Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

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If you experience anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States. They are also highly treatable.

If you have anxiety, talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Together you can find a treatment (or combination of treatments) to help you feel better. Here are some of your options.

Treating Anxiety With Psychotherapy

Certain types of therapy are effective at treating anxiety disorders. In therapy, you talk with someone who has special training in mental health. You might meet with a psychiatrist, social worker, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatric nurse. Sessions focus on how to cope with symptoms and what causes your anxiety.

There are many types of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders, but here are two common approaches:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on changing anxiety-related thoughts and behaviors. You’ll work to change the thoughts that cause your fears. You will also learn new ways to react to situations that make you anxious. Your therapist may also teach you ways to relieve anxiety, such as deep breathing. Most people see benefits from CBT in about 3 to 4 months.

  • Exposure-based behavioral therapy. Exposure-based behavioral therapy is a type of CBT. It’s useful for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and specific phobias, like a fear of flying. In exposure-based therapy, you gradually face the thing or situation that causes you anxiety. Your therapist will help you along the way. By the end of treatment, the object or situation won’t bother you as much.

Treating Anxiety With Medication

A medical doctor must prescribe anxiety medications. Physician assistants (PAs) and some nurse practitioners (NPs) with a supervising doctor can also prescribe anxiety medications. Some medications should be used only for a short time, while others can be a long-term solution. Medication may also be used along with therapy. A combination of medicine and therapy is often more effective than either treatment alone. The main medications that treat anxiety disorders are antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs often take weeks before any improvement is noticed. Never adjust or discontinue the medication dosage without first consulting with the prescribing health care provider.

Antidepressant Medications for Anxiety

It’s not at all unusual for a doctor to prescribe antidepressants for anxiety. Common types of antidepressants that may be prescribed for anxiety disorders include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These affect chemicals in the brain which, in turn, affect your emotions and can relieve anxiety symptoms.

SSRIs for anxiety disorders include:

SNRIs are usually prescribed for general anxiety disorder. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor) are two common types.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

These medications ease feelings of fear and dread. They can also relieve physical symptoms, such as muscle tightness.

Common anti-anxiety medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines. These medications can help treat social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Common types are alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). 

  • Beta-blockers. These drugs are especially helpful for social anxiety disorder. You typically take them before an anxiety-inducing situation. Propranolol (Inderal) is one option.

Complementary Medicine

In addition to standard treatments, complementary medicine might be an option for you. Some common complementary treatments for anxiety include yoga, exercise, and relaxation techniques. Exercise has been proven highly effective at helping anxiety symptoms. Experts believe that exercise increases the levels of serotonin in the brain.

If one treatment doesn’t work, don’t give up. Not all anxiety medicines and other treatments work the same way in everyone. If you don’t think treatment is working, be open and honest with your doctor and your counselor/therapist. Tell them how and what you are feeling and thinking. They will help you set realistic expectations about how long different treatments take. They will help find the best treatment approach for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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