Anxiety Treatment: Therapy, Medication & More

From social anxiety to panic disorders, anxiety disorders are common mental illnesses that can have a significant impact on your feelings, behavior and quality of life.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, more than 40 million American adults, or more than 18 percent of the population above 18 years of age, are affected by some form of anxiety disorder.

Numerous different treatments are available for anxiety, from a range of therapeutic techniques to science-based medications. Many of these can provide lasting relief from anxiety symptoms and allow you to live a normal life. 

In many cases, making changes to your lifestyle and practicing self-treatment can help to make your anxiety less severe. 

Below, we’ve looked at the treatments that are currently used for anxiety, as well as the science behind each one.

We’ve also discussed what you can do if you’ve recently developed anxiety symptoms and want to reach out to an expert for help. 

Anxiety Treatments: The Basics

  • It’s normal to feel anxiety occasionally. However, people with anxiety disorders may feel persistent anxiety that doesn’t go away or worsens in certain situations.

  • There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (also referred to as social phobia) and others.

  • Some anxiety disorders can be treated with therapy. Several forms of therapy are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

  • Although medication doesn’t cure anxiety, it can provide relief. Several medications are used to treat anxiety, including anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, beta-blockers and others.

  • If you think that you may have an anxiety disorder, you can talk to a licensed psychiatry provider online to learn more about your options and receive a personalized treatment plan. 

Individual Therapy for Anxiety

Several different forms of therapy are used to treat anxiety. Unlike medication, which specifically treats the symptoms of anxiety, effective therapy can help you to identify the root causes of your anxiety disorder and take steps to overcome them. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most effective forms of therapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. 

This type of therapy involves identifying and understanding the patterns of thought and behavior that cause anxiety, then taking steps to change them.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you to gain a sense of self-confidence and control when it comes to your feelings. This type of treatment often involves developing and improving specific skills, such as social skills, to reduce your anxiety in certain situations.

Several studies have found that CBD can help people with generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and other anxiety disorders.

Exposure Therapy

A second form of therapy that’s often effective for treating anxiety is exposure therapy. This type of therapy involves confronting the activities, objects or situations that cause you to feel fear and anxiety in a safe, controlled environment.

Several different techniques are used in exposure therapy. Some involve imagining an object or situation that causes fear. For example, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder may recall a traumatic event in their past during conversation.

Others involve real-life exposure. For example, a person with a specific phobia involving public speaking may, as part of therapy, give a presentation in front of a group.

These techniques are designed to weaken associations between certain objects, activities and situations and feelings of fear and anxiety. 

Over time, this type of therapy can improve your emotional processing and help you to develop confidence in situations that would otherwise make you feel anxious.

Other Forms of Therapy

Several other forms of therapy are also used to treat anxiety disorders, either on their own or in combination with the methods listed above. 

These include supportive therapy, interpersonal therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and others. 

Your healthcare provider will work with you to choose the most effective form of therapy based on your symptoms, expectations and personal needs. 

If you’re experiencing anxiety and would like to take part in individual therapy, you can talk to a licensed psychiatry provider online to get started.

Support Groups for Anxiety

Although individual therapy is effective at treating anxiety, it isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone. 

If you prefer to talk about your anxiety symptoms, challenges and other issues with others, you may benefit from taking part in an anxiety support group.

Talking in a group setting allows you to share your experiences with others and discuss helpful techniques for controlling and overcoming anxiety. Instead of a one-on-one conversation, your therapy is carried out in a shared space that allows you to feel connected with other people. 

Many anxiety support groups operate in cities, towns or regions. You can find support groups in your area by searching on Google or using online databases such as Psychology Today’s Find a Support Group tool, which has detailed listings that cover the entire United States. 

If you prefer to take part from home, you can join an anonymous support group online using our platform. Prior to each session, you’ll be able to ask anonymous questions for your therapist to address during your group discussion. 

Medications for Anxiety

Several different medications are used to treat anxiety. Although these medications won’t cure anxiety, they can help to control the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety and allow you to live a higher quality life. 

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication on its own or in combination with individual or group therapy. 

Medications used to treat anxiety include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications, which are also used to treat depression, work by increasing the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain.

    Serotonin plays a key role in regulating your feelings. SSRIs can help to treat both the mental and physical effects of anxiety.

    Several SSRIs are approved as treatments for anxiety disorders, including sertraline (the active ingredient in Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), fluoxetine (Prozac®) and others.

    Our complete guide to SSRIs provides more information on how these medications work as treatments for anxiety and depression.

  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications work by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain. Like SSRIs, they’re also prescribed to treat depression.

    SNRIs approved to treat anxiety disorders include venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®).

  • Benzodiazepines. These medications increase the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, which is responsible for controlling brain activity and regulating sleep, muscle relaxation and feelings of calmness.

    Several benzodiazepines are approved to treat anxiety disorders, including alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®) and lorazepam (Ativan®) and others.

    These medications are fast-acting and provide immediate relief from anxiety. However, due to a high risk of physical dependence, they’re usually only prescribed for short-term use.

