What Is the Treatment for Anxiety Disorders?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 18 percent of Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias are among the conditions that fall under the category of anxiety disorders. What all of these distinct disorders have in common is that their primary symptom is an overwhelming and irrational sense of fear and/or dread.
While there are no quick and easy anxiety cures, there are effective ways of managing your symptoms and minimizing the impact your anxiety has on your day-to-day functioning in your life.
Options for Anxiety Treatments
Specific treatment can vary by the type of anxiety disorder, by the severity of a patient’s symptoms and by the presence of other concurrent mental and physical conditions, such as — as is often the case with anxiety disorders — depression or substance addiction. Sometimes the depression, addiction or other condition(s) will have to be treated first before the anxiety disorder can be brought effectively under control.
However, the general rule is that most anxiety disorders, and most people with an anxiