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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  1. Liz says:

    I am new to EO’s as well, but have found a ton of great information and recipes on the Plant Therapy blog. They also have a fantastic Facebook group that is super helpful. ?

  2. Jamie says:

    Interesting stuff! I am a big huge fan of a high-quality Vitamin D supplement and daily doses of good fats year-round. (I love Biotics’ Vitamin D Forte and “fat bombs” made with Tropical Traditions’ coconut oil.) Vitamin D is an important co-factor in our ability to effectively use so many other things, and keeping vital processes running efficiently. Good quality fats are essential for keeping our brains running smoothly. I have definitely noticed in myself and others that upping consumption of both of these things goes a very long way towards alleviating struggles with depression and anxiety.

  3. Sherrie Phillips says:

    I was introduced to these therapies about 18 years ago. I think they seem weird because they are have not been considered main stream remedies. But, they offer great results without the side effects of prescription drugs. And most of these have been used in other cultures for thousands of years. Another one that should be on your list to try is acupuncture. I believe acupuncture and meditation gave me my best and most dramatic results. However, life being what it is, stuff will cycle – but when it does you have better tools to deal with it.

  4. DebRN says:

    Remembering this: Cast your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you. Jesus is nothing if not a realist and this world causes anxiety. I have learned to normalize it a bit and not conclude something is wrong with me. Knowing that He is for me and solid ground beneath me, I can choose to do the thing (like a speech, starting an IV for the first time being watched, etc..) which is the only way to grow. We all feel anxious for different reasons. My daughter loves to give speeches because, as the youngest, she loved that everyone in the audience had to shut up and listen to her. I find that incredible. It’s good to say out loud to trustworthy people, “I feel anxious when….eg. driving in an unknown city. And have you noticed, that when we share our hearts in such a trusting way, we feel understood and loved. Maybe there is a good side after all. It’s connector to the human experience. Love this blog!

  5. DebRN says:

    Oh Anne, how could I have forgotten one of my favorite literary characters for making me feel understood when facing anxiety: Bilbo Baggins. I promise you will feel a kindred spirit if you just sit down with a cup of tea and read The Hobbit. Sit in a comfy chair in front of the fire. Eat every two hours. Need more comfort? C. S. Lewis tells me “Courage dear heart.” Pass it on.

  6. Emily says:

    I’ll have to try that lavender oil trick at bedtime–that sounds like a winner! I’ve been experimenting with lavender, lemon, and peppermint oils for the past month and I’ve found that the peppermint is really helpful to me. Just inhaling that one makes my stomach, which can hate me, a lot happier. I’m about to get a small diffuser so I can diffuse EOs in my bedroom and in my workspace.

  7. liz n. says:

    Along the lines of meditation, I do yoga every day. It really does help clear my mind, relax me, and my thinking is more clear. I’ve used essential oils for decades, which became habit at a young age. My great-grandmother used them, and it was never a “new” thing for me.

    Like you, my husband was quite the skeptic. He won’t try yoga, and that’s fine, it’s his choice. However, several years ago, he was going through a LOT of job-related stress, resulting in terrible sleep and becoming ill fairly often. He finally caved (probably to shut me up) and tried a breathing technique and a couple of EOs. Worked like a charm once he became more consistent in practice, and he uses the breathing techniques (which are similar to tapping) to this day when he’s feeling over-stressed and/or his sleep pattern is wonky.

  8. Sarah Alves says:

    Fidgets! My anxiety presents through OCD, so keeping my hands busy is not just a good thing to do every now and then, but a true requirement for me to stay regulated.

  9. Laura G says:

    I’m no stranger to anxiety. I read the book, “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression”, by
    James S. Gordon. It’s about depression, but I feel like anxiety is the older brother version of the bully, depression. — If I don’t manage my depression, my anxiety gets out of control.

    Thant book had some strategies for knowing your own triggers, (a few of mine are unshaven legs, unswept floor,) this allows me to do physical things to help my mental well-being.

    I also am a patient at Mayo clinic for a myriad of health conditions where anxiety is a symptom, and sometimes just a byproduct of having health issues.

    They introduced me to some breathing techniques. (It has a fancy name… (Biofeedback). The specialist also had me download an app on my iPhone that was not associated with Mayo Clinic at all. You can put your specific breathing pattern into the app, and use it anytime you want. (It’s called Breath Pacer.)

    I also looked into EO. I found some studies done on a few of them. I think lavender does help to calm, green tea tree does help with skin issues, but shouldn’t be used on boys because it can mess with estrogen. Orange helps, but opening an actual orange has the exact same benefits. I think peppermint is also proven to help with nausea.

    My skepticism lies in the multi-level marketing. I also worry that some people who are truly sick, will get a false hope. (I’ve sort too much time and money on false hopes.)

