Anxiety is a life altering issue. That's why effective treatment choices are necessary. Like other mental health conditions, there needs to be some type of intervention - you cannot cure anxiety by wishing it away or waiting it out. You need something effective, and something that has been proven to generate results.
There are thousands upon thousands of treatment options available for those suffering from anxiety. Some work much better than others. In this article, we're going to break down the treatments for anxiety into four main types:
- Pharmacological Treatments (Medications)
- Complementary Treatments
- Lifestyle Changes
These methods of treating anxiety are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, for a fast and steady recovery, it's best to explore all of your available options rather than limit yourself to a single choice. Medicine is unlikely to cure anxiety alone, and even therapy may not provide you with the complete support you need if you don't partner it with effective lifestyle changes.
There's also no magic answering for curing anxiety. But there are very effective treatments - everyone, no matter how severe your anxiety, can fight it. All you need is commitment, and the willingness to keep trying. Below, you'll find several of the available options for your anxiety.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
The severity of your anxiety affects how to treat it. Our free 7 minute anxiety severity test will help you score your anxiety, graph it to others, and find out more about how to treat it.
Choosing From the Uncommon and Common Treatments
It's important to remember that some treatments are more effective than others. There is no harm in utilizing a less traditional treatment, but remember that many of the more popular and common treatments have years of research behind them. If you do decide to try a less conventional treatment and it doesn't work, don't forget that many of the conventional treatments are still effective and available for you.
That said, part of anxiety recovery is about excitement and commitment to the possible cures available. So there is no harm in trying a less conventional treatment if you strongly believe it will work. Keep an open mind, and you may find that something with less research still provides you with the relief you need.
Psychological Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is the king of psychological treatments. It's received countless research papers comparing it to placebo, and very often is found to be highly effective. CBT utilizes behavioral research and cognitive functioning to challenge assumptions and thoughts and alter behaviors in a way that often provides results.
There is more than one type of CBT, but the techniques have a similar focus. By addressing the causal relationships between your thoughts and your anxiety/behaviors, cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to sever the thoughts and behaviors that lead to anxiety and provide you with tools to relieve your troubling emotional reactions.
Psychotherapy from a psychodynamic perspective is a way of analyzing anxiety by looking at the history of the individual. While CBT often focuses on the present (although understanding the past does play a role), psychoanalysis focuses almost exclusively on the past, believing that most disorders are the result of problems with early childhood, and the relationships a person has with their mother/father.
Psychodynamic theorists, the most famous of whom was Sigmund Freud, believed that conflicts within the conscious and the subconscious, as well as defense mechanisms and familiar relationships all create anxiety disorders, and by relating to the therapist and bringing this issues to the surface, the individual will free themselves of their burdens, and ultimately stop experiencing anxiety.
Like CBT, there are several types of psychoanalysis, many of which were founded by students of Freud. Psychoanalysis has lost favor in the psychological world, because studies have shown only a modest improvement in psychological symptoms when compared to placebo - far below that of CBT - but it still remains an influential tool in psychological thinking, and many people continue to find it beneficial.
Systemic therapy is less well known, but has been growing in popularity over the last several decades. Unlike other forms of therapy that look at the individual on a personal level, systemic therapy believes that anxiety disorders are the result of a system of relationships that a person has with others.
It's a present-focused therapy, unlike psychodynamic, and tries to identify problems in your relationship patterns with friends, family, and even your workplace. It attempts to locate relationships that contribute to tension, and manage your anxiety by changing the way you relate to others.
Anxiety has many different causes, so it's likely that Systemic therapy works better for some than others, and research into this method of therapy is ongoing, but there is reason to believe that it may be effective - especially if that anxiety is affecting you or caused by social cues.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is an exploratory therapy with some controversy. It's not used for every type of anxiety either. EMDR is unlikely to be beneficial for generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, but may be beneficial as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety that results from some type of trauma. It may also be useful for phobias, although research into that area is ongoing.
EMDR is based on the theory that anxiety symptoms surface when traumatic experiences are inadequately stored in the brain, causing poorly processed psychological coping mechanisms. It focuses on the idea that if these memories are stored correctly, anxiety will be eliminated or reduced. Behaviors in EMDR therapy include moving the eyes from side to side, tapping on the body, and more.
Somatic experiencing is another interesting form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine. He likened many of the responses in those that have experienced trauma to the reactions by animals in the wild in life threatening situations.
This type of therapy method seeks to relieve some of the sensations of physical tension that are frozen in the body for years after trauma. The doctor believes that when experiencing intensely frightening events, the automatic nervous system is heightened but not relieved after the traumatic event has passed. So this approach tries to reduce PTSD by helping patients become more aware of their bodies and the sensations that are perceived through them.
There are other forms of talk therapy that are popular as well. Some of these have empirical evidence, while others are more experimental. They include:
- Humanistic Therapy
- Existential Therapy
- Family and Marital Therapy
- Gestalt Therapy
- Play Therapy (for children)
- Pastoral Counseling
- Goal Oriented Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (form of CBT)
- Dance Therapy
- Art Therapy
Do your research before choosing any therapeutic technique. Many of these have not received very much research into their effectiveness (CBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Marital Therapy have received strong research) while others are more experimental, and some may even be pseudoscience (fake science that is no more effective than placebo). Decide which ones you're comfortable trying and never be discouraged if they don't work as you expected. Not every type of therapy works for everyone, and sometimes all you need is a change.