  • Beta-blockers. These medications work by slowing down your heart rate, relaxing your blood vessels and reducing your blood pressure. This can control physical symptoms of anxiety, such as shaking or a rapid heartbeat.

    Some beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are prescribed for use as needed to control anxiety symptoms during a speaking engagement, presentation, job interview or other stressful, anxiety-inducing event.

    You can learn more about how beta-blockers work for anxiety, their potential side effects and more in our guide to beta-blockers

In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe an older medication, such as a tricyclic antidepressant. These medications are occasionally used when newer medications aren’t fully effective at controlling your anxiety symptoms. 

You can learn more about the medications listed above, including their effects and potential side effects, in our detailed guide to medication for anxiety

These medications require a valid prescription. If you have anxiety and believe medication may help you to control your symptoms, you can talk to a licensed psychiatry provider online to learn more about your options.  

Self-Treatment for Anxiety

Anxiety often develops as a result of lifestyle factors, such as a challenging or stressful career, lack of sleep or a difficult period in your relationship. These factors can both cause anxiety and worsen existing anxiety symptoms. 

It’s often possible to control your anxiety by making certain changes to your habits, lifestyle and thought patterns. 

While self-treatment shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for therapy and/or medication, it can be helpful for coping with anxiety. Think of this as one step out of several for controlling anxiety and improving your quality of life. 

Try the following techniques to self-treat anxiety and gain control over your symptoms:

  • Identify your anxiety triggers. One of the first steps in treating anxiety is understanding what triggers you. Make a list of situations or activities that appear to trigger your anxiety so that you can take meaningful steps to control your symptoms.

  • Let your trusted friends and family know. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or simply overwhelmed by life, let your family and trusted friends know. They may be able to help you deal with your symptoms and make progress towards controlling your anxiety.

  • Use stress management techniques. Stress management techniques can help you to stay calm in anxiety-producing situations. They may also enhance the effects of therapy and help you to overcome anxiety more easily.

    Popular stress management techniques include deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and others.

  • Improve your sleep habits. Sleep is essential for both your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Research suggests that poor sleep quality may contribute to an increase in feelings of anxiety.

    Try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. To improve your sleep, try practicing basic sleep hygiene habits such as avoiding caffeine before bed, exercising during the daytime and sticking to a consistent sleep and wake time, even on weekends.

  • Consider reducing your caffeine intake. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, try reducing your caffeine consumption. Not only is caffeine linked to sleep issues, but large doses of caffeine appear to worsen many symptoms of anxiety.

    Try to limit your intake of coffee, energy drinks and other beverages that contain a large amount of caffeine. You can also try cutting caffeine out from your life completely to see if your anxiety symptoms improve.

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Although there’s no specific diet for treating anxiety, it’s best to follow a balanced diet that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein.

    Avoid skipping any meals or eating lots of simple carbohydrates, as this may affect your blood sugar and cause you to feel jittery and uncomfortable.

  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol. These substances can also make anxiety worse. Although cigarettes may temporarily provide a calming effect, the reality is that nicotine can cause anxiety and worsen existing anxiety disorders.

    Our guide to quitting smoking lists techniques that you can use to avoid cigarettes, deal with nicotine cravings and stay smoke-free for the long term.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise not only improves your physical fitness -- it’s also vital for optimal mental wellbeing. Regular exercise can lower tension and anxiety, with benefits noticeable after as little as five minutes.

    Try to exercise often. While you don’t need to train like an athlete, a daily walk or a short, moderate-intensity workout can have a noticeable positive impact on how you feel.

  • Don’t aim for perfection. It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. Accept that you can’t completely remove anxiety from your life and instead focus on gaining control over your feelings and anxiety symptoms.

How to Seek Treatment for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are extremely common. Unfortunately, many people with anxiety never seek out professional help. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, just 36.9 percent of people with anxiety disorders seek and receive treatment.

If you’re concerned that you may have an anxiety disorder, there are several ways that you can seek treatment:

  • Talk to your primary care provider. Your primary care provider can talk to you about your anxiety symptoms and provide personal assistance. They may check for physical health issues that could contribute to anxiety. 

    If appropriate, your primary care provider can refer you to a mental health professional for further help and treatment.

  • Contact a licensed mental health provider. You can receive expert help by contacting a licensed therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist in your area. Look for licensed, qualified professionals in your area that specialize in anxiety disorders.

  • Contact your insurance provider. Many health insurance policies provide coverage for mental health issues such as anxiety disorders. Your insurance company should be able to provide a list of supported providers in your area.

  • Talk to a licensed psychiatrist online. If you’d like to receive help from home, you can consult with a licensed psychiatry provider online. We provide private, ongoing follow-up care and, when appropriate, science-based medication to treat anxiety. 

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In Conclusion

Anxiety is a common problem. When your anxiety is severe or persistent, it may be a signal that you have an underlying anxiety disorder that needs to be treated. 

From generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder or specific phobias, all forms of anxiety can be treated with the right combination of therapy, medication and simple but meaningful changes to your habits and lifestyle. 

If you’re concerned about anxiety, you can reach out to a professional using the methods listed above or talk to a licensed psychiatry provider online

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.