    Thank you for sharing. It’s not easy, but it allows others to open up too and find healing together.
    <3 Laura

    • Jess says:

      Hi Laura,
      There are a lot of other essential oil companies that don’t have multi-level marketing. The big companies each try to say why they are best (don’t all businesses?!) but there aren’t that many essential oil distillers in the world and so a lot of them are getting their oils distilled from the same places. It’s kind of the hot button topic with oils- who the best is, how they grow them, if they own their own plant farms, etc. I have used oils from Young Living, and doTerra, the big two, but also from Heritage Essential Oils, Acacia, Rocky Mountain and Native American Nutritionals and several other places. There is a ton of research on line from other bloggers who have really gotten into this with third party testing and other things. My advice is to start with the cheaper options to see if they work first, and then move up from there. I like different types from different companies and am not loyal to one brand at all. Good luck with all the research, it can be a little intimidating when you go down that hole. I think I spent hours looking and reading things. but we do love our oils. They aren’t a cure-magic potion, but they really do help us with certain things.

      • Laura G says:

        Thank you, I didn’t mean to come off negative. It’s a battle in my head, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.


    • Lydia says:

      I really like the first part of your comment about knowing your triggers. This is an area I need to work on. Shaving and sweeping definitely help me stay more level too! I’m really interested to read that book you mentioned.
      On the topic of essential oils, I just wanted to mention that with the network marketing companies – at least with Young Living which is where I get my oils – it’s really not about money. I was extremely skeptical at first too, but the more I learn about the company the more impressed I am with them. They don’t purchase oils from outside sources. They have a “Seed to Seal” quality guarantee, and they are in control of every step of the process to make sure their oils are completely pure. The reason the network marketing business model works for them is just because people who use their product love it and want to share it with their friends and family. So instead of paying to run a marketing department, they put that money into their customers/distributers. Also if you want to purchase oils from them, there’s no obligation to distribute and you can still get them at wholesale prices. I’m not trying to be all “salesperson” here, I’m just in love with the company and the product and want to dispel the preconceived notions most people have about network marketing. I know I shared those notions at first.
      And as a distributer myself, I want to let you know that the company has done a lot of collaboration lately with the FDA to make sure that all the information we share is completely compliant so that nobody gets the wrong idea of thinking that the oils are a miracle cure. The last thing anyone would want is for someone to stop taking a medication in favor of essential oils and have bad results. We’re not in the business of curing anything, we are simply striving for wellness, purpose, and abundance!
      Have a great day 🙂

      • Susan says:

        That’s well-said. I think that, in any company, there are irresponsible representatives. But it’s not all like that. I’m a big fan of YL and my particular branch of it really emphasizes wellness, generosity, safety, and education.

  10. MK says:

    Do you ever listen to the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin? She interviewed Dan Harris on there, and it was pretty interesting, though if you’ve already read his book it probably wouldn’t be anything new.

  11. Susan says:

    When I saw you end this post with, “hit me in the comment box with essential oil links” I thought you were crazy 🙂 It seems like there is always so much fighting in com-boxes about oils. I spent a few years obsessively researching them myself and avoided the MLM companies on principle for a long time. But after trying lots of different brands for awhile, I finally did get a Young Living kit this summer. I thought I noticed a big difference in quality and effectiveness. But I know other people who don’t. It is definitely hard to sift through conflicting usage and safety information and I’ve ended up taking classes myself so I have a better handle on the material, first hand.

  12. Marcelle says:

    Meditation is a necessity to me now. I had tried it before but gave up, thinking sort of the same as you.. . A couple of weeks ago I decided to try it again. My days are now incredibly better and less stressful and I feel much happier.

  13. Julia says:

    I love the lavender trick. I’ve used lavender essential oil for years, long before it became “trendy” and before the multi-level marketing companies came about. Aura Cacia is one brand that I can easily find in stores near me. You can also order directly from them on their website, which also offers a lot of information and recipes for aromatherapy.

  14. Amy says:

    Essential oils have not been magical for me but I do enjoy using them as “tools in my tool chest.” I do love the Plant Therapy website. Magnesium has been a wonderful aid for me in my insomnia. But by far and away, the biggest life changer was when I started taking specific amino acids, as outlined in Julia Ross’ book, The Mood Cure. Mood issues can be traced to specific amino acid deficiencies and every single thing you need can be found on Amazon. Taking a high dose of tryptophan every day has truly changed my life.

  15. Sheila says:

    I’ve been using the Feelings kit from Young Living. Not really for my nerves, but for help with my emotions overall (it’s been a really tough stretch here with deaths in the family, stress, disappointments…) Not quite magical, but close at times.

    My other emotional-management technique is scripture memorization. Not necessarily verses related to emotions – any of them seem to work as I focus on learning them by heart.

  16. Grace says:

    I love these suggestions, and I’m so happy to see other people talking about these strategies. My counsellor suggested EMDR to me this last spring. I thought it sounded crazy when she explained it (and I’m already pretty out-there, haha), it totally helped! The meditation and essential oils are also techniques I have been using regularly for a couple years now. I haven’t tried, or even heard of, tapping before, but this has got me very intrigued. I will have to look into it.