Pharmacological Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
Most modern psychologists and researchers agree that no one should depend solely on pharmacological/medicinal treatments for anxiety. There are several reasons for this. First, many drugs have side effects that make it unhealthy to take them for the rest of your life. Second, they don't teach coping strategies, and they can actually make it harder to cope in the future as you forget your original coping ability and depend too much on the medications.
That is not to say medications are inherently bad, however. Some are very effective for short term anxiety relief, and those that need something to help them get through an immensely difficult time. But regardless of whether or not you decide to take any medication, make sure that you're partnering it with some other type of behavioral treatment, like talk therapy or another option. Otherwise, a medicinal anxiety treatment may make it harder to reduce your anxiety in the future.
Below is a chart of common anxiety medications used to treat anxiety disorders:
Complementary Anxiety Treatment Techniques
Complementary treatments are anxiety treatments that can be used in addition to therapy, or whatever other type of treatment option you decide to use. In a way, they're designed to simply help you manage your personal anxiety. You can do these without therapy if you like, and in some cases they may help you find relief. Or you can partner them with some other anxiety reduction option.
Examples of these complementary techniques include:
- Relaxation Techniques/Strategies It can be hard to relax with anxiety. But there are several strategies that you can implement to calm your mind at body, at least slightly. Some examples of these include deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation (great for muscle tension), meditation, and many others. These aren't going to cure anxiety on their own, and they can be tough to master, but once you've gotten used to them they can reduce your anxiety in the moment, and make it easier to calm yourself during anxiety attacks.
- Exercise Experts always talk about exercise in terms of its health benefits. But research clearly suggests that regularly engaging in physical exercise will not only promote your physical health - it will also improve your psychological health. In fact, many studies have linked inactivity to higher levels of anxiety. Exercise burns stress hormones, increases production of endorphins, relaxes muscles and anxiety symptoms, and more. It's one of the most beneficial things you can do for your stress.
- Nutritional Supplements - There are several vitamins and nutritional supplements that may be valuable for those dealing with anxiety as well. Some research has suggested that vitamin imbalances, like magnesium deficiency, may contribute or even cause anxiety symptoms, so there is evidence to suggest that improving your nutritional intake may be valuable. Contact your doctor to talk with them about supplements that may be useful.
- Dietary Changes Similarly, there is evidence that some components of the modern diet, such as refined sugars, may contribute to the strength of your anxiety symptoms. Removing fried foods, refined sugars, and excess caffeine from your diet may all be useful for combatting anxiety.
- Herbal Supplements Never take herbal supplements and anxiety medications at the same time, and always talk to your doctor before trying an herbal remedy. But kava, valerian, passionflower - these are all herbs that have been linked to treating anxiety, some of which may be as powerful as modern medicines.
Other strategies include acupuncture, prayer, and aromatherapy. There are also more untraditional strategies out there that may also be effective, but use them with caution.
Which Anxiety Treatment is Best?
There is no one size fits all treatment for anxiety. It's a complex condition with numerous causes. Since there is also more than one type of anxiety, it's clear that each person needs an individualized plan.
If you haven't yet, my 7 minute anxiety test is the best place to start.
A study of 101 patients with generalized anxiety disorder were broken into five groups, and each group was treated with over 10 weeks with one of the following treatment options:
- Test Group 1) Diazepam
- Test Group 2) Placebo (control group)
- Test Group 3) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Test Group 4) Diazepam + CBT
- Test Group 5) Placebo + CBT
The findings can be seen in the chart below:
Each block on the chart corresponds to the test groups, with the different hues representing improvement, no change, or worsening of the condition. As you can see, medicine alone was ineffective, but CBT and a combination of CBT and medication were extremely effective.
This is an example of one of the issues that often occurs with anxiety - no one treatment is effective on its own, and at the very least you'll need to make sure that you're choosing a therapy that is effective for you, and one that you're passionate about using. Your own interest in utilizing the therapy will have an effect on the ability for the treatment to work.
Anxiety is a debilitating disorder, but there are effective anxiety treatments that can help cure you of your anxiety. All you have to do is be willing to use them and commit to them, and find the ones that work best for you.
Also, take my 7 minute anxiety test now. I've helped thousands of people cure their anxiety and I require them to take the test to get a more personalized way of treating their anxiety. Take the questionnaire and learn more about how your anxiety affects you.
Clark, David M. 2006. Effective Psychological Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: A Report for the Department of Health in support of the submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Power, K. G., et al. Controlled comparison of pharmacological and psychological treatment of generalized anxiety disorder in primary care. The British Journal of General Practice 40.336 (1990): 289.
Westen, Drew; Morrison, Kate. A multidimensional meta-analysis of treatments for depression, panic, and generalized anxiety disorder: An empirical examination of the status of empirically supported therapies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 69(6), Dec 2001, 875-899. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.69.6.875