In March, the World Health Organization released a scientific brief that reported a 25-percent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide in 2020.
So, it's not just you. The world really is more stressful, and anxiety actually is on the rise.
According to the WHO's brief, young people and women were hit hardest. Social isolation was considered a major factor, as were loneliness and exhaustion.
A recent randomized clinical trial published by the Journal of the American Medical Association sought to determine whether performing mindful meditation for anxiety was as effective as a popular anti-anxiety medication, escitalopram, which helps regulate the levels of anxiety-reducing serotonin produced by the body. Its conclusion: Outcomes were similar for both medicinal and non-medicinal treatment methods.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends several non-medicinal methods to increase the body's production of serotonin, including eating foods with tryptophan, getting more sunlight, exercising regularly and taking steps to reduce your stress level.
We asked our deep roster of YourTango Experts healing and wellness professionals to share their top non-medicinal tips for managing stress and anxiety. Here are their responses.
31 experts share non-medicinal tips to manage stress and anxiety
1. Remember to breathe
When you are anxious and stressed your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This causes you to be oxygen deprived, which only makes your body feel more anxious. The quickest way to reduce stress-related anxiety is to slow down and deepen your breathing. Inhale for a count of four, hold the inhale for a count of four and exhale deeply for a count of six.
- Kimberly LaFollette, clinical psychologist
2. Count your blessings
Stay focused on all that is positive. Focus on your blessings. Find your gratitude.
- Kathy Lynn Thielen, spiritual intuitive & medium
3. Get out and exercise
Stress — the need to fight off a tiger or run away from it — needs to be expressed and released from the body. Physical activity in any form — walking, running, swimming, jumping rope, using a hula hoop, kickboxing — whatever will help release the hold stress has on you and give you time and energy to think so you can problem solve and be compassionate with yourself.
- Judith Pinto, attention, focus and productivity coach
4. Breathe, exercise & ask for help
One of the best things you can do is to focus on your breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths can help to calm your nervous system and ease anxiety symptoms. Additionally, spending time in nature can also be helpful. Studies have shown that exposure to green space can reduce stress levels and improve mood.
Furthermore, exercise is another excellent way to relieve stress and anxiety. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise can also help to alleviate symptoms and improve well-being. If you're struggling to cope with stress on your own, don't hesitate to seek professional help.
- Clare Waismann, founder, the Waismann Method
5. Find your personal anti-anxiety prescription
No two people are alike. What one person finds soothing or comforting doesn't necessarily work for someone else. Ask yourself, "When I have felt anxious in the past, what has helped to relax me?"
For some, it's exercise, talking to friends, getting involved in an enjoyable project, making to-do lists, connecting with family, journaling, meditating, doing yoga, and so on. Make a go-to list of actions you can take when life feels overwhelming and then, whether you feel like it or not, do it! Force yourself if you have to.
- Michelle Weiner-Davis, author and founder, the Divorce Busting Center
6. Move and quiet your mind
The easiest and cheapest way to calm anxiety is to move. Take a walk; the deeper in nature, the better, but it is not required. It deepens your breath, changes the scenery, distracts you, and allows your unconscious to process what is happening, and also discharges the stress in your body. Find some way to move and quiet your mind.
- Merle James Yost, licensed marriage and family therapist
7. Focus on relaxing tense muscles
This is a process that is backed by research. The steps are simple. Remembering to do it is the hard part.
First, notice that you are stressed. A clue is that you have involuntarily tense muscles. Scan your body from head to toe and notice which are tense. (I tend to tense my shoulders and abdomen.)
Second, ask yourself this question: Am I safe right now? (Hint: you might say no due to past events or future possible outcomes. Unless someone is physically threatening you right now, the answer is yes. If they are, stop reading this article and get safe immediately.)
Third, relax the tense muscles. Pretend you are a wet noodle and just let them go.
Finally, go forth in your now-regulated body!
- Tara Brown, CEO and consultant
8. Go walking outdoors
Take a brisk walk in nature. If that's not possible, walking anywhere or on a treadmill works too, just get your body moving. This will help you to process your emotions and release anxiety. I also highly recommend journaling and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping.
- Erin S. Moore, intuitive healer & health coach
9. Do something simple to shift your energy
This simple 3-step process you can do "in the moment", which only takes a minute or two, will soothe your nervous system, and help you shift out of the "fight-flight" stress response, into a more relaxed state.
First, focus on your breathing, and allow your breath to slow. Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of seven. This signals your nervous system that you are safe and allows a shift into more relaxation.
Second, as you relax, focus your attention on your heart. Imagine that your breath is coming into, and flowing out of your heart. Doing this for a minute or so helps create more "coherence" in your mind and nervous system.
Third, from this more relaxed state, ask yourself, what is one small, super-achievable, action I can take, in this moment? And do it. The action doesn't need to have anything to do with what is causing your stress — simply by moving into action you are shifting your energy.
- Anna McKinlay, lifestyle business breakthrough specialist
10. Train your mind to rise above problems
When Einstein stated that "You never solve a problem from the same mind that created the problem," he meant to lift your mind to a higher, lighter vibrational level. Meditation is a great way to do that. In the meantime, breathe deeply, move into the natural rhythm of nature, listen to soothing music, dance, walk, sing and laugh. These are all stress relievers.
- Jean Walters, coach, teacher, mediator
11. Stop, breathe, and plan the next two days
An overabundance of stress emerges when plans and commitments are disrupted. When feeling stressed, stop what you are doing and plan out your next 48 hours.
Literally, everything you wish and need to do in order of how you wish to do them. Fill your calendar completely. Include the things like yoga, meditation, and exercise of this is what you would normally do. Plan your activities from the time you awake to the time you go to bed.
Follow your plan diligently. It's your plan and no one else's. After 48 hours (and along the way) check-in and see how you feel. You are now dancing beautifully with the complexity of your world.
- Larry Michel, relationship restoration coach
12. Practice your brain breathing
"Brain-breathing" takes three minutes to learn and two minutes to bring yourself to greater peace. The more you practice this, the faster and more effectively you can create peace as it is based on yogic breathing and neuroscience.
This is the No. 1 skill that I recommend to people who find themselves regularly triggered to worry and who need peace.
- Susan Allan, CEO, the Marriage Forum Inc.
13. Challenge your perceptions
First, notice your thoughts during a stressful situation. How are you interpreting the situation? How does this make you feel?
Next, challenge your thoughts. Why are you interpreting the situation in this way? Is your interpretation realistic? Is your interpretation based on a similar experience or fact?
Then, create an alternative realistic viewpoint. What is your new realistic interpretation of the stressful situation? How does this make you feel?
Finally, build a habit of reframing your perception of stressful situations to soothe stress-related anxiety.
- Catherine Wood, wellness coach
14. Practice daily mindfulness and exercise
Mindfulness will reveal your thoughts which can then be “sifted” with an intentional evaluation of the “evidence” that supports them. Exercise gives you something else to focus on and improves sleep.
- Bill Meleney, licensed counselor
15. Treat yourself to a warm bath
Take a "time-out" by relaxing in a nice warm bath with a good magazine.
- Rev. Ellyn Kravette, spiritual guide
16. Tell yourself 'I love you'
To soothe your stress wrap your arms around your body, crossing them over your Heart Chakra and saying, "I love you" to yourself as you gently rock back and forth. Close your eyes and visualize yourself in a peaceful and safe place that makes you feel relaxed and joyful.
- Dr. Ava Cadell, certified love coach
17. Shake yourself
Shake it up! I mean literally let your body shake the stress out. Let it tremble, move, vibrate, push away or forward. It goes from TRE (Trauma Release Exercise), to dancing or sitting on a medicine ball to bounce up and down. The idea is to allow your body to let go of the accumulated tension.
- Dr. Fabienne Slama, core emotional awakener
18. Seek counseling and meditate
Stronger than medication is mediation, and even better than mediation is meditation.
If you want to soothe stress-related anxiety then try talking. Communicate with whoever and whatever is causing you stress that is leading to your anxiety. Working with a healer or a therapist or a coach is a great way to soothe your stress and relieve your anxiety.
And if you want to take it one step ahead because prevention is better than cure. Meditate! The particular meditation that helps with stress reduction is called Metta Meditation. Metta means loving kindness or loving friendliness or benevolent goodwill.
The simple words “I am well, happy and peaceful” repeated with each inhalation for five minutes will help you feel happy and peaceful.
- Keya Murthy, MS, C.HT, clinical hypnotherapist and spiritual life coach
19. Breathe and remind yourself of when you were grateful
For two minutes, place your hand on your heart, focus on your breathing as you breathe in relaxation and breathe out tension. For one minute, remember a time when you felt gratitude very strongly, and focus on the details of what happened — and especially the gratitude you felt.
- Malka Ahern, quantum health and healing practitioner
20. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping
When I am at my personal tipping point of stress, I (use EFT tapping) ... even if I am standing in front of somebody, I shift my thinking.
- Pegi Burdick, certified coach
21. Focus inward and breathe
Take a moment and put one hand on your heart, one on your core, close your eyes and take four slow, deep breaths.
- Kavita Melwani, intuitive success and business coach
22. Get outdoors and move
Nature and movement are the best tools for dealing with stress and the anxiety created by stress. The body can recover from the mental and emotional toil of stress once we start moving and we are out in nature.
Think of how you feel when you take your first steps outside after a day in the office or at home, working. The energy within and around us changes with that first breath of fresh air.
- Janet Whitney, licensed marriage and family therapist
23. Slow your mind
To soothe stress-related anxiety, you must slow your mind. The tried and true way to do that is to focus on slowing your breathing down a little bit.
