Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/23/2021
If they had one wish, most anxiety sufferers would just want some control — a knob or a button that can be cranked or pushed to adjust their anxiety levels or pause an anxiety attack.
The average person can understand that at its simplest, anxiety is a beneficial tool that can alert us to dangers and keep us from making terrible mistakes.
Anxiety as one of your senses? Good. But anxiety one of your psychiatric disorders? Bad.
Getting rid of your anxiety isn’t as great as you might think, but lowering your anxiety would be an incredible skill to possess.
Well, it turns out you can indeed have some control over (and even lower) your anxiety, with the right treatments and training.
Reducing your anxiety isn’t going to give you a perfect, anxiety-free existence, but it will help you manage those negative feelings of anxiety, and prevent them from managing you.
To understand how to lower anxiety, you have to understand your opponent. Let’s start there.
According to the experts at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are a collective of mood disorders defined by intensely negative feelings consisting of unease, anxiety or panic, depending on the particular type.
Varying symptoms of anxiety disorder mean that there’s often overlap from one anxiety type to another. For instance, panic sufferers can also deal with more mild anxiety and its symptoms.
Those symptoms could include restlessness and difficulty sleeping, feeling muscle tension or wound-up edginess, having difficulty concentrating, experiencing fatigue or dealing with bouts of irritability or uncontrollable worry several times.
Anxiety symptoms must be felt somewhat regularly for a period of time — at least six months.
Anxiety is very common — at some point in their lives, more than 30 percent of American adults will deal with a form of anxiety disorder.
Another form they may deal with is generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, which is defined by an extremely long and extended period of anxiety — months, years or more.
So where does anxiety come from? Well, we’re not exactly sure. We know that anxiety is caused by imbalances of chemicals in the brain (like serotonin).
We also know that, for now, there is no cure for anxiety — just a collection of treatments like anxiety medications to address its symptoms.
Lowering your anxiety is a complicated question. Do you want to reduce the intensity of your attacks, or prevent more of them in general? Depending on what you’re looking for, there are many avenues of treatment.
Pills have become popular in recent years, but aren’t the only option. In fact, medication for anxiety is typically only part of a complete treatment plan.
Learn more about coping with anxiety with our guide to the various treatments available today.
The point is, lowering your anxiety can be done. It requires a mixture of techniques — some that can be employed in the moment, and some that require planning or the help of a mental healthcare professional.
It’s more than just pill popping or trying a breathing exercise.
Anxiety disorders can be treated in a variety of ways, including medications for anxiety, therapeutic techniques and over-the-counter remedies.
There are several strategies for lowering anxiety that, with the support of a healthcare professional, you should consider.
There’s a significant body of research that shows a link between your physical health and your mental health, and anxiety definitely can affect both.
So how do you treat it? One way might be taking better care of your body.
The effects of regular exercise are good for your muscles and heart, and studies show that a little extra exertion can help your brain rebalance serotonin levels, which in turn lower your anxiety levels.
You’ll even get some bonus deep breathing exercises in after some cardio — call that a two for one deal.
Diet, creating a regular exercise routine and addressing substance abuse are things you should address generally, but they could be making your anxiety worse, too. So, addressing those concerns might alleviate some symptoms.
As you probably understand by now, therapy practices aren’t an anxiety disorder cure-all. Rather, they’re a method for creating effective foundations of support from which you can talk about symptoms freely, and build a plan with support to combat anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are known to respond generally well to therapy techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps disordered thinkers to recognize anxious thought patterns, so they don’t let them take control.
CBT can help you understand your own negative patterns of thought, which will give you the control to employ healthier coping strategies — at least, that’s the goal.
If you’re treating anxiety with prescription medications, it may not be a simple process.
The go-to solution for a prescription anxiety medication is actually an antidepressant. In many cases, antidepressants also offer anti-anxiety benefits when used either on- off-label, depending on the particular antidepressant.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antidepressant, or they may prescribe one of several other medications.
These typically lack sufficient research to support their mental health benefits, and will often sedate you rather than treat the anxiety itself. But they may be an option if antidepressants don’t fare better.
One of the most popular antidepressant groups is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
These are some popular antidepressants you may be prescribed to treat your anxiety:
Likely the first route your mental health care provider will take, SSRIs work by increasing the brain chemical serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is largely responsible for our mood and is popularly called the “happiness hormone.”
Essentially, the more serotonin available in your brain, the happier you’ll be.
Of course, serotonin’s role is much more complex than that, but that’s a general run-down. We talk more about serotonin receptors and how SSRIs work in our complete guide to SSRIs.
As a close cousin of SSRIs, Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, help regulate brain chemicals too.
SNRIs, however, specialize in regulating norepinephrine, which is known to act both as a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone in the brain.
They are often effective when SSRIs fail.
Pregabalin is also approved for the treatment of anxiety, though it is typically prescribed to treat nerve pain.
Pregabalin has shown its benefits in several studies, but side effects like dizziness and drowsiness make it less effective if your goal is to function normally day to day.
This group of anxiety drugs may represent the future of anxiety treatment, but for now, they’ve been inadequately studied, and should be held as a last option, if SSRIs aren’t well tolerated.
Unlike the other medications you read about above, benzodiazepines actually aren’t prescribed as medications to control anxiety.
Instead, they’re technically sedatives that relieve anxiety symptoms with use.
Benzodiazepines are a complicated medication in the consideration of anxiety treatment — they’re effective, but the help comes at serious risk of dependency, which can begin to form after just a few weeks of taking them.
As a result, healthcare professionals may be wary to prescribe them for certain types of anxiety — they might be offered for acute anxiety, but generally won’t be recommended for generalized anxiety disorder.
Like we said at the beginning, your anxiety isn’t going away for good, no matter how many treatments you try. And to be honest with you, that’s a good thing.
You need anxiety to keep you safe, and you want it as a boundary to push past, to experience the world and feel achievement.
What you don’t want is for that barrier to become insurmountable, or for it to box you in.
The best way to prevent that from happening is to get treatment, and the best way to get treatment is to consult a mental health professional about anxiety treatment today.
Treatment isn’t a quick fix — you may have to try several therapies and treatments in combination to find the right solution for your needs. That’s why you should start exploring therapy for treating anxiety today.
Not ready to take anxiety on yet? Want to read more about anxiety or other mental disorders? Take a look at our mental health guide for more resources.