4 strategies I originally dismissed as too “out there” that have significantly helped me (and my loved ones) manage anxiety.

4 strategies I originally dismissed as too “out there” that have significantly helped me (and my loved ones) manage anxiety.

A few weeks ago I talked about the 5 areas where I can’t afford to be low maintenance: the routine things I need to do to stay balanced, as inspired by Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier.

In the book, Harris, an ABC news anchor, shares his personal journey, which began when he had a panic attack on the job, on live television. While anxiety isn’t (or perhaps I should say, is no longer) at the heart of my struggle, it still comes up occasionally, and (being deliberately vague here) it’s an ongoing issue for a few people I’m close to.

I recently listened to a fantastic episode of Megan’s Sorta Awesome podcast (episode 26), where Megan and Laura Tremaine discuss their personal struggles with anxiety in detail.

It’s an excellent episode. I caught myself nodding along to their stories—which was funny, because not long ago I would have dismissed several of those same ideas and interventions as ridiculous. Or at least woo-woo.

But in the past year I’ve tried—or had a front row seat to someone else trying—a handful of proactive things that definitely sounded “out there” to me, but have yielded dramatic improvements.

EMDR. This sounded bonkers to me when a therapist first suggested it. I mentioned this offhand to a friend who used to be a social worker, and she reminded me that I’d actually heard of EMDR before: Addie Zierman talks about her experience in her excellent spiritual memoir When We Were on Fire. That gave me confidence to try it.

I started EMDR last summer to unpack my own 9/11 stuff, and just wrapped it up a few weeks ago. It is definitely weird, but it also makes a strange kind of sense, and is strongly reminiscent of the reconstructive therapy my kid’s old occupational therapist does with stroke victims and others rehabilitating from brain impairments.

2. Tapping. When I first heard about tapping (on a podcast) I thought it sounded absurd. But a year later, a therapist mentioned it can be a helpful tool for leveling out anxiety. She gave me a worksheet that walked me through the steps and showed me the key pressure points.

I was highly skeptical, but when a time arose to help someone I’m close to deal with a major anxiety blow-up, we sat down and did it, and it worked. It’s been in my toolbox ever since.

My therapist also gave me tips—for my own use—on how to subtly use the technique in a public place, like an airplane.

This link to PEAT tapping goes a little further (and sounds even more out there) than my therapist recommended, but the core info is the same.

3. Meditation. I used to think this was a little too kumbaya for me, but trying it changed my mind. To quote Dan Harris: “Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeatedly hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of the inner onslaught required genuine grit. This was a badass endeavor.”

4. Supplements/essential oils. Apparently we’re all deficient in one or another key substance essential to our well-being, and I’ve pinpointed mine: I feel much better when I take a daily magnesium supplement. This isn’t new: when I was pregnant (and extremely, unhealthily jittery about my health and the baby’s), taking a daily dose transformed my spiraling anxiety into something I could live with.

I only began experimenting with essential oils last winter, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. No miracle cures or anything, but if a kid is having a hard time falling asleep, a little lavender on their feet (or mine) helps tip them into dreamland, and that makes me think it’s worth exploring this path a little more. (If you have good links, hit me with them in comments.)

I’d love to hear your go-to strategies for managing anxiety or nerves, especially if you were skeptical at first. 

how to manage anxiety: 4 strange but effective medication-free strategies. I was skeptical of these at first, but now that I've seen them work I'm a believer.

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73 comments

  1. Grace says:

    I have tried EMDR in the past and found it to be very effective. The tapping not so much, but maybe because I didn’t stick with it. : ) I’m curious; how much magnesium do you take daily? I had not heard of it’s benefits and would like to know more. Thanks!

    • Amy says:

      I can’t speak for Anne, but I use Natural Calm magnesium powder and it looks like several others on here do too. You start with a half teaspoon and work your way up until you reach your optimal level. When you start having diarrhea you’ve gone too far :-). The instructions on the bottle guide you through it pretty simply.

