8 Scientifically Backed Ways to Reduce Anxiety

A new study suggests talk therapy may trump antidepressants. Here, seven more ways to ease anxiety, according to science. 

Photo by  Elinor Carucci

It’s tempting to reach for that prescription bottle when anxiety’s crippling symptoms (uneasiness, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, sweating, and more) set in, but a recent study, the findings of which were published in The Lancet Psychiatry, suggests that talk therapy can actually be a more successful form of treatment—and have longer lasting effects. That’s good news for the more than 40 million American adults who suffer from anxiety disorders

While people with persistent, uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety should always consult a doctor, it turns out there are plenty of other scientifically-proven and totally natural ways to ease symptoms of anxiety. We’ve rounded up a few:

1. Get enough sleep. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience supports the idea that sleep-deprivation can have serious health consequences, including ratcheting up anxiety levels. While there’s no “magic” number when it comes to sleep, the average person should aim to get about seven to eight hours.   

2. Grin and bear it—literally. According to a 2012 study from the University of Kansas, the old adage is rooted in truth: Smiling during stressful situations can help ease anxiety, even if you don’t feel happy.

3. Say “no” to sweets. While it might be tempting to quell symptoms with comfort foods, like candy and carbohydrates, research from the Western Human Nutrition Research Center warns against it. Indulging may provide temporary respite, but satisfying sugar cravings will likely increase anxiety in the long run.

4. Breathe properly. Simple breathing exercises twice a day can alleviate feelings of panic associated with anxiety, suggests a 2010 study from Southern Methodist University. Contrary to popular belief, deep breaths can actually worsen hyperventilation. Instead, try breathing slower and more shallowly.  

5. Meditate. Setting aside time—even a few minutes!—for mindful meditation has positive effects on your psyche, suggests research from Johns Hopkins University. And another survey from NPR, the Robert Woord Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health showed similar findings, with 85 percent of respondents reporting meditation and prayer helped them manage stress. See how to meditate without anyone even knowing what you’re doing.

6. Exercise. It may be hard to find the energy to hop on the treadmill when you’re feeling blue, but research shows that regular exercise is associated with lower neuroticism, anxiety, and depression.

7. Avoid caffeine. Highly caffeinated drinks—like coffee—can brew panic in people who are predisposed to anxiety, according to a study from the University of Michigan