First, I HIGHLY recommend the book: Women's Moods. It really helped me understand what was going on post-partum, and they've got a great self-care program, plus reasonable advice (IMO), about when to go to your doctor.
I suffer from some pretty major bouts of anxiety. Things that help me when it's minor is:
Diet changes -- much more protein, much more fruit and veggies, few carbs, no caffeine
Social support -- having someone to talk to or someone to take my mind off how I feel.
Magnesium in moderation
Fish oils (there's a particular combination of the DHA/EPA that's recommended, but I can never remember what it is)
Melatonin helps when things aren't too bad. It's 'natural', but it's still a med in my opinion.
In addition, I take meds. I just am coming through a major bout of anxiety (very very bad), and the meds are a godsend, as far as I'm concerned. They're one more tool in my toolbox. Am I happy about having to take meds? No. But really, I was not functional without them at the beginning of September. When I'm in my less anxious mind, I can remember that diabetics have to take meds every day, and that the imbalance in my brain chemicals is akin to that. When I'm really anxious I can't think about that. I just think what a failure I am for not being able to get through this.
There are two kinds of medications for anxiety:
Short acting anxiety meds -- these are intended to get you through a panic attack, but are only intended to be used for short term use. I was terrified to take these because they can be addicting. It wasn't until my sisters pointed out that they're a short term tool, my psychiatrist pointed out that the people who get addicted are the people who take them to feel good, not to feel 'not as bad' (which is what I was doing), and my sisters gave me another lecture on letting the short term meds be a gift to get me through did I use them. Drugs in this class are: xanax, ativan, klonopin. The main difference is how long they are in your system.
SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) -- essentially these increase the availability of the chemicals in your brain that you use to regulate mood. Mine get out of whack. The two major SSRIs prescribed for anxiety are Paxil and Celexa. I've been on Paxil and am switching over to Celexa because my doc this it will work better for me. (And Celexa has fewer side effects.) If depression is your major symptom, doctors tend to choose Zoloft or Lexapro to start with.
If your brain chemistry is well regulated, you shouldn't need the short acting meds very often (or at all). When I'm good, I don't need klonopin, I don't need a sleep medication, I just take my little dose of SSRI. 2-3 days before my period, I have a little trouble sleeping and it's often resolved with melatonin. Now, alas, I'm on a big dose of SSRI, a small dose of klonopin and a sleep med. I'm hoping to get the SSRI stable enough so that I can discontinue the other 2 in the next month.
The other thing is that if you're on an SSRI, you need to stay on for 12 months to let your brain heal.
I understand all too well that you're scared of meds. Just remember, sometimes modern medicine does indeed work. I think SSRIs have been handed out too freely, and when it's situation or other kinds of depression/anxiety, I'm not sure how much good it does. But I have a genetic predisposition toward anxiety, and had 2 pretty awful bouts of anxiety after my kids were born. My brain is now predisposed to going down that path. I need the meds to get well.
I know my position is not a common one on MDC, but I think the combination of diet, exercise and social support + meds is really powerful. On Sept 1, I was completely non-functional my anxiety was so high -- seriously, I would alternate between sleeping, going for a walk because I couldn't sleep, and sobbing on the phone to my family. Today, I'm 80% better. I've still got that 20% to go, but I'm functional. All meds (even natural ones) have side effects. My doc switched me from ativan to klonopin because the ativan would either knock me out or not touch my anxiety. Klonopin is slower acting and keeps me more stable.
I don't think I would have responded as fast to the SSRIs if I hadn't also been walking 2-3 times a day, eliminated caffeine, eliminated refined sugar for a bit (I'm backsliding on that one), and most importantly, if I hadn't reached out for a support network (let's just say that I spent an hour sobbing in my pastor's office -- she asked what would help and I said "people to walk with me." I gave her some names of people I like (a few of whom I didn't know that well), and within 2 days, I had 4-5 people lined up to walk with me daily.) I couldn't have made those calls, but I was able to reach out to someone else who made those calls for me.
Finally, I'll say: you sound like you've got a stressful life right now. Meds may not be the answer for you (my last plunge into the depths came at a time when I had relatively few stressors), then again, they might. It's OK for you to be stressed. It's OK for you not to be able to do it all. It's OK if you lose it occasionally. You are not superwoman. You will come through this and your kids will be OK. Really.