12 Alternatives to Anti-Anxiety Pills

12 Alternatives to Anti-Anxiety Pills

Feeling more anxious due to the coronavirus pandemic? Join the club. A report published mid-April of 2020 shows that the number of prescriptions filled for anti-anxiety medications spiked by over 34% during the pandemic. And the number of new prescriptions filled for drugs like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan while people were under COVID-19 quarantine orders was even higher at nearly 38%. This is very troublesome.

The Dangers of Anti-Anxiety Medications

What’s wrong with popping prescription drugs to feel better fast? All psychiatric medications—like all prescription drugs—come with side effects, but those associated with the anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines are some of the most concerning. Although they may be helpful in the short-term, anti-anxiety drugs can cause long-term problems, including:

  • Reduced brain activity: Brain SPECT imaging studies show that benzodiazepines decrease overall brain activity and give the brain a toxic appearance.
  • Addiction: Once people start taking these drugs, they can be very hard to stop and may lead to addiction.
  • Memory problems: Long-term use of these drugs increases the risk of dementia by over 50%, according to a 2019 review in Journal of Clinical Neurology that examined 10 existing studies.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety—even during high-stress periods like the pandemic—asking your primary care physician for Xanax or other anti-anxiety medications is literally the last thing you should do. Here are 12 alternatives you should try before considering medication.

Note: If you’ve taken Xanax or another type of benzodiazepine for a long time, don’t stop taking it abruptly as this can heighten anxiety. Work with a physician to gradually taper off the drug as you try these other techniques.

Smarter Ways to Calm Anxiety

1. Attack your BRIGHT MINDS risk factors.

In Dr. Daniel Amen’s book The End of Mental Illness, he details the 11 BRIGHT MINDS risk factors that steal your mind and can increase mental illness, including anxiety. BRIGHT MINDS stands for:

B is for Blood flow

R is for Retirement/Aging

I is for Inflammation

G is for Genetics

H is for Head Trauma

T is for Toxins

Mi is for Mind-Storms

I is for Immunity and Infections

N is for Neurohormones

D is for Diabesity

S is for Sleep

In The End of Mental Illness, you can learn how to prevent, treat, or minimize your risk factors to help calm anxiety and other mental health issues. You can also watch below for more information on how the BRIGHT MINDS risk factors impact anxiety and what you can do about them.

2. Check for hypoglycemia, anemia, and hyperthyroidism.

Low blood sugar, anemia, and an overactive thyroid can cause symptoms of anxiety. If you have anxiety that doesn’t respond to other solutions, it’s a good idea to have your healthcare provider perform the following 3 tests:

  • Glucose tolerance test. This test measures blood sugar levels over a period of a few hours and can show if you have hypoglycemia. If you do have a problem with low blood sugar, learning to eat a brain healthy diet that stabilizes blood sugar is key to reducing anxiety.
  • Complete blood count (CBC). A CBC test can reveal if you have anemia, which indicates an iron deficiency. Boosting iron levels can help.
  • TSH, T3, and T4. These tests measure thyroid activity and can detect hyperthyroidism. Work with your physician to optimize thyroid levels.

3. Eliminate artificial dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners from the diet.

Aspartame can cause anxiousness, red dye #40 is associated with irritability, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked to anger and irritability. Be sure to check nutrition labels for these ingredients. Be aware that MSG is sometimes listed only as “natural flavors,” so you may not know you’re ingesting it.

4. Try an elimination diet for 3 weeks.

Food can trigger allergies, which often impact the brain. Anything that impacts the brain can affect your mind because your brain creates your mind. To see if foods are contributing to your anxiety, eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and other categories of potentially allergenic foods from your diet for 3 weeks. Then add these back one at a time (except for sugar, which you should eliminate for good) and be alert for reactions to them, which would indicate that you should permanently avoid that food.

5. Practice prayer, meditation, and hypnosis.

Research shows that these techniques can calm stress and anxiety. You can use helpful audio programs for guided meditation and self-hypnosis on BrainFitLife. If you respond to prayer, Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Stones of Remembrance offers Bible verses for anxiety, such as:

Worry weighs a person down;
an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Proverbs 12:25

I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

Psalm 16:8

You can find many more soothing verses on anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness, and more in the book.

6. Do heart rate variability (HRV) training.

Research in Frontiers in Psychiatryshows that anxiety is linked to low levels of HRV, but you can hack your way to a healthier HRV with biofeedback apps, such as HeartMath.

7. Practice diaphragmatic breathing and hand-warming biofeedback.

Deep breathing can help calm anxiety, and it’s so easy. Just take a deep breath in for 3 seconds, hold it for 1 second, then exhale for 6 seconds, and hold it again for 1 second. Do this 10 times, and it will trigger a relaxation response. Watch Dr. Amen’s Facebook Live on the 2-Minute Anxiety Solution where he describes in detail how to do this exercise. As you practice diaphragmatic breathing, do a hand-warming exercise at the same time in which you imagine that you’re holding a hot cup of tea or you’re holding your hands up to a fireplace.

