7 Simple Steps to Ease Anxiety Without a Pill.

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Breathing is free. Breathing is what keeps us alive. The quality of our breath reflects the quality of our life.

Shallow, unconscious breaths kept me trapped in a tense, anxious cycle for years. Long, deep, conscious breaths bring me ease and stress relief.

It wasn’t until I started to become aware of breathing that I learned how to use it to heal. Doctors had me believe that I could find relief in a pill and for twelve, dark, tense years, I believed them.

Many of my clients with anxiety ask how I was able to get myself from point A to point B. Point A was a life with daily panic attacks and crippling anxiety so bad that I couldn’t leave the house. Point B is a life with reduced stress, an easy, positive attitude, and without anxiety altogether.

I make it very clear to my clients that the transition didn’t happen overnight and took incredible willingness to stare anxiety in the face. It was something that took practice, time, determination and hard work.

Sure, a pill will sedate you after the twenty or so minutes it takes to get into your blood stream. But does your anxiety really go away? Or, is it just masked by sleepiness? Looking back, I feel as though anti-anxiety meds rewarded me with a nap, never really bringing me relief.

This is what I did to overcome these intense emotions, and what I continue to do to manage normal nervousness before it spirals into full-blown anxiety:

Step One: Acknowledge that the anxiety is there.

Simply bring the light of awareness to your intense feeling. Shine that light so brightly on it that it has nowhere to run. Look at it. Locate it in the body, if you can. As difficult as it may be, try not to let the mind figure it out and think about it. Instead, feel it. Give it a color or shape. Acknowledge that as uncomfortable as it may be, it is in you.

Step Two: Allow it to be exactly as it is.

After you acknowledge that anxiety is with you, allow it to be there fully. Surrender the desire to push it away. Ask yourself, “What happens if I feel this?” Become a witness and get curious about what it feels like. Allow anxiety to fill you up, even though you feel tremendously uncomfortable.

The best way out is through.

Step Three: Accept the situation with all its intensity.

Bring to mind that anxiety is here because it needs to be. For some reason, you are currently using anxiety to cope. Your mind and body feel they need anxiety, for whatever the reason. Right now, because it is here, anxiety is serving you. Invite it in and allow it to be within you. If you are at the point where you find yourself desperately wanting to change it, it’s the perfect time to sit with it and accept it, so you can move through it.

Step Four: Breathe into it.

Focus all of your attention on breathing, consciously becoming aware of what breathing feels like, rather than focusing on the thoughts running wild in your head. You are in control of not only your health, but what you focus on.

Notice if breaths are shallow (which will make you more anxious) or if your breaths are long and deep (which will bring you relief). Close your eyes and feel where the breath is in the body as every inhale and exhale flows. Feel free to bring your hands to your chest or belly to help guide the awareness there.

Longer and deeper breaths will signal the nervous system to calm down. These breaths will turn off “fight or flight”—which is what you are trapped in—and bring in relief.

Step Five: Keep yourself in the present moment.

Often, anxiety comes on as the mind plays those “what-if” scenarios over and over, bringing in fear. At the core, we fear injury or death, for our loved ones or ourselves. Forget the why and just notice what is there for you in that moment. Ask yourself, “What is here for me now?”

Observe your environment through your senses and connect inward to body sensations. For example, feel your feet on the ground or hands resting on your legs. Feel your breath, feel the intensity. If the surrounding environment is creating more anxiety, ask yourself if you can change or accept the situation.

If you can change it, do so and if not, accept it.

Find a way to self-soothe; find comfort in discomfort. Making room for both will allow discomfort to begin to dissipate.

Step Six: Stick with it.

Ignore the story that may be running in your head about how this isn’t working. Continue to slow down your breath and accept what is around you. Don’t believe everything you think and come back to feeling, no matter how much of a struggle it may feel like.

If your awareness wanders a hundred times, bring it back a hundred times.

Notice. Learn. Create a new habit. Grow stronger. Create lasting change.

Step Seven: Let go.

Just as waves of the oceans ebb and flow, so must emotions during this human experience. Allow your anxiety to ebb and flow, to crest and recede, just like a wave. Release it after you feel it. Let it come in and flow back out.