  2. Karen says:

    I live and teach in Newtown, CT. Tapping, meditation, and essential oils have been very beneficial to many of us in the past few years. Thank you for talking about these very effective strategies.

  3. Joe Joe says:

    For me I’ve used meditation, which helps a lot. I also like mindfulness, meditation’s cousin. My therapist also taught me something called soft tummy breathing. For me my nerves were very much caught up in my stomach, so I learned how to intentionally soften my belly by breathing. I use positive associations like drinking chamomile to help me relax and now I only have to smell it to feel instantly relaxed. Same with lavender. My friend is trying to get me to try sophrology. I’m not opposed to it, I’ve done plenty of “out there” techniques, but I guess I’m just reluctant to start seeing another professional. I already have a therapist and a doctor. I’ve seen psychiatrists etc. I guess I just don’t want to use my limited free time having to make another regular appointment. Maybe another time?

  4. Mrs. W says:

    Passionflower! I have had severe anxiety and this herb is amazing for treating anxiety. Seriously, some research was done and it is like herbal Xanax- without any side effects or the risk of dependency. I’ve been taking it for years for General Anxiety Disorder and Panic disorder- Passionflower is wonderful. I do have to take it several times throughout the day. It takes about 30 minutes to kick in once you take it. It lasts in your system about 3 hours. On days with severe anxiety I take it every 3 hours. On other days, I take it as needed (usually at least twice a day).

  5. Angel says:

    These are some great ideas, thanks everyone. I’m especially looking into magnesium. Any thoughts or tips for teens specifically? My 14 year old daughter is starting to struggle. It started last year and has steadily gotten worse. It was really hard for us to figure out at first because she was such an outgoing little girl. It all seems to be social anxiety (peers and adults). Starting high school has been rough and she goes to a small Alternative Learning school and has a core group of friends there – but it still seems to be a problem. Any other tips? Should we seek out a therapist?

    • Anne says:

      I’m just a fellow parent, not an expert, but I’ve never been sorry to run my questions by a professional. (In our case, our family therapist that we first met when my kid was in our state’s early childhood intervention program for gross motor delays. We’ve kept in touch.) Most of the time the answer we get is “you’re doing fine, and you might also try these tragedies” but a few times we’ve had to dive deeper. It’s been so good for my peace of mind.

  6. Kathryn says:

    My acupuncturist has done her homework on magnesium. So I did my homework too.
    Dr Teals Epsom salts are great for kids…even littlest kids with ADD or sensory disorders. Two cups in bathwater helped our grandchild immediately. Now this wee one scoops the salts into the tub.
    There is a difference in magnesium flakes (see Ancient Minerals) website. You will find a lot of information there.
    Not a salesperson. I have used ancient minerals from GNC store.
    Thank you for your post today.
    EMDR sounded so strange to me. Grateful for therapists who have this training. I use this often.
    Thank you!

  7. Laurie says:

    I have tried all these strategies. I’ve been the most skeptical about tapping and essential oils. However, after a weekend during which I got horrible and ungrounding news, my yoga teacher gave me some doTerra Balance mix… and it worked extremely well. I’m a believer now. As for tapping, my current therapist has done a bit with me, and I have done a little on my own just automatically while trying to deal with anxiety, and it’s brought it right down.
    I still WANT to be skeptical because it all sounds ridiculous… but it’s working, so, skepticism is rapidly leaving!

  8. Patricia Schepel says:

    Also stop with chocolate, coffee, black/green tea (theine) taste enhancer E621 and aspartam.
    It really works. I had it very bad but now I almost free of it!
    And I take everyday vitamine B forte and magensium 😉
    Just to let you know! There is hope!

  9. MJ says:

    May I suggest knitting as an antidote to anxiety? The repetitive motion and the need to sometimes count to follow the pattern are quite calming. And, another upside is that the end result is a finished object that you can wear/use.

  10. Yoga is the best stress reliever I have known till date.In India it has been practised since the last 5000 years ago.
    Again yes Anxiety kills you from inside NO DOUBT.
    This post is a good short guide for the people who want to get rid of it.

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