8. Eliminate the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)

The automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that invade your thinking drive anxiety. Some of the most anxiety-inducing thoughts are called Fortune-Telling ANTs, such as:

“This pandemic is never going to end.”

“I’m never going to get a job again.”

“I’m never going to have a successful business again.”

Fortunately, you do not have to believe every stupid thought you have. You need to develop an internal ANTeater to get control of your thoughts. Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous, or out of control, write down what you’re thinking. That helps get the thought out of your head. Then, use a powerful exercise developed by Byron Katie and ask yourself, “Is it true?” Then write down the opposite of your negative thought, such as:

“This pandemic will end.”

“I will get another job.”

“I can have a successful business again.”

Ask yourself which statement is more true. You can find an ANT-killing exercise on BrainFitLife.

9. Engage in calming exercises.

Yoga, qigong, and tai chi are wonderful exercises that can reduce stress and fight anxiety. They help you learn how to direct your energy in a positive way. A 2017 study using EEG in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that qigong affects brainwaves in a positive way that induces relaxation.

10. Take nutraceuticals.

Several natural supplements have A-level or B-level scientific evidence for anxiousness and stress. What does that mean? A-level means there is robust research conducted with more than 2 placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials. B-level means there are multiple studies where at least 2 are placebo-controlled, double-blind studies. Among these well-studied supplements are l-theanine, GABA, and magnesium—all found in BrainMD’s GABA Calming Support. To help you feel calm under stress—like during a pandemic—you can also try Magnesium Chewables.

11. Check your omega-3 level.

Did you know that 93% of the population is low in omega-3 fatty acids? The Omega-3 Index is a blood test that measures your omega-3 level. Try to get it above 8% by using 1,400mg (or more) of omega-3 fish oil with a ratio of approximately 60/40 EPA to DHA. Make sure to choose a high-quality fish oil like Omega-3 Power.

12. Try neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that measures brainwave activity in real-time and gain control of your brainwaves to achieve the desired brain state, whether the goal is to experience greater relaxation or to maintain better concentration. 

Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

14 Comments

  1. In January our eldest son took his life at home. Last Wednesday our younger so attempted to take his life but failed. 4 weeks prior to that he was admitted to hospital on a Form 1. Even though we have a good healthcare system here in Canada mental health care is limited to RX prescriptions and CBT which didn’t fit for you eldest and won’t work for my younger son. We feel like we are sitting in a time bomb just waiting to find our younger son dead. I thought the trauma of finding my first son was hard to deal with but that will pale to losing my second the same way. I wish for a scan to see what is going on. It all leaves you feeling completely hopeless.

    Comment by Barb Jorritsma — June 10, 2020 @ 3:26 AM

  2. We started the process as a family for my daughter in ATLANTA and we couldn’t get her to commit to following through with the spec scan. Currently she checked herself into mental health facility in Leesburg Va., I told the treating doctor we wanted to go the Amen clinic route and I’m getting resistance meanwhile they have her on several different heavyweight meds got Psychosis

    Comment by Tonya Mann — June 10, 2020 @ 4:25 AM

  3. Dr. Amen you have the BEST remedies for ANXIETY & Stress!
    Your newsletters are most informative over the top and practical way to deal with anxiety and overwhelming stress, and everything the mind/brain needs to question; and NOT BELIEVE EVERY STUPID thing that passes through…or sticks like glue!

    I continue to tell others friends and family about your 40 years of discovery about what the brain needs. Natural supplements,
    a healthy diet, exercise and a brain scan when life is not in balance.

    THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom and ALL your disclosures . A LIFE time of HELPING heal family members.
    YOU GIVE ME HOPE and ENCOURAGEMENT.

    Blessings to you and your family,

    Linda

    Comment by Linda Turrff — June 10, 2020 @ 4:29 AM

  4. Dr. Amen, I appreciate your information on warming the hands mentally. It is very calming and also the breathing exercise. It works! Thank you for providing theses methods. I no longer need the RX to control my anxiety flare ups. Thank you

    Comment by Dee Valdez — June 10, 2020 @ 6:29 AM

  5. I went through a year of different levels of anxiety. I thought I was ruined. I had varying health issues and couldn’t eat or sleep. I went to counseling and to a neurologist. I had heart pain that came and went, Now I know they were anxiety attacks. All the cardiologists reports came back fine. Sometimes I couldn’t go to work or get out of the car. The stress of work and going through a divorce were more than I could handle. I knew I had to leave my job as an office manager and co-owner of a business with my ex-husband. Once I turned over the financial side to my assistant, I started to get better. Later on I turned over the rest of my responsibilities and just did busy work until the day I had picked to leave, calling it an early retirement. Luckily my current husband was by my side through it all. I never would take the pills the doctor gave me. Instead I would pray to God to help me overcome the anxiety feeling so I could function. I even called my pastor twice on the phone to pray with me. I also used HeadSpace, a mediation program on my phone, to try to relax. Now 2 years later I am back to normal, but making sure I avoid overly stressful jobs and circumstances. Anxiety is no joke. Unless you have experienced it, you have no idea how it can make you feel. I’m lucky that is behind me now. Now I try to comfort people who look like anxiety may be an underlying issue.

