What to Expect After an Anxiety Diagnosis
An anxiety diagnosis is the first step in finding effective treatment for both emotional and physical anxiety symptoms. With a diagnosis in place, you’ll be able to access the care you need to feel better.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for anxiety. It will take time and a little experimentation to find the treatment (or combination of treatments) that controls your symptoms. You may feel frustration along the way. You may want to give up, but please don’t. Anxiety has already consumed your life too long.
For some people, anxiety treatment with medication is the best initial approach. If you are interested in first trying natural treatments for anxiety, then meditation, exercise and therapy (counseling) may likely be part of your treatment plan. The approach that works best for you may be a combination of these elements and may change with time.
Doctors frequently use two types of prescription medication to treat anxiety: antidepressants and antianxiety medicine. Your doctor will carefully consider your symptoms and overall health, as well as your preferences, before prescribing medication.
Antidepressant medications commonly prescribed for anxiety include:
These medicines boost the amount of serotonin, a ‘feel-good’ chemical, in the brain. While these medications are most widely known for relieving depression, studies have found they also effectively treat anxiety.
Because antidepressant medications can cause side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, and difficulty sleeping, doctors usually start patients on a low dose. Typically, side effects go away as your body becomes used to the medication. You and your doctor work together to find the dose that improves your mood and outlook with no, or at least manageable, side effects. Take the medicine as prescribed, such as in the morning with food.
Be patient. It may take 4 to 6 weeks of treatment with an antidepressant before you experience significant relief. Ask your doctor what you can do to manage your symptoms in the meantime.
Antianxiety medications, including alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) work quickly, often within an hour. However, these medications are not usually prescribed long-term as people can develop physical dependence. Buspirone (Buspar) is a different type of antianxiety medicine specifically approved for the treatment of chronic anxiety.
You may need to try several different medications and dosages before finding the drug that works best for you.
According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy, or talk therapy helps people “identify specific concerns and develop concrete skills and techniques for coping with anxiety.”
One of the most common types of anxiety therapies is cognitive behavioral therapy. In sessions, which typically last about an hour, patients learn to how challenge and replace distorted thoughts that fuel anxiety. Another type of therapy, exposure therapy, involves gradually confronting fears. Sometimes, people confront their fears via imagination or virtual reality before tackling them in real life.
Most therapy sessions are between an individual client and therapist, but group therapy, which involves several people with anxiety plus a therapist can also be helpful. Access to group therapy may depend on where you live. People who live near a hospital or in a town with good mental health services are more likely to have group therapy opportunities compared to people who live in small or rural towns without access to good care. Search National Alliance on Mental Health, or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) to find education and support groups.
Structured inpatient treatment for anxiety may also be an option, especially if you are in crisis. Talk with your primary care doctor (or mental health provider) about all your options.
It takes time to learn new skills. Patients usually attend therapy once a week or once every two weeks over a period of six weeks or longer. Many people with anxiety schedule regular check-ins even after their symptoms are under control.
Your healthcare provider or therapist may suggest some lifestyle changes.
Natural anxiety treatments include:
Exercise. Physical activity can relieve anxiety symptoms and prevent anxiety attacks. Keep it simple by adding a daily walk to your routine, or find a dance class or climbing gym.
Meditation. Some people use mindfulness meditation to redirect their anxious thoughts. Yoga may also help.
Supplements. A few herbal supplements, including kava, passionflower, valerian, chamomile and lavender, may decrease anxiety. However, these supplements can cause side effects and interact with other medications, so do not take them without first discussing their use with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.
It will take time to adjust to a new routine. Ask your friends and family for support or join a support group. Celebrate your successes and be kind to yourself when anxiety attacks. If your symptoms worsen, call your healthcare provider. Together, you will identify the problem areas and make tweaks to your current plan or develop a new plan, such as changing the dose of your existing medication or adding on a medication.