Anxiety disorders are life-altering issues. Anxiety is a condition that creates real, measurable changes to your brain, and alters the way you think, feel, and behave.
That’s why effective treatment options are necessary. Like other mental health conditions, there needs to be some type of intervention - you cannot cure anxiety disorders by wishing them away or waiting them out. You cannot “dabble” or “experiment” with a treatment and then immediately give up on it. You cannot assume that it’s possible to just naturally overcome it. Anxiety changes you. Changing back is hard.
You need something effective, and something that has been proven to generate results.
There are several 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 Treatment (Medication)
- Complementary Treatment (Natural/Alternative Treatment)
- Lifestyle Changes
These methods of treating anxiety are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, for a fast and steady recovery, it’s best to explore some combination of these options rather than limit yourself to a single choice. Medication 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 answer for curing an anxiety disorder. It takes years to form. It can take a long time and a lot of setbacks before you will be able to eliminate it.
But there are very effective treatments - everyone, no matter how severe the anxiety is, can fight it. All you need is commitment, an open mind, and the willingness to keep trying.
About This Anxiety Treatment Guide
Below, you’ll find many of the available options for your anxiety disorder. But it should be noted that the list is not an endorsement. Anxiety is not that simple. What works for one person may not work for another. There are different types of anxiety, different severities of anxiety, different types of personalities, and more. And as always, consult your doctor regarding the selection of a suitable treatment combination for your anxiety disorder after you’ve been diagnosed with one.
Even within the mental health community, there is substantial disagreement about what works and what doesn’t. Our role is always to simply try to help inform you to make the best choice for yourself.
Note: Choosing From the Researched and the Unresearched
One of the reasons that curing an anxiety disorder is a challenge is that there are always setbacks. This is especially true if you’re using alternative treatments, or experimenting with a treatment you do not believe in. Far too many people give up on treating their anxiety simply because one treatment doesn’t work.
This is a mistake.
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 to you. If you try a well researched treatment and it STILL doesn’t work, there is no reason to give up. Treating anxiety isn’t always a simple task. It often requires a lot of different strategies.
Remember – there is no magic cure, and anyone or anything that tells you that taking it can cure your anxiety overnight is lying to you. Instead, think of all of these anxiety treatments as experiments, and even if you’re finding some anxiety relief, don’t give up on looking for even more avenues from which to cure your anxiety permanently.
It can be cured. You just have to find the right solution.
Psychological Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
No discussion of anxiety treatments can start without exploring counseling/psychotherapy. Most people with anxiety hate the idea of going to a therapist. But therapy often works. Several of them – although admittedly not all of them – have been well-researched, and have been found to effectively cure or help manage anxiety in the long term.
Even if you choose a medicine, or lifestyle changes, or something else, you should never underestimate that psychotherapy can be powerful, especially if you have not tried it before. Just make sure to find the right therapist for you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety
CBT is the king of psychological treatments. It utilizes behavioral research and cognitive functioning to challenge assumptions and thoughts and alter behaviors in a way that often provides results.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety has many benefits that make it a smart choice for those that want to consider a treatment, including:
- Research – CBT has been thoroughly researched and have been found to be highly effective. Few other treatments have received the level of positive research that CBT has.
- Goal-oriented – Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, which means that you’re looking to achieve some type of goal. This differs from some forms of therapy, which involve more talking about your past and self-exploration.
- Actionable – CBT is also actionable. It gives you techniques that you can take home with you – something that is not always possible with other therapies.
- Focused on the Present – Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses almost entirely on the present. While the past is still considered important, the goal is to see what you can do now to improve your anxiety.
- Brief – You don’t need to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy for a long time unless you want to. Most CBT is completed within 6 to 20 sessions, although some therapists still recommend meeting once in a while to talk about setbacks.
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.
Read More About CBT Here:
Psychoanalysis for Anxiety
Another form of psychotherapy is known as “psychodynamic” therapy or “psychoanalysis.” From a psychodynamic perspective, this form of therapy 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 - below that of CBT - but it still remains an influential tool in psychological thinking, and many people continue to find it beneficial.
Counseling for Anxiety
Counseling and therapy are sometimes used interchangeably. There are counselors that use CBT, counselors that use psychodynamic therapy, and counselors that use a variety of the other treatment options we’ll discuss below. In most states, there is no difference between a counselor and a therapist, and no difference between counseling and therapy.
But we wanted to give counseling its own section, because there are ways that people “counsel” that do not fit into these boxes. Some therapists and counselors provide a service that simply involves talking. You sit there, with the counselor, and you talk about your problems, what has been bothering you, and give someone an opportunity to ask you questions and provide you with feedback.
This type of anxiety treatment has many advantages:
- You have someone who will listen to your problems without judgment.
- You have someone who can provide you with guidance and feedback.
- You have someone who will keep you accountable for the promises you make to yourself.
It helps to have someone there that can listen to you, especially if you don’t feel like you’ve been able to find that support in your life. Counseling, at least in this form, is something worth considering.
Systemic Therapy for Anxiety
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 socially 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. This approach tries to reduce PTSD by helping patients become more aware of their bodies and the sensations that are perceived through them.
Hypnotherapy for Anxiety
Hypnotherapy is an “alternative therapy” that is highly controversial. But there are many therapist and patients that swear by it. Hypnotherapy is, as the name implies, a form of hypnosis. But unlike the parlor-trick hypnosis that people see on TV, this one takes place in a controlled setting and is designed to relax you and help make you more amenable to treatments.
