Anxiety is a common symptom of recovery, but knowing you’re not alone doesn’t exactly help calm your nerves. And when you’re recovering from substance abuse, not everyone wants to take more prescription drugs.
Anxiety medications are effective for some people, even some recovering alcoholics. But there are other options for people who decide to take a more natural approach.
How anxiety medications work
Benzodiazepines and SSRI antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drugs for anxiety. They both come with side effects that range from minimal to quite serious.
Benzodiazepines, also known as tranquilizers, deliver relief in about 30 minutes. They work by slowing the nervous system, so you feel completely relaxed. Even on low doses, some people report feeling groggy and uncoordinated. One of the most concerning things about benzodiazepines is that they can make depression worse. Depression is another common symptom of recovery, and it goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Another concern for recovering alcoholics is that benzodiazepines can be addicting. It’s easy to build a tolerance to these drugs, and then you’re faced with another type of addiction.
SSRI medications don’t work as quickly as benzodiazepines. In fact, it takes about 4 to 6 weeks before you’ll see any relief. SSRIs are also addictive, but it takes longer to become addicted than with benzodiazepines. One of the biggest concerns with SSRI medications is they can worsen depression and increase a person’s suicide risk.
Connection between alcohol and anxiety
Interestingly enough, the connection between alcohol and anxiety goes both ways. Many people drink to quell anxiety, and then excessive alcohol consumption makes a person more susceptible to anxiety problems.
Alcohol depletes many vital nutrients that are essential for keeping your mood stable. Vitamin B3 (niacin), zinc and magnesium are crucial for staving off anxiety, and alcohol can deplete your body of these nutrients. So if you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, your body probably needs a nutritional recharge.
Alcohol can also have a harmful effect on gut bacteria, which can lead to anxiety.
Natural anxiety treatments
If you don’t want to risk addiction or deal with dangerous side effects, consider a natural treatment for your depression. Some work immediately while others are more of a long-term solution, but both have merit. Treatments that work immediately typically won’t prevent another anxiety attack. Treatments that take longer to work usually address the root of the problem and can be a long-term solution.
Nutritional approach to beating anxiety
When it comes to fighting anxiety, what you eat is extremely important. Since alcoholism has depleted many vital nutrients, you’re already working from a nutritional disadvantage. And if you’re eating a diet rich in processed foods, you’re not getting enough of the right nutrients.
You may consider taking nutritional supplements, but a nutritionally sound diet is the best first-line approach. Try to fill your diet with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and focus on getting more of the following nutrients:
- Magnesium: Magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds help promote a sense of calm.
- Zinc: Foods high in zinc, such as oysters, liver, beef, cashews and egg yolks, are linked to lower anxiety levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can lead to inflammation, which causes a variety of health problems, including anxiety.
- Vitamin B: A vitamin B deficiency can cause anxiety, so be sure to eat foods rich in these important vitamins. Such foods include avocados and almonds.
Asparagus is another food you may consider adding to your diet. In traditional Chinese medicine, asparagus extract is used to treat anxiety.
Focus on eating a varied diet filled with whole foods that come from the earth (nothing processed).
Probiotics, gut health, and anxiety
However important you think your gut is to your overall health, it’s more. We still have a lot to learn about how the gut works, but we know it plays a much bigger role than just digestion. In fact, scientists have nicknamed the network of neurons in our guts as the “second brain.”
The 9-meters of our guts are lined with sheaths of neurons. And just like the brain, the gut makes use of more than 30 neurotransmitters.
We know that about 95 percent of serotonin receptors are found in the gut’s lining. And that’s important news for anxiety.
Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that acts on the nervous system and is associated with feelings of wellbeing. Serotonin has many jobs. One important job is to help you feel relaxed. It also helps regulate sleep patterns and body temperature and plays a role in memory and appetite.
Stress can deplete serotonin levels. So can alcohol.
When you drink alcohol, your body may experience a burst of serotonin that results in euphoria. This is part of the reason why drinking is so appealing. But once that initial feeling fades, serotonin levels drop drastically.
To get more probiotics, consider eating Greek yogurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut and/or take a daily probiotic. Make an effort to get these beneficial live cultures into your body daily and you’ll be on your way to normalizing your serotonin levels and fighting anxiety.
Breathing for anxiety
Breathing exercises are an excellent way to treat anxiety attacks as they are happening. More than giving you something to focus on, breathing exercises can work on a physiological level by slowing your heart rate.
Whenever you’re feeling stressed, try a simple breathing technique.
These things don’t have to be complicated. All you need to do is breathe in and breathe out slowly. As you do this, focus on your breath out.
Try to make it longer each time. As you take longer breaths out, your breaths in will follow suit. You don’t have to think about it. It’ll just happen naturally.
If you’re having trouble relaxing enough to focus on your breaths, imagine you’re blowing up a balloon. When you blow up a balloon, you tend to take long breaths out until you’ve expelled all you’ve got. That’s the kind of breathing you want to do when you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
As you feel your body relaxing, let go of the balloon imagery and start focusing on your breaths. Then, start thinking about the tension in your body. Are you tensing up anywhere? Maybe your thigh muscles are contracted, or your shoulders feel tight. Actively try to relax these areas of your body as you breathe in and out. Think of your breaths out as a way to breathe the tension out of your body.
Meditation for anxiety
Meditation trains you to become more aware of your thoughts. This could be instrumental in fighting the negative thoughts that drive anxiety.
Through meditation, you’ll learn to recognize and stop your mind from vacillating between the future and the past. Instead, all your energy will go towards focusing on the present moment.
Think about what happens within your mind when you’re having anxiety. You may start by feeling anxious for unknown reasons. Then, your mind delivers reasons like a waterfall brings water. It can feel like you’re a helpless bystander.
You start obsessing over things that happened yesterday, last week and a decade ago. Then you think about what could happen in the future. You worry. And you fall deeper into the depths of anxiety.
Meditation helps you recognize these thoughts for what they are. They’re just thoughts. Let them come and let them go just as easily. It takes a lot of practice, but you can train your mind to become less anxious.
Few habits are harder to break than patterns of negative self-talk. But meditation can help break those patterns and help you gain control over your damaging thoughts.
Unlike breathing techniques, meditation typically doesn’t have an immediate impact on anxiety. This treatment requires a great deal of practice. The good news is that you should start seeing some relief, even if it’s small, within weeks of starting your practice.
Your path to overcoming anxiety without medication
Anxiety can be a crippling condition, but there’s one thing you should know. You have control.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re holding the reins. Right here and now, you get to decide how to manage your anxiety. Medication isn’t a desirable option for many people, so you’re left with a variety of natural treatments. Consider a combination of natural treatments to attack your anxiety from all angles.