    • Anne says:

      “My counsellor suggested EMDR to me this last spring. I thought it sounded crazy when she explained it (and I’m already pretty out-there, haha), it totally helped! ”

      Grinning at this because yep, that’s totally me, too. 🙂

  17. Sarah says:

    I’ll have to email you my emotional support oils challenge info! I blogged about it awhile ago, but I just did more research for a recent class, so I took the post down for updating. The nose is an extension of the brain really. Your sense of smell works backwards from the other 4 senses in that it goes to the emotional portion first, (Which is why smelling things can bring back a memory you forgot.) THEN it filters through the logic and rational sections. You can use EOs to support emotional release and it’s been a fascinating thing to research on and try! ((And I’ve experiencing near-miraculous things (and recovery) with a regular regimen of oils and prayer after some pretty severe trauma of church abuse we experienced a few years ago. Being an HSP INTJ it could have been a recipe for disaster for me (plus I was pregnant that year!)) Emotions are real things (stored in the lymbic system, and can have a direct impact on health. It’s quite eye-opening!) 1 Thess Paul refers to the 3 major aspects of a man, his spirit, soul, and body and they are all interwoven, if one part is not well it affects the rest. I have quite a handful of verses I meditate on remembering to be mindful of my mindset (and I can be “transformed by the renewing of my mind”!)

    • Anne says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Mary Karr and her assertion that smell is the first and most primal sense … but I never thought of how that related to things like essential oils. (I was too busy thinking about incorporating the sense of smell into writing!) Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Ed Cyzewski says:

    I can attest to the power of meditation. There’s a great article called something like, “Meditation for people who hate meditation” that provides a helpful starting point. And I’ve found that meditation really is like building up muscles. So imagine doing push ups. Someone who has never done a push up can maybe manage a few the first week or two, and when I started with meditation, I didn’t last too long either. But you very gradually build strength. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a long term fix that builds strength.

    Also, some form of exercise or stretching is really important for me. Some basic yoga stretches and breathing can really help throughout the day or when falling asleep.

    • Anne says:

      I just looked up that article—thanks for sharing! And a giant YES to stretching. Curious to hear why it’s so important to you. Wondering if it’s the same reason I need to (basically: I sit and work at a computer—bad news) or if it goes deeper.

      Unrelated, but totally thought of you when we drove through Columbus yesterday. We were on a mission to get home at a reasonable hour or I would have bothered you. 🙂

  19. Liz says:

    Hi Anne, My favorite health & lifestyle blogger is Ange Peters at http://www.hol-fit.com/. She has a series of videos and seminars that have been really helpful for me. Sometime after I started listening to her podcast (Holistic Health Diary), she got into DoTerra and began offering a lot of videos about incorporating EOs into everyday life w/ children. My sister has given me some oils, but I’ve barely scratched the surface & am not a proponent of one brand. Still, I think you might like listening to one of Ange’s videos about using EOs in back-to-school routines. The video is free on Powhow–not sure if you need a sign-in to see it, though. Also, the first part is about how she got into DoTerra in particular, so you may want to just skip that to get to the other stuff. The video is about an hour, but you don’t really need to look at the screen, so you could treat it like a podcast. http://www.powhow.com/videos/hol-fit/back-to-school-with-essential-oils/6033

  20. Audrey says:

    Hi Anne, I read 10% Happier based on your earlier post. I LOVED IT. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Based on the book, I started to do bits of meditation here and there and it makes me feel so much more “zen” almost immediately. I also like using essential oils here and there. Going to research EMDR and Tapping now. Oh, and I started getting reflexology recently and OH MY.

  21. Liz D. says:

    So great to hear about others using EMDR! When my therapist suggested it I had not heard of it before and also thought it sounded strange. It helped so much though!

  22. As a social worker and a minister I helped many people.I didn’t let it “show” but I was dealing with all sorts of PTSD (date rape, child abuse…)as well. A few years back EMDR, then kn was suggested, I found a practitioner and it was a great program for me…until she retired and no one else was around. Its been years, but I still use EMDR on occassion in stressful situations. Tapping is also good if used “properly”

  23. Kimberly says:

    I appreciate your spirit of continual learning and growing. I learn so much from reading your blog because you share your own journey with us. Thank you.

  24. Courtney says:

    I love using essential oils to help with emotions. It really helps! I use doTerra’s balance and joyful blend. They just came out with an emotions kits that has peace, joy, forgive, console. Super cool!

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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).

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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!

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. Anna says:

    Hey Anne! I found this old post (I’ve just discovered your podcast and blog a few months ago)
    I’m so glad you are open about your anxiety, I think it helps people feel like they are not alone. I’m a therapist myself, and use EMDR a lot. Fortunately the technique has gotten quite a lot of media attention in my country, but people still look at me funny when I explain the process. What helps me, is that in my EMDR training I had to undergo it myself, and it worked. (And yes, there has been a lot of scientific evidence that it works for a lot of people!)

    Thank you for informing your readers ?

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