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 recover quickly enough, or experience problems with a treatment, try another.
The first step is to see a doctor to make sure there is no physical problem causing the symptoms (e.g. hyperthyroidism). If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, a mental health professional can assist with determining the best treatment. It is important to remember that some anxiety is normal.
- 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 the process of making a work of art can be healing.
- Biofeedback. In biofeedback, people are trained to recognize and control body functions they are not normally aware of. These include blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, sweat gland activity, muscle tension, breathing and brain activity.
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). In CBT, clients work with a therapist to look at patterns of thinking (cognition) and acting (behaviour) 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, then the person can make changes to replace these patterns with ones that reduce anxiety.
- 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.
- Mindfulness-Based Therapies. This type of meditation teaches people to focus on the present moment.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 symptoms of anxiety, such as a fast heart rate, rapid breathing or tremors (shakes). They are mainly used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. However, they are also used for social phobia and performance anxiety.
Complementary and Lifestyle Interventions
- 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.
- 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 on their own. Some of the books are based on psychological therapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy.
- 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 in jogging) or anaerobic (strengthens muscles, such as in 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. Massage is often done by a trained professional. 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 or vipassana.
- Relaxation training. There are a number of 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 to manage daily anxiety
There are a number of things you can do to help cope with some of the symptoms of anxiety that are
characteristic of anxiety disorders.
- 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 make symptoms of anxiety disorders worse.
- Eat right and exercise regularly. Brisk aerobic exercises like jogging and biking help release brain chemicals that cut stress and improve your mood and can help calm your mind and body.
- Make good sleep a priority. Sleep problems and anxiety disorder often go hand in hand. Get a good night’s rest on a regular basis 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).
- Learn to manage stress. Learning to manage stress can help reduce anxiety. Keep an eye on pressures and deadlines, compile lists to make daunting tasks more manageable, and commit to taking time off from study or work.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Simple activities can be used to relax mental and physical signs of anxiety. These include meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark and yoga.
- Challenge yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Make a list of the negative thoughts you experience, and write down a list of positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Picturing yourself successfully facing and conquering a specific fear can also be beneficial if the anxiety symptoms are related to a specific cause.
- Use your support network. Talk with a person who is supportive, such as a family member or friend.
Learning that you have an anxiety disorder may bring relief. The good news is that anxiety disorders are among the most treatable of all mental health conditions and disorders.
- Managing stress. National Alliance on Mental Health. Retrieved October 1, 2018 from: http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Managing-Stress.
- Rose RD, et al. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of a self-guided, multimedia, stress management and resilience training program. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 51:106.
- Stress. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved October 1, 2018 from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress.