Is It Possible to Beat Anxiety WITHOUT Medication?

The past 2 weeks have been nerve wracking for me: I had to make a sudden trip out of the country to sort out some financial issues. Like most people with anxiety, I don’t enjoy the idea of sudden change or abrupt travel plans, let alone visiting another country to explain a financial situation that could be viewed as questionable in their eyes.

I had no choice, and made arrangements to travel on 3 days notice. I was horribly anxious and nervous the entire journey and have remained so throughout the past few days despite the fact I believe things have been resolved positively. I’m set to leave Wednesday, but there could be a delay depending on scheduling issues with my local lawyer and bank representatives.

My anxiety goes to my stomach. This is quite common but no one really talks about it. If I’m socially anxious, nervous about intense exercise, nervous about performing in public, nervous about a date, nervous about my own peace-of-mind, or nervous about anything, I feel nauseous and occasionally vomit. I might also get constipated or have diarrhea if I avoid puking and keep it together. It seems like an impossible battle to win.

I saw a new psychiatrist in Florida shortly before leaving the country and we discussed my troubles with anxiety. He talked about the Vagus Nerve, a large cranial nerve that connects to the abdomen, among other places. When the brain transmits anxiety-producing nervous system signals, this nerve group tends to act up in people, producing nausea and other side effects. To be clear, he suggested the brain doesn’t directly instruct the stomach to vomit, but instead the combination of altered respiratory patterns, too little blood within the digestive system, and hormone secretion causes the unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects.

During my session, the impulsive side of me naturally asked, “Ok, what can I do about it NOW to fix it permanently?”.

First, there’s no quick fix, short of rewiring your brain and behavioral patterns. Second, the fastest form of relief would involve some additional medication taken as needed. As most people know, nearly all anti-anxiety medications are habit forming. I’m already on Clonezapam (Klonopin) at night to help me relax before bedtime. The doctor handed me a prescription for Xanax, to be taken as needed, during the day in anticipation of any anxiety producing events.

When I’m not traveling overseas, I typically feel nervous about intense exercise. I know it sounds absolutely crazy: don’t exercise intensely, just go for a walk! Well, there’s an equally vocal part of my personality that is proud of the fact that I’ve lost weight in recent months, and I don’t want to put 20 pounds back on because I’m afraid of pushing myself.

Prior to returning to the USA in October, I started a vegetarian diet and began running again. Those changes combined with stopping Zyprexa (known to cause weight gain) and Effexor (determined unnecessary for me) caused me to lose 20+ pounds. And yes, that matters, because even if I was an Olympian with a chiseled muscle build, I’d still feel shy around the opposite sex for dates. At least a healthier appearance gives me a fighting chance. Some heavier guys are confident no matter what, but I’m not.

I also thought I could exercise consistently for a couple years and then try running Master’s track races or 5K road runs. I wouldn’t be remotely competitive but it would be something positive and life affirming. Also, regular exercise would help keep my Type 1 Diabetes in control. My most recent A1C (Glycated Hemoglobin) Test yielded my best result ever, no different than a healthy person WITHOUT diabetes. Being able to compete athletically against healthy people and finish a race with a halfway decent time would boost my confidence greatly. I ran competitively in college mostly because I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could be like anyone else. Unfortunately a ton of other things were happening in my life that made college extremely difficult, ultimately leading to my BPD diagnosis. Starting to run again now, 12 years later, seemed like a nice way to start over with full knowledge of how my mind and body works outside of the high pressure environment of post-secondary education.

Despite the long hiatus from serious exercise, however, I recently started vomiting again during hard runs. I’ve also found myself anxiety stricken during dinnertime. 2 weeks ago I suddenly felt extremely nauseous and went to the bathroom and vomited several times. Upon returning to the kitchen I just shoved all my food in the trash, did the dishes, and felt extremely annoyed with myself.

Over the weekend – still overseas – I decided was going to have a “relaxed” day. I planned to find a nice restaurant and treat myself to a good meal and a couple of drinks. I was still feeling nervous about my legal situation and naturally anxious that I was walking into a busy restaurant to eat by myself. I ate my salad without any trouble and then my entree arrived. I got about 3 bites down before I felt intensely nauseous and panicky. I excused myself to the bathroom to urinate and told myself to “calm down” and finish my food. I went back to my table and tried eating again, but it wouldn’t happen. I spit some of my food into a napkin (something I hadn’t done since childhood) and nearly broke into tears. I called the waitress over and told her I had to run and needed a take away bag. I would have felt neurotic about just leaving the food there because maybe they would think I thought their chef was lousy. In reality, there was nothing wrong with it, I just couldn’t eat. I paid my bill, left the restaurant, and tossed all the food in the nearest trashcan.

I spent Saturday night and most of Sunday in bed, annoyed with myself, embarrassed, and hopeless. Some people in my situation would relish a trip overseas – no matter what the circumstances – and would party every minute they weren’t taking care of business matters. With me, it’s a different story: I’m nervous, edgy, and almost paranoid that my life will be coming to an end at any given moment.

I haven’t filled the prescription for Xanax yet because I truly want to beat my anxiety on my own. There has to be some way of conducting myself in a relaxed, intelligent manner without feeling like I’m about to vomit at any given moment. I’m nearly 34: grown men shouldn’t be freaked out about traveling, eating in public, or resolving financial matters with a lawyer and bank officials. Grown men usually don’t feel nauseous before exercising, leaving their hotel room for a meal, or asking a woman out on a date. They DO NOT need a Xanax prescription to live life.

I don’t want one either. There has to be a way to beat this. There are days when I wish I was a sociopath like Lance Armstrong, who never vomits about anything and barges through life as if he is entitled to everything he wants. Sure, he has his moments of doubt and shame, but day-to-day he is supremely confident bordering on narcissistic about his life’s journey.

Do I need to become a Buddhist monk and learn how to meditate? I’m serious. They know how to find inner-peace regardless of what gets thrown at them, and no psychiatric medication is required.

Anyone with advice for beating anxiety WITHOUT meds please advise with a comment!