Like most alternative treatments, research has not been kind to hypnotherapy. It generally sees it as nothing more than a placebo. But anecdotally, many people swear by the techniques, and it is considered somewhat hard to research on. If you’re going to consider hypnotherapy, do so cautiously and with the full support of your doctor/therapist.
Other Forms of Anxiety therapy
The above list are the most common forms of therapy for anxiety. In terms of researched therapies, some others you may want to consider include:
- Family and Marital Therapy
- Gestalt Therapy
- Play Therapy (for children)
- Goal Oriented Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (form of CBT)
These forms of talk therapy are not always used for anxiety and are not all well-researched. Dialectical behavior therapy is highly regarded, but not frequently used as an anxiety reduction technique. Family and marital therapy is useful if anxiety is caused by familiar issues, but may not help with an individual’s anxiety. Play therapy is useful for children, and the other therapies on the list are interesting, but not as widely used.
There are other forms of talk therapy that are popular as well. Some of these have empirical evidence, but most of these are experimental (not researched) and “alternative” (not believed to be effective but promoted by alternative medicine activists). They include:
- Humanistic Therapy
- Existential Therapy
- Dance Therapy
- Pastoral Counseling
- Art Therapy
Do your research before choosing any therapeutic technique and discuss in detail with your doctor. Many of these have not been fully proven in terms of their effectiveness (although CBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Marital Therapy have) while others are more experimental, and some may even be pseudoscience. So, it is important to be vigilant.
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 (Anxiety Drug Treatments)
Most doctors, psychologists, and researchers now 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:
Anxiety drug treatments generally fall into the following categories:
- Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Atypical Antidepressants
- Beta Blockers
- Other (Drugs That Do Not Fit Into the Above Categories)
For more information about what these anxiety treatments are, you can review our anxiety drugs page for some background.
Anxiety medication can be useful. If your anxiety is severe, they can provide some relief that helps your life feel at least a little more back to normal. But they are not perfect:
- They don’t cure your anxiety (when you stop taking the drug, your anxiety may come back).
- They have side effects that can alter how you feel.
- They may lead to some psychological dependency, as you forget how to cope without the drugs.
So if you are considering anti-anxiety drugs, which can be a perfectly reasonable choice, you should discuss these with your doctor and also make sure that you’re considering other treatments to help you learn long term coping strategies. That way you do not have to take any medications forever.
For more information about medication anxiety treatments, feel free and review the following:
- Beta Blockers
- How to Discontinue Taking Medications
- Stress Medications
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 and 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.
- Dietary Changes Similarly, there is evidence that some components of the modern diet, such as refined sugars, may contribute to your anxiety symptoms. Removing fried foods, refined sugars, and excess caffeine from your diet may all be useful for combating anxiety.
These are essentially effective lifestyle changes that can assist you in controlling your anxiety. Always consider some types of lifestyle changes in order to make life more manageable.
For more information please consider the following links:
Alternative, Placebo, and Faith-based Treatments
Before we begin this section, it is important to note that alternative medicine is, in many cases, not considered medicine. Far too many treatments out there are ineffective and in some cases, harmful.
The placebo effect is the idea that if the subconscious believes something will work, it actually works. Anxiety treatments are especially prone to placebo because if you subconsciously believe your anxiety will go away, your brain then receives more confidence that tells it that your anxiety is going away.
It is important to reiterate the term “subconscious.” You may think that you don’t believe it will work. But your mind, deep down, is looking for proof it DOES work. So even if you are skeptical, you can still be affected by the placebo effect.
An example of this is homeopathic medicine. We wrote a critical review of this type of remedy on this website, and we encourage you to read it. It is, almost literally, just tap water.
But if you search for “Homeopathic Anxiety Treatment” on Amazon, you will find hundreds of products with thousands of positive reviews. It’s easy to see why someone would believe homeopathic medicine works, especially when there are so many people who swear it worked for them.
There are even “homeopathic anxiety remedies for dogs” on Amazon that have thousands of positive reviews.
Alternative and natural medicine is tempting. The idea that you can have a medication or supplement that treats your anxiety without side effects means that many people seek out this type of treatment first. Some may even have an effect on your anxiety. Kava, for example, does have some studies that show that it works. There is some evidence that magnesium may also improve anxiety.
But at the same time, “natural cures” are, very often, just placebo. They are marketed as being “side-effect free” specifically because they do not have any effect on your body.
So, it makes sense to try natural medicine, natural supplements, and alternative treatments. But do so carefully, and make sure you have discussed them with your doctor. Some work, but many do not. Do your research before trying any one of them.
The following are the types of alternative anxiety treatments that you may consider:
- Nutritional Supplements There are several vitamins and nutritional supplements that may be valuable for those dealing with anxiety. Some research has suggested that vitamin/mineral imbalances, such as magnesium deficiency, may contribute to 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.
- 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 mimic the effects of modern medicines.
- Behavioral Strategies In addition to medications, there are some alternative treatments that are non-medication based. For example, acupuncture, prayer, and aromatherapy are all considered alternative treatments, because there is either little evidence that they work (acupuncture) or limited research altogether (prayer).
For more information, consider the following links:
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
- Vitamin D
- Valerian Root
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Passion Flower
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. Different anxiety disorders also require sometimes very different treatments, and so too does your anxiety severity, personality, and more play a role.
The above guide is there to help you make an informed decision, but there is still a lot of personal research to do before you will be able to determine which ones you want to commit to, and why.
Research comparing different treatments effectively doesn’t come around that often. 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 disorders are debilitating, 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.