Anxiety can be treated medically, with psychological counseling, or independently. Ultimately, the anxiety treatments path depends on the cause of the anxiety and the patient’s preferences. Often treatments will consist of a combination of psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and medications.
Sometimes alcoholism, depression, or other coexisting conditions have such a strong effect on the individual that treating the anxiety disorder must wait until the coexisting conditions are brought under control.
In some cases, anxiety may be treated at home, without a doctor’s supervision. However, this may be limited to situations in which the duration of the anxiety is short and the cause is identified and can be eliminated or avoided. There are several exercises and actions that are recommended to cope with this type of anxiety:
- Learn to manage stress in your life. Keep an eye on pressures and deadlines, and commit to taking time away from study or work.
- Learn a variety of relaxation techniques. Information about physical relaxation methods and meditation techniques can be found in book stores and health food shops.
- Practice deep abdominal breathing. This consists of breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose, taking the air right down to your abdomen, and then breathing out slowly and gently through your mouth. Breathing deeply for too long may lead to dizziness from the extra oxygen.
- Learn to replace “negative self talk” with “coping self talk.” Make a list of the negative thoughts you have, and write a list of positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Picture yourself successfully facing and conquering a specific fear.
- Talk with a person who is supportive.
- Take a long, warm bath.
- Rest in a dark room.
A standard method of treating anxiety is with psychological counseling. This can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, or a combination of therapies.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to recognize and change the patient’s thinking patterns that are associated with the anxiety and troublesome feelings. This type of therapy has two main parts: a cognitive part designed to limit distorted thinking and a behavioral part designed to change the way people react to the objects or situations that trigger anxiety.
For example, a patient undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy for panic disorder might work on learning that panic attacks are not really heart attacks. Those receiving this treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder for cleanliness may work with a therapist to get their hands dirty and wait increasingly longer amounts of time before washing them. Post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers will work with a therapist to recall the traumatic event in a safe situation to alleviate the fear it produces. Exposure-based therapies such as CBT essentially have people confront their fears and try to help them become desensitized to anxiety-triggering situations
Psychotherapy is another type of counseling treatment for anxiety disorders. It consists of talking with a trained mental health professional, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or other counselor. Sessions may be used to explore the causes of anxiety and possible ways to cope with symptoms.
Medical treatments for anxiety utilize several types of drugs. If the cause of the anxiety is a physical ailment, treatment will be designed to eliminate the particular ailment. This might involve surgery or other medication to regulate a physical anxiety trigger. Often, however, medicines such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines, tricyclics, and beta-blockers are used to control some of the physical and mental symptoms.
Anxiety historically has been treated with a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Their use has declined, however, due to their addictive nature. These drugs tend to have few side-effects except for drowsiness and possible dependency. Some common benzodiazepines include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
Seniors who take benzodiazepine have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia during the next 15 years, researchers from the University of Bordeaux Segalen, Bordeaux, France, reported in the BMJ (British Medical Journal, September 2012 issue). Approximately 30% of seniors in France are prescribed benzodiazepine. Rates of benzodiazepine prescribing in the UK and USA are much lower, but still represent a sizeable number of patients.
Anti-depressants – especially those in the class of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) – are also commonly used to treat anxiety even though they were designed to treat depression. SSRIs have fewer side effects than older anti-depressants, but they are still likely to cause jitters, nausea, and sexual dysfunction when treatment begins. Some anti-depressants include:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Tricyclics are a class of drugs that are older than SSRIs and have been shown to work well for most anxiety disorders other than obsessive-compulsive disorder. These drugs are known to cause side-effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and weight gain. Two types of tricyclics include:
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
Additional drugs used to treat anxiety include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), beta-blockers, and buspirone. MAOIs, such as phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), and isocarboxazid (Marplan), are an older type of anti-depressant that is used to treat some anxiety disorders. These drugs carry with them several restrictions on diet and prevent one from taking other medications such as pain relievers. Beat-blockers, such as propranolol (Inderal), are usually used to treat heart conditions, but they can also treat physical symptoms that accompany some anxiety disorders. Buspirone (Buspar) is another type of medication that affects neurotransmitters to control anxiety but lacks the side effects of sleepiness and dependency. However, it has been associated with dizziness, headaches, and nausea.
How is anxiety prevented?
Although anxiety disorders cannot be prevented, there are ways to reduce your risk and methods to control or lessen symptoms. Recommendations include:
- Reducing caffeine, tea, cola, and chocolate consumption.
- Checking with a doctor or pharmacist before using over-the-counter or herbal remedies to see if they contain chemicals that may contribute to anxiety.
- Exercising regularly.
- Eating healthy foods.
- Keeping a regular sleep pattern.
- Seeking counseling and support after a traumatic or disturbing experience.
- Avoiding alcohol, cannabis.