    Comment by Jane Ware Morgan — June 10, 2020 @ 7:10 AM

  6. Thought I would share my experience for those currently going through anxiety.

    Comment by Jane Ware Morgan — June 10, 2020 @ 7:12 AM

  7. These are helpful suggestions. I would add that Alpha-Stim, Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation is highly effective for anxiety and can facilitate any mediation or relaxation practices. It requires a recommendation from a licensed therapist or medication provider. An advantage is that it helps reduce anxiety with the first treatment and the results are cumulative, eventually requiring maintenance of a few treatments per week to stay stable. There are fewer side effects than medication. Worth a look
    1

    Comment by Marlene Stenlund — June 10, 2020 @ 8:12 AM

  8. I appreciate it. I’m struggling and have been for over a year. It’s nice to hear from someone who has gone through it and come out the other side

    Comment by Anne Mark — June 10, 2020 @ 11:31 AM

  9. Dear Dr Amen, i was booked to attend you clinic on 2 nd of may in San Clifornia.Due to Covid my flights from London UK has been cancelled. I am waiting for this to open my daughter has high lavel of anxiety and other learning issues.is it possible to have Brain images here and sent to you and start treatment like that.

    Comment by Ranjit kaur — June 10, 2020 @ 2:31 PM

  10. I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child especially in the way that you have. May God’s grace and mercy bring you comfort. The worry and concern you have for your second son is palpable. I fully understand d. What I’m going to suggest is outside of the box for most mainstream, western medicine doctors. You may find by having your sons thyroid checked that he is hypothyroid- if you do the research you will find that depression as severe as he is reflecting can be caused by a deficient thyroid. Do not let the diagnosis only be made by testing only the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. Test for T4,T3 and RT3 must be done as well. A Basal temperature can be done at home by taking his temperature with an old Basal thermometer under his arm.Can be found on,ine. Making sure the thermometer is shaken down, place on the night stand so it can be placed Upon waking in the morning in the arm pit for 10 minutes. This is best done 5 days in a row and recorded. If the readings are below 97.8 hypothyroid is an issue. Dr Broda Barnes was an expert on the endocrine system and in particular the thyroid.This way of home diagnosis was promoted by him. His book Hypothyroidism, The Unsuspected Illness is one of the most respected cornerstones of information on hypothyroid. I have tested myself with the Basal Thermometer and hypothyroid was indicated. This was verified with the follow up blood test I have suggested.
    I pray that this will be helpful and that God is protecting your son from his self
    destructive thoughts and urges.

    Comment by Christine — June 10, 2020 @ 3:11 PM

  11. Yes- Alpha stim is so effective I’ve been selling them for 20 years- there are some who cannot use but majority it is very safe- as well as Dr Amens suggestions- may I suggest to the dear folks above who lost a son to suicide and scared for the other- look into an alpha stim and look at Dr Amens book Change Your Brain- can be a life savor- GABA is a phenomenal supplement- look it up – no one wants to die – they are scared and dying to be loved even tho they push everyone away- don’t ever give up- do your homework- God bless

    Comment by Susan — June 10, 2020 @ 3:51 PM

  12. Some excellent alternative recommendations to address a common problem.

    Anxiety is not a result of any immediate societal ramification. It has been produced during years of progressive, politically correct ideology. We destroyed the educational system in the U.S. The judicial system is on a fast pass to be irrelevant and our politicians are only interested in self-preservation.

    Then you convince individuals to abandon foundational, moral guidelines and believe that self-actualization (doing your own thing) is superior to a biologically correct (mother and father) family unit, the society breaks down…We now believe the 10 Commandments are the 10 Suggestions…

    We shuttle our young children into child care facilities under the supervision of low paid day care workers, under the guidance of socially, politically correct psychologists/psychiatrists…selling nonsense books on how to raise children. Then we convince adult children to shuttle old parents in to ‘death-trap” senior citizen camps…Destroy the family…destroy the society…

    What do you expect…Anxiety is a result of a lost society…Take a pill…Follow a guru, buy a self-help book…or if you can afford it take a picture of your brain…

    Comment by Dr. Henry Sinopoli — June 11, 2020 @ 7:06 AM

  13. During Covid many of us feel more anxiety than usual. At our practice we applaud Dr Amen’s approach and have used neurofeedback and heart rate variability since 2000 to help patients manage anxiety. Thank you Dr Amen for enlightening more people

    Comment by Angelika Sadar of Sadar Psychological — June 12, 2020 @ 5:39 AM

  14. Hello Ranjit, thank you for reaching out. Please contact the clinic regarding your cancellation and options that are available virtually from the UK.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 15, 2020 @ 1:45 PM

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