe and relax. Still in the brain, movement helps to activate the front (thinking) part of the brain and control the instinctive (amygdala) part that is busy doing fight or flight.

While self-soothing and good for you, the bonus of regular exercise is that it helps build up resilience to stress therefore providing a handy go-to solution for any moment.

5. Mindfulness practices

Most cultures have some form of tradition with mindfulness, contemplation, or rhythm that connects us to our inner world. Yet, in our modern lifestyles, we seem to have forgotten the value of these soothing techniques.

Mindfulness has a positive impact on the physical, cognitive (thinking), emotional, and behavioural symptoms of anxiety. In recent years there has been a growing body of research that shows that mindfulness retrains the brain to a calmer, more even response to stress. Like exercise, it builds resilience.

Definitely not a quick fix, mindfulness practices take many forms and it can take a bit of trial and error to land on the approach that best suits a personal circumstance. From mindfulness-based psychological therapies to meditation and movement practices (think walking and colouring in), the choice is yours.

A broad range of apps are available that provide education, support programs, and practices designed to assist in achieving individual goals.

6. Herbal remedies

From the application of oils to diffusers and supplements, there is a long tradition of the use of herbal remedies for anxiety. Several herbal remedies have been studied for their potential anti-anxiety effects.

Cautionary note: it is easy to underestimate the potency or effect of herbal remedies. Before use, they need to be considered in the context of other remedies, medications, and health concerns. Therefore it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating any herbal supplements into your routine. To get you started, here are a few of the many well-researched herbs used to manage anxiety.

Chamomile: Known for its calming properties, chamomile can be consumed as a tea to help alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Valerian Root: Often used as a natural remedy for insomnia, valerian root may also have anxiolytic effects.

Lavender: Whether in the form of essential oil or tea, lavender has been associated with reduced anxiety and improved sleep.

Ashwagandha: Used in Aruyvedic (Indian) medicine, studies have shown Ashwagandha to reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety.

7. Psychological treatments

For those seeking more comprehensive and long-term solutions, various psychological treatments have demonstrated effectiveness in managing anxiety.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns. It equips individuals with practical strategies to change behaviours and improve coping mechanisms.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Incorporating mindfulness meditation and awareness, MBSR has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and enhance overall well-being.

Exposure Therapy: Particularly effective for specific phobias and panic disorders, exposure therapy involves gradually facing and overcoming feared situations in a controlled and supportive environment.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness to bring emotional regulation and improve interpersonal effectiveness.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR): Particularly useful for trauma and PTSD, EMDR is quick and effective. The treatment allows the brain to reprocess overwhelming events resulting in greater inner peace and calmness.

Conclusion

Whether it is a one-off or underlying emotion, anxiety is draining and can lead to long-term chronic physical and emotional ill-health.

There’s no magic wand and there’s a one-size-fits-all solution, so feel free to try different approaches to find what works for you. Whether you opt for breathwork techniques, invest in weighted blankets, explore herbal remedies, or engage in psychological treatments, the key is curiosity and persistence. Integrating these evidence-based strategies into your daily routine can contribute to a healthier and more balanced mental state, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and anxiety-free life.

Above all, placing self-compassion at the centre of your treatment or remedy will make a world of difference. Be kind to you.

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