Extend your inhalation to the count of four (slowly), hold your breath for four counts, and finally exhale for eight counts. When you do this breathing series you will notice a shift toward calmness.
- Laura Rubinstein, hypnotherapist, feminine power mentor
24. Make a personal music therapy plan
Relief from stress-related anxiety without medications and side effects is possible with Personalized Music Therapy. The evidence-based therapy is used globally for multiple mental health benefits. From calming the nervous system, stabilizing blood pressure, and relaxing muscle tension — it's the most comforting method to hold your horses when your fight or flight response goes berserk.
Upbeat music of any form can provide short-term benefits. But personalized music therapy has the ability to provide long-term capacity to deal with and manage stress-induced anxiety.
When music therapy is personalized as per your individual needs, problems, desires, date of birth, and name, it facilitates the release of the feel-good hormones "endorphins" and "oxytocin" while controlling the levels of the stress hormone "cortisol."
Personalized Music Therapy consists of specific music frequency, binaural beats, soothing tunes, and powerful affirmations, the amalgamation of which works to beat mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Sidhharrth S. Kumaar, founder, Numrovani
25. Release your anger through healthy activity
I have never taken medication for my anxiety as I am all about coming back to the body and nature to soothe, heal and restore. One of the biggest soothers that I rely on in my own personal practice and have shared with countless clients through the years is the art of healthy anger movement.
You may wonder what I mean by this, and I want to focus on the world "healthy" here. Anger pushed down in the body stores up and creates stress and anxiety. It will bleed over into panic, fear and depression and can manifest in many other forms.
As a society we are not very accepting of what we deem a negative emotion such as anger. However, all emotions are healthy if we learn how to feel them and move them in such a fashion.
As humans we were designed not to squish down our emotions but to feel the entire rainbow of them — that's why I encourage and practice the movement of anger to help self-soothe my stress and anxiety (giving myself permission to scream and throw a tantrum, you could say). However, I do it through conscious practices such as boxing, batting cages, and stretching routines that move the upper body in the fashion that you would move if you were in a fight.
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I encourage people to make use of "smash houses" where you get to go and smash things to the tunes of your choice for an hour in the safety of a space designed just for it.
If you cannot do these things, throw yourself down on the bed or floor and shake, scream and pound on a pillow. Anxiety and stress lock up in our joints and micro-tissues creating the sensations that we all are familiar with when we think about stress or anxiety.
So, give yourself permission to get moving and be physical — in a health-conscious container.
- Rene Schooler, intimacy and relationship coach
26. Sit quietly and be present
Take a few moments when you feel anxious to sit and be quiet. Breathe deeply, and observe the sensations of your body, your heart's emotions and your mind's activity.
Focus on your breath to help you stay present. In the end, breathe into any part of you that is not feeling at peace and let go of any negative energy holding you back.
- Roland Legge, spiritual life coach and enneagram teacher
27. Spend more time doing things you enjoy
Examine the ratio between the time you've recently spent doing work or meeting responsibilities vs. the time you've spent doing enjoyable or restorative activities. When that ratio gets skewed too far toward work, our stress levels increase.
Sometimes the simplest fix for stress involves making some changes to how we're spending our time.
- Paul Greene, Ph.D., Director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavior Therapy
28. Shift your focus and breathe
When you are tense the best things to do to relax are those that require little effort. I suggest to my patients that they pause in front of a picture, or a window, for 10-15 seconds and just look and breathe.
This simple act of focusing on something else, other than what is making you tense, can help you relax.
- Patricia O'Gorman, psychologist and life coach
29. Release your self-judgment
Step out of the situation that is causing you anxiety for a bit, both literally and figuratively. I like to take a walk in nature so I can ground myself more, realize that everything is fine, and work off some of the cortisol in my body.
While you walk, imagine yourself stepping into the story you've been telling yourself about the situation, and imagine yourself changing it or stepping out of it entirely, letting go of any self-judgment. If we realize life is a story we've made up, and that we have a choice to keep it or release it, it can lend loads of perspective that decreases anxiety.
And the walk will help, too.
- Kathryn Ramsperger, certified life coach, author
30. Let your brain play
Anxiety often reflects internal or external factors that have not yet been integrated into your larger understanding. Take a breath (or 20) and isolate a word, phrase or factor that is the source of anxiety right now.
Then do a special activity that has nothing to do with the problem or your to-do list. This might be completing a puzzle, doodling, reading a poem or drawing a Tarot card.
When your brain has a chance to play, relief through active rest will come to you, as well as a meaningful realization that will help to integrate the rogue source of anxiety.
- Cyndera Quackenbush, author, healer, intuitive card reader
31. Focus on something worthwhile that you’ve avoided
Take the one safe, healthy action as simply and authentically as possible that relates to the source of your stress-related anxiety. For example, give 10 minutes to one worthwhile matter you’ve been avoiding.
- Ruth Schimel, Ph.D., career and life management consultant
Carter Gaddis is the senior editor for experts & wellness at YourTango.