Treatments for anxiety
A range of health professionals and services offer information, treatment and support for anxiety conditions, as well as a number of things you can do to help yourself.
Effective treatment helps you learn how to control your anxiety so it doesn’t control you. The type of treatment will depend on the type of anxiety you’re experiencing.
For mild symptoms your health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels. You might also like to try online e-therapies, many of which are free, anonymous and easily accessible for anyone with internet access. Where symptoms of anxiety are moderate to severe, psychological and/or medical treatments are likely to be required.
The important thing is finding the right treatment and the right health professional for your needs.
Psychological treatments for anxiety
Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) can help you change your thinking patterns so you’re able to keep your anxiety under control and reduce irrational worries.
There are several types of effective psychological treatments for anxiety, as well as different delivery options. Some people prefer to work one on one with a professional, while others get more out of a group environment. A growing number of online programs, or e-therapies, are also available.
CBT is a structured psychological treatment which recognises that the way we think (cognition) and act (behaviour) affects the way we feel. CBT involves working with a professional (therapist) to identify thought and behaviour patterns that are either making you more likely to become anxious, or stopping you from getting better when you’re experiencing anxiety. Once you’ve recognised any unhelpful patterns that are contributing to your anxiety, you can make changes to replace these with new ones that reduce anxiety and improve your coping skills.
For example, you might find yourself stuck in catastrophising thinking patterns. This means thinking the worst, believing something is far worse than it actually is, or anticipating things will go wrong. CBT helps by teaching you to think that more realistically and focus on problem-solving. If you actively avoid situations or things that cause anxiety, CBT can help you face your fears and approach these situations more rationally.
Professionals may use a range of techniques in CBT. Examples include:
- encouraging you to recognise the difference between productive and unproductive worries
- teaching you how to let go of worries and solve problems.
- teaching relaxation and breathing techniques, particularly muscle relaxation, to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension.
CBT can be delivered one-on-one with a professional, in groups, or online. CBT is often combined with behaviour therapy.
While behaviour therapy is a major component of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), unlike CBT it doesn’t attempt to change beliefs and attitudes. Instead it focuses on encouraging activities that are rewarding, pleasant or give a sense of satisfaction, in an effort to reverse the patterns of avoidance and worry that make anxiety worse.
Avoiding frightening situations can mean you don’t get a chance to face your fear and prove to yourself you can cope with it, in turn causing your anxiety to persist. Behaviour therapy for anxiety relies mainly on a treatment called ‘graded exposure’. There are a number of different approaches to exposure therapy, but they’re all based on exposing you to the specific things that make you anxious. This experience helps you cope with fearful situations rather than avoiding or escaping them, as well as putting your worry about the situation into perspective.
e-therapies, also known as online therapies or computer-aided psychological therapy, can be just as effective as face-to-face services for people with mild to moderate anxiety. Most e-therapies follow the same principles as CBT or behaviour therapy, and the structured nature of these treatments means they’re well suited to being delivered online.
Most e-therapies teach you to identify and change patterns of thinking and behaviour that might be preventing you from overcoming your anxiety. You work through the program by yourself, and although e-therapies can be used with or without help from a professional, most involve some form of support from a therapist. This can be via telephone, email, text, or instant messaging, and helps you to successfully apply what you’re learning to your life.
Online programs have several advantages, including:
- easy to access
- can be done from home
- can be of particular benefit for people in rural and remote areas
- can be provided in many cases without having to visit a doctor.
You can chat with one of our counsellors now.
Medical treatments for anxiety
Research shows that psychological therapies are the most effective treatment option for people with anxiety. However, if symptoms are severe, some medical treatments may be helpful.
Some types of antidepressant medication can help people to manage anxiety, even if they are not experiencing symptoms of depression.
Research indicates that when people have an anxiety condition, specific changes occur in their brain’s chemicals – serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Antidepressant medication is designed to correct the imbalance of chemical messages between nerve cells (neurones) in the brain.
Antidepressants can make you feel better, but they won’t change your personality or make you feel happy all the time. Like taking any other medication, some people will experience some side effects, and individuals should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor. People should also ask for information about the medications so that they can make an informed decision.
Depending on which medication is taken, common side effects can include nausea, headaches, anxiety, sweating, dizziness, agitation, weight gain, dry mouth and sexual difficulties (e.g. difficulty becoming/staying aroused).
Some of these symptoms can be short-lived, but people who experience any of these symptoms should tell their doctor, as there are ways of minimising them. The likelihood of a particular side effect happening varies between individuals and medications.
It is not uncommon for people with mental health conditions to have suicidal thoughts. Treating the condition effectively will reduce the likelihood of a person hurting him or herself. In the period of time between the person starting antidepressant medication and responding to treatment – which can be more than two weeks – the person should still be monitored closely by the doctor and his or her progress reviewed, as the risk of suicidal behaviour may even be slightly increased, especially in young people.
Like any medication, the length of time a person needs to take antidepressants depends on the severity of their condition and how they respond to treatment. Some people only need to take them for a short time, while others may need them on an ongoing basis to manage their condition. It’s just like someone who uses insulin to manage their diabetes, or ventolin for asthma.
Antidepressants are safe, effective and not addictive. People sometimes want to stop taking antidepressants quickly because they are concerned they’re addictive. This may be because they confuse antidepressants with other types of medications (e.g. benzodiazepines, sedatives), but stopping medication should only be done gradually, on a doctor’s recommendation and under supervision.
Anxiety Management strategies
There are a range of strategies you can try to manage your anxiety. What works is different for everyone, and it can take time to find the strategies that work best for you. But remember, if your anxiety is proving difficult to manage seek support from a professional.
strategies to try
- Slow breathing. When you’re anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. Try deliberately slowing down your breathing. Count to three as you breathe in slowly – then count to three as you breathe out slowly.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet location. Close your eyes and slowly tense and then relax each of your muscle groups from your toes to your head. Hold the tension for three seconds and then release quickly. This can help reduce the feelings of muscle tension that often comes with anxiety.
- Stay in the present moment. Anxiety can make your thoughts live in a terrible future that hasn’t happened yet. Try to bring yourself back to where you are. Practising meditation can help.
- Healthy lifestyle. Keeping active, eating well, going out into nature, spending time with family and friends, reducing stress and doing the activities you enjoy are all effective in reducing anxiety and improving your wellbeing.
- Take small acts of bravery. Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more anxious in the long term. Try approaching something that makes you anxious – even in a small way. The way through anxiety is by learning that what you fear isn’t likely to happen – and if it does, you’ll be able to cope with it.
- Challenge your self-talk. How you think affects how you feel. Anxiety can make you overestimate the danger in a situation and underestimate your ability to handle it. Try to think of different interpretations to a situation that’s making you anxious, rather than jumping to the worst-case scenario. Look at the facts for and against your thought being true.
- Plan worry time. It’s hard to stop worrying entirely so set aside some time to indulge your worries. Even 10 minutes each evening to write them down or go over them in your head can help stop your worries from taking over at other times.
- Get to know your anxiety. Keep a diary of when it’s at it’s best – and worst. Find the patterns and plan your week – or day – to proactively manage your anxiety.
- Learn from others. Talking with others who also experience anxiety – or are going through something similar – can help you feel less alone. Visit our Online Forums to connect with others.
- Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are not your anxiety. You are not weak. You are not inferior. You have a mental health condition. It’s called anxiety.