Because anxiety has been serving you, it may be difficult to let it go. Notice if you have a tendency to cling to this emotion, and believe that it defines who you are. It’s not wrong or uncommon to feel this, especially if anxiety has been with you for a long time.

The simple truth is: anxiety, like all intense emotions, naturally comes and goes. Our ability to let it go and release it soothes our suffering and gives us the opportunity to settle into that lasting change and freedom we are so desperately seeking.

We find courage and strength with every exhale that we use to release anxiety and fear. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Often, letting go takes more courage than holding on.



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Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Kyle Loftus/Unsplash 

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anonymous Aug 13, 2015 9:17am

Hi Cyndi thanks for your post. I am 27 years old and I am "fighting" with anxiety disorder (with my brain) for two years. During this time I just could spend 3-4 months without any event, or symtom ( I felt better then ever, I felt, that time, that anxiety taught me something, open my eyes), then I had a relapse. And to be true is very hard to say no to the pills, I just take one in emergency, but even when I accept the anxiety, even with therapy, EMDR and mindfulness exercises, my body reacts to the anxiety. Nowadays i have a sensitive skin, a chronic stomach problem, and my hair is losing vitality (falls, lost shinne), besides the lack of concentration at office (just if the work is a challenge and allows me to push myself, i can keep focus). I try to keep positive, i try to do what i learnt that works (I feel my body as a lab), but the anxiety doesn't let me, even more on weekends and holidays. So, till now I jus had a pill for emergencies, but is hard to keep saying no for real pill ttreatment when anxiety froze my dreams, gives me hard times on holidays, and fall in love is a nightmare, my body can't understand the difference between the two excitments: butterflyes on my stomach make my body pushs the alarm buttom.

anonymous Aug 13, 2015 8:57am

Hi Cyndi thanks for your post on elephant journal. I am dealing with anxiety disorder for 2 years and i am trying to “fight” it with therapy, meditation, and stay positive. For 3-4 months I was Ok, better then before I started to have panick attacks, and then I relapsed again. Is hard keep enthusiasm and say no to the pills when “it” spoils all my life. And even when I tell to myself: let it go, my body reacts. I won a stomach cronic problem, my skin is a mess, my hair is falling (at least I started to be skin without effort 😉 ), i am obsessive with all small details in my body (and run to the doctors to check), I can’t keep my concentration on my job (was my best gift when I was an universitary student), just if the task askes me so much that my brain goes to other level and i forget everything and i just feel stress, not anxiety. So, for me, is hard right now, with 27 years old, watch my self losing my youth with it and freezzing my dreams. So, yes, sometimes i just don´t know if a pill could help

anonymous Jul 19, 2015 4:22pm

Great article. So glad I found you, will definitely be following your advice!

anonymous Jun 26, 2014 9:31am

Thank you. This is immensely helpful for me at this point in my life.

anonymous Jun 25, 2014 9:17pm

This is a great , succinct article – which covers, what to me is the most basic, accessible and effective approach to having, or being with anxiety.

anonymous Jun 20, 2014 12:58am

Thank you Cyndi, seems like I came across this article at the right time. I've been having a General Anxiety Disorder for a long time. I've been on SNRi for 2 years, Just recently my pdoc suggested to taper down on the dosage and as for this month, I'm off the med. It's not as bad as I thought, but I can clearly see that my anxiety is slowly creeping back to me little by little. I've heard a lot of people suggesting on the breathing exercise, I have to admit that I'm a bit skeptical at first, but I think you kinda of assure me to at least give it a try 🙂 thanks

    anonymous Jun 20, 2014 3:55pm

    Thanks for commenting Dave. It's important to remember that this is a practice and something that takes consistent hard work. Change doesn't happen overnight, or by trying this once or twice. It's best to practice throughout your day, when you're feeling minimal or less anxiety, so you can use it in the really super intense times of anxiety. Those are the times when it's most important to have tools like this. Those times are the real test. It takes hard work and dedication. Stick with it. I'm living proof that it works. Good luck.

