November 17, 2022

How to Treat Anxiety

There are many different approaches to treating anxiety, including medical treatments, psychological therapies, and self-help (e.g., complementary and alternative therapies or lifestyle approaches). 

However, when a treatment is shown to work scientifically, this does not mean it will work equally well for every person. The best strategy is to try an approach that works for most people and that you are comfortable with.

If you do not feel improvement after a few weeks, or if your symptoms worsen, talk to your healthcare provider about trying something else or a combination of treatments.

Your First Step

The first step is to see a doctor and make sure there is no physical problem causing your symptoms (e.g., hyperthyroidism). If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, your doctor or a mental health professional can help you choose the best treatment.

Types of Treatment

Once you’ve received a diagnosis of anxiety, you can explore treatment options.

Generally, treatment falls into three categories: Psychotherapy, medication, and alternative therapies. Sometimes a single treatment is best; other times, a combination may be used. It depends on your symptoms, severity, and what you are comfortable with as a treatment.

Category 1: Psychotherapy, Exposure therapy, and Skills Training

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

The most common and well-researched treatment for anxiety is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

In CBT, clients work with a therapist to look at patterns of thinking (cognition) and acting (behavior) that are making them more likely to have problems with anxiety, or are keeping them from improving once they become anxious. Once these patterns are recognized, the person can make changes to replace these patterns with ones that reduce anxiety.

Exposure Therapy and Skills training

Exposure therapies gradually expose a person to the source of their anxiety in a thoughtfully-planned way. Skills training teaches social and communication skills. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR was developed to treat symptoms resulting from disturbing or traumatic experiences. It involves recalling these life experiences for short periods (15-30 seconds) while also moving the eyes back and forth. Sometimes another task, such as hand tapping or listening to tones, is used instead of eye movements.

Systematic Desensitization 

Systematic desensitization involves gradually exposing a person to fearful mental images and thoughts or to actual situations while the person has relaxed using relaxation training.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training is mainly used for social phobia. It involves learning how to interact in social situations with the help of a therapist.

Category 2: Medical Interventions

Antidepressant drugs. Evidence indicates that antidepressants are effective for treating most types of anxiety.

Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotics are usually used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Newer antipsychotic drugs (called ‘atypical’ antipsychotics) may also help to reduce anxiety symptoms. 

Antipsychotics are usually used to treat more severe types of anxiety that haven’t responded to psychological therapies or other drugs.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are used as a short-term treatment for intense anxiety.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are drugs that reduce anxiety symptoms, such as a fast heart rate, and rapid breathing or tremor (shakes). They are mainly used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. However they are also used for social phobia and performance anxiety.

Category 3: Complementary and Lifestyle Interventions

Mindfulness-Based Therapies

This type of treatment involves meditation, teaching you to focus on the present moment.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique of inserting fine needles into specific points on the body. The needles are usually rotated by hand. They can also have an electric current applied to them.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for healing. Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of plants. They can be diluted in carrier oils and absorbed through the skin or heated and vaporized into the air. They are not taken by mouth.

Art Therapy 

Art therapy is a form of treatment that encourages the person to express their feelings using art materials, such as paints, chalk, or pencils. Art therapy is based on the belief that making a work of art can be healing.

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy is a form of self-help that uses books or other written material. The books provide information and homework exercises that the reader works through independently. Some of the books are based on psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy.

Biofeedback

In biofeedback, people are trained to recognize and control body functions that they are not normally aware of. These include blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, sweat gland activity, muscle tension, breathing, and brain activity.

Breathing Training

Breathing training teaches correct breathing habits to people with anxiety. It is also known as ‘breathing retraining’. It is mainly used to treat panic attacks.

Exercise

The two main types of exercise are aerobic (exercises the heart and lungs, such as jogging) or anaerobic (strengthens muscles, such as weight training).

Homeopathy

Homeopathy uses very small doses of various substances to stimulate self-healing. Substances are selected that produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness when used undiluted. Treatments are also based on the person’s symptoms rather than their diagnosis. Treatments are prepared by diluting substances with water or alcohol and shaking.

Massage

Massage involves the manipulation of soft body tissues using the hands or a mechanical device. One of the aims of massage is to relieve tension in the body.

Meditation

There are many different types of meditation. Some types of meditation involve focusing attention on a silently repeated word or on the breath. An example is transcendental meditation. Others involve observing thoughts without judgment. An example is mindfulness meditation.

Relaxation Training

There are a few different types of relaxation training. The most common one is progressive muscle relaxation. This teaches a person to relax by tensing and relaxing specific groups of muscles.

Quick Tips For Managing Daily Anxiety

There are several things you can do to help cope with some of the symptoms of anxiety that are

characteristic of anxiety disorders.

Cut Out Caffeine

Cut down on foods and drinks that have caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine is a mood-altering drug, and it may worsen anxiety disorder symptoms.

Eat Right and Exercise Regularly

Brisk aerobic exercises like jogging and biking help release brain chemicals that cut stress, improve mood, and help calm your mind and body.

Make Good Sleep A Priority

Sleep problems and anxiety disorders often go hand in hand. Get a good night’s rest regularly and follow a regular sleep routine (e.g., go to bed at the same time each night, never use the bedroom for watching television, working, or answering e-mails and texting).

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