Tell your doctor you have anxiety, and odds are they will have no problem prescribing you something that might help. But what if you don't want to go on medication?
If you're not interested in going the traditional route to treat your anxiety, it can be tricky knowing where to look for advice. That's where our unique panel of holistic gurus comes in. Whether your anxiety is situational or a bit more serious, "a great question to ask ourselves is what are the underlying factors that are triggering an anxiety response?" says Kishan Shah, a resident practitioner of Ayurvedic holistic medicine at wellness festival Lightning in a Bottle. "Has this been going on for a long period of time, and what actions have I taken to remove the causative factors or communicate with them?"
If you want to look at anxiety from a metaphysical perspective, you can think of it as stemming from a "current spiritual crisis," says Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, certified depth hypnotherapist, and shamanic healer at the Sacred Healing Well in Berkeley, California. "Rather than paying attention to guidance from our inner mystic—our wise, soulful voice—we let our inner critic—our overprotective, logical mind—run the show," she explains. According to Tuyl, most quick-fix anxiety treatments don't get the job done because they don't target the heart of the problem. Addressing the source of your anxiety is the basis for all our holistic gurus' healing techniques. Whatever the heart of your anxiety is, our gurus promise that there are simple things you can do to shift the way you handle stressful situations (and their impact on your daily life) in a meaningful way.
Establish a Centering Morning Routine
Whether you're taking a brisk walk, bopping around to a playlist, doing a few sun salutations, or chakra meditating, holistic mental health experts agree that it's crucial to establish a consistent morning routine that connects you to your body. "Often people will use the excuse that they don't have time, but honestly, how much time do you spend in the morning on social media directly after waking?" says Shah, who spends 12 minutes each morning getting her heart rate up on her rebounder, music blasting in the background. As much as this quick activity boosts her metabolism, it also skyrockets her mood, giving her just enough time to start the day on a positive note.
Doing something to get the blood pumping is great, but there are quieter ways to start your day off right if you prefer. "Most mornings, I put my phone on airplane mode and begin with a 20-minute seated meditation followed by hot water with lemon and journaling," says certified holistic health coach and yoga instructor Kerri Axelrod. If a multipart routine doesn't sound doable yet, Axelrod recommends sitting quietly for a five minutes after you wake up to focus on your breath—this gesture coaxes your body out of fight-or-flight mode. "Sitting quietly for a few minutes in the morning before scrolling through social media is also a great way to check in with how you are truly feeling and what may be causing you to worry before your mind is bombarded with perfectly curated images of someone else's life," Axelrod adds.
Trade Caffeine for Adaptogens
So many of us rely on caffeine to get through the day, but our gurus suggest cutting down to two cups in the morning if you can. "Caffeine excess can cause the mind to become overactive, stress our adrenal glands, and experience a roller coaster emotional trip," says Shah. "If you need a little afternoon pick-me-up, go for a brisk walk after lunch. … Movement will give you energy, as counterintuitive as it sounds."
If you find yourself reaching for caffeine in moments of stress, Axelrod suggests working adaptogens into your diet. Adaptogens are herbs that have been used across the world for centuries to help with anxiety. The ingredient has been shown to curb stress, boost immunity, encourage focus, and help you feel more awake overall. Instead of coffee, Axelrod says she likes to add an adaptogenic reishi powder to her matcha in the morning "for a healing and relaxing way to start the day."
Focus on Getting High-Quality Sleep
"We are humans … not machines. So stop treating your body like one," says Shah. Unlike robots, we get anxious and stressed when we're underslept, so creating a routine where we go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day is more important than we often realize. "I recommend turning off all electronic devices, including the television and … relaxing [with] music or reading an actual paper book after 9 p.m.," says Shah.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try dimming the lights in your home as soon as the sun goes down—this will help let your body know that bedtime is coming. "Personally, I set my lights to red after sunset … to tell my body to begin producing all the right hormones for sleep," says Shah. If you can get to a place where you're in bed with the lights out by 10:30 p.m. each night, you'll be in good shape.
Practice Deep Breathing
It's really quite amazing how not getting enough oxygen to the brain can mess with your emotional state. "When were anxious, our breathing can become shallow, which can then perpetuate the cycle of anxiety," Axelrod explains. By consciously slowing down your breath, you can interrupt that cycle. One breathing technique that Axelrod personally uses in stressful situations is "inhaling through the nose, filling my lungs for a count of three, pausing, and then slowly releasing the breath through the mouth for a count of five."
Seek out Professional Guidance When Needed
Of course, sometimes all the deep breathing and lavender oil in the world aren't enough—and that's okay. "Self-compassion and deep listening to the longings of your soul are challenging for most of us because they're like underused muscles," Tuyl says. "As with learning any new skill, don't be afraid to ask for help or join a support group." Seeking professional guidance doesn't have to mean seeing a psychiatrist and going on medication—there are mental health experts of all different backgrounds and philosophies who can be of help. (A therapy app like Talkspace can help you connect with the right match.)
Of course, if you're having panic attacks or feel like your anxiety is consuming your life, consider having an open discussion with your doctor about how to proceed in a way that aligns with both your health and your values.