Self-care is key for people living with anxiety and panic disorders. While formal mental health treatment plays an important role in managing anxiety and panic disorders, especially for people with severe symptoms, not everyone has the ability to pursue clinical treatment. Even among people who take medication or attend therapy, self-care is beneficial.
Most people naturally practice self-care for mental health. A 2017 study published in Military Medicine found that 98 percent of people use self-management techniques to cope with stress and anxiety.
However, not everyone gravitates toward healthy forms of self-management. While some people use positive habits to promote strong mental health, others turn to substance use and isolation to avoid difficult emotions rather than address them.
This guide discusses research-backed self-care strategies for anxiety and panic disorders so patients can make informed decisions about mental health self-care.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Anxiety
Complementary and alternative treatments are a popular choice for people seeking to manage anxiety symptoms. While research into the efficacy of complementary therapies is limited, promising evidence exists to support the use of these therapies.
Certain nutrient deficiencies are associated with anxiety and panic disorders. Increasing the presence of the following nutrients in the diet, whether through food or nutritional supplements, may effectively decrease symptoms:
- B-complex vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
Kava kava, valerian root, passionflower, and chamomile are among the herbal remedies used for anxiety disorders. However, herbal remedies may cause adverse reactions with medication, so Anxiety.org advises against using herbal supplements without a doctor’s approval.
Research into the effects of cannabidiol (or CBD) on anxiety is in the early phases. However, researchers recognize the extract has promise for mental health treatment. In an interview with NPR, psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Esther Blessing explains that, unlike mind-altering THC, “CBD does have an effect on the brain, but it seems to affect the brain in possibly medicinal ways.” However, CBD isn’t regulated like pharmaceuticals are, so consumers should research carefully to find a safe product. Online guides consolidate information on CBD products and recommend questions to ask one’s doctor before using CBD.
Physical Self-Care for Anxiety
Anxiety and panic disorders worsen when an individual’s physical needs aren’t met. Living with a mental health condition makes maintaining healthy routines more challenging, but patients benefit greatly from physical self-care.
A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of developing a mood disorder and worsens symptoms of existing mood disorders. On the other hand, regular exercise — particularly aerobic exercise — has protective effects against anxiety and panic. Some people avoid exercise because of the acute spike in symptoms that follows vigorous physical activity, a 2018 study reports, but sticking with an exercise program reduces anxiety symptoms.
Alcohol, Caffeine, and Nicotine
As stimulants, caffeine and nicotine have the potential to worsen anxiety symptoms. While many people use nicotine and alcohol to find short-term relief from anxiety and panic, long-term use of these substances is linked to worsening symptoms. This is especially true when patients use substances as a maladaptive coping strategy. Alcohol and caffeine use should be moderated in anxiety and panic disorder patients and nicotine avoided completely.
Managing Anxious Thoughts Through Self-Care
Gaining control over irrational thoughts is perhaps the most difficult form of self-care for anxiety and panic sufferers, but it’s key to reducing the severity of anxiety and panic attacks.
Mindfulness and Positive Thinking
Negative and intrusive thoughts are common with anxiety and panic disorders, especially in individuals diagnosed with OCD. Unfortunately, attempts to banish intrusive thoughts often increase their severity. Instead of allowing negative thoughts to fuel anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends adopting a mindfulness-based approach. When patients accept intrusive thoughts and allow them to pass without dwelling on them, unwanted thoughts lose their power. Introducing positive thoughts or coping statements serves as a counterbalance to negative thinking.
Reassurance seeking is common among people with anxiety and panic disorders. While reassurance seeking may provide temporary relief from worry, it’s ultimately a maladaptive behavior with the potential to worsen symptoms. By reducing or eliminating reassurance-seeking behaviors, patients can find more productive ways to cope with worry.
Whether patients pursue formal mental health treatment for anxiety and panic disorders or address subsyndromal symptoms on their own, self-care should be part of the equation. By adopting lifestyle strategies to reduce and manage their symptoms, individuals with anxiety and panic disorders can reduce the severity of symptoms and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Brad Krause graduated from college in 2010 and went straight to the corporate world at the headquarters of a popular retail company. But what started as a dream job soured quickly. After four years of working 15-hour days and neglecting his health, he decided enough was enough. Through aiding a friend during a tough time, Brad discovered his real calling-helping people implement self-care practices that improve their overall wellbeing. He created SelfCaring.info to share his own knowledge and the many great resources he finds on his self-care journey.
 Shepardson, Robyn L. et al (July, 2017). Self-Management Strategies for Stress and Anxiety Used by Nontreatment Seeking Veteran Primary Care Patients. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/182/7/e1747/4158597 (February, 2019).
 Ramsey, Drew (no date). Seven Nutrients Important For Mental Health – And Where To Find Them. Retrieved from https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/seven-nutrients-important-mental-health-and-where-find-them/ (February, 2019).
 Roccaforte, Cinzia (June, 2017). Herbal Remedies for Anxiety Disorders: How and when they work and are safe. Retrieved from https://www.anxiety.org/are-herbal-remedies-safe-and-effective-for-anxiety-disorders (February, 2019).
 Aubrey, Allison (April, 2018). Anxiety Relief Without The High? New Studies On CBD, A Cannabis Extract. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/23/604307015/anxiety-relief-without-the-high-new-studies-on-cbd-a-cannabis-extract (February, 2019).
 Remedy Review (October, 2018). Best CBD Oil (2019 Buyer’s Guide). Retrieved from https://www.remedyreview.com/about-cbd/best-cbd-oils/ (February, 2019).
 Beres, Derek (May, 2017). Exercise Shown to Alleviate Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/exercise-shown-to-alleviate-symptoms-of-depression-and-anxiety-disorder (February, 2019).
 Lattari, Eduardo et al. (February, 2018). Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Anxiety Symptoms and Cortical Activity in Patients with Panic Disorder: A Pilot Study. Retrieved from https://clinical-practice-and-epidemiology-in-mental-health.com/VOLUME/14/PAGE/11/FULLTEXT/ (February, 2019).
 Levine, David (September, 2018). Can Coffee and Nicotine Contribute to Your Anxiety? Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-09-07/can-coffee-and-nicotine-contribute-to-your-anxiety (February, 2019).
 Sief, Martin, Winston, Sally (no date). Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts (February, 2019).
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 Anxiety Canada (no date). Addressing Reassurance Seeking. Retrieved from https://www.anxietycanada.com/adults/reassurance-seeking (February, 2019).