    May you have peace and ease.

anonymous Jun 18, 2014 9:18am

I'm 57 and just entered my 12th year of my struggle with Anxiety and Chronic Depression. The heartbreak of it all are the failed serious relationships including one long term marriage (19 years in 2002 and year one of my struggle) and one short term marriage (5 years ending in 2010) and the loss of a 21 year career plunging me into severe financial struggles. That said though I'm struggling physically and mentally I'm still here! I recently made the decision to wean myself from all 4 of the medication I've been prescribed, I never felt they helped and I've tried 15 variations and combinations. Funny thing, I'm med free and still feel the same, not better or worse off. So I'm intent on following your 7 step plan. Once I feel strong enough to get out and socialise, I hope to find a friendly and accepting yoga class (I'm male and the local classes are predominantly female so that may be a challenge, I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable in my presence – especially due to my mood disorder – I have to admit this is holding me back). I know, TMI, but I feel safe here and my subscription to Elephant Journal has really helped!


    anonymous Jun 18, 2014 8:12pm

    Thanks for sharing, Lee. Through my own personal experience and working with clients, I can tell you that some sort of loss always triggers depression and anxiety. By hanging on to the pain of that loss, we get stuck in the cycle of suffering, constantly reliving the experience that got us there, ruminating in our grief and sorrow, and perhaps even getting trapped in “victim mode.”

    It’s important to realize and remember that these events in your life don’t define you. They are part of your past, yes, but they can remain there.

    Breath and movement through meditation and yoga are powerful ways to release the loss, soften the grip of depression and anxiety, and to feel better.

    You can’t tiptoe around people in your life, and worry about what they’ll think of you, because you have absolutely no control over that. If your intention is to get on your mat and go inward, it doesn't matter who is around you. Practice for yourself, to discover your truth, and to release your suffering.

    May you be free from pain and suffering. May you have peace and ease.

      anonymous Jun 21, 2014 10:32am

      Thank you for responding, your words are very encouraging!


    anonymous Jun 20, 2014 10:35am

    I am also 57 Lee and most days are a struggle. I feel isolated and not up to socializing. But I am trying the 7 steps. And like you said, you ARE still here and you can do this just as I can. Best Wishes.

      anonymous Jun 21, 2014 10:36am

      Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for this, at times I feel so alone like no other person is experiencing these struggles but me Your responce makes me feel less alone, part of the larger picture. Best wishes to you as well – Peace!

anonymous Jun 18, 2014 8:03am

Dont worry too much, Jackie_t …. this too shall pass. Sending love & light your way!

anonymous Jun 16, 2014 8:35pm


anonymous Jun 16, 2014 9:15am

Thank you for the article. I am going through a very stressful time in my life right now. Anxiety has always been a big issue for me but, due to the situation, it is getting worse. I will follow your steps.

    anonymous Jun 18, 2014 7:54pm

    My pleasure, Jackie. Start where you are – continued practice will get you the best results. Whenever you need, refer to these steps and always remember to be gentle with yourself – positive change is possible. Stick with it. Wishing you peace and ease.

Mark LaPorta Jan 16, 2018 3:15am

Wow, that's too bad.

Mark LaPorta Jan 15, 2018 12:11pm

All fine and good . EXCEPT all you really need to do is learn to meditate. The rest will come in proper proportion. Need I explain?

Lisa Rhody Jul 6, 2017 3:32am

I learned these skills as child. They certainly help, but for me medication bridges the gap between barely coping and feeling pretty ok most of the time. For some people a combination of both is the way to go.

Christelle Behrens Jul 17, 2016 3:50pm

Thank you very much for this advice on how to befriend anxiety! I'm going to work on it :-)

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Cyndi Roberts

Cyndi Roberts. Facing liver failure, diabetes, and death, yoga, meditation and nutrition are the practices Cyndi Roberts used to save her life after a 12-year battle with severe depression, anxiety and a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. She is passionate about healthy living, gluten-free baking, writing and sharing the knowledge and lived experience gained on her journey back to health. She is currently writing a book and teaching private therapeutic and gentle yoga sessions in the West Hartford area. For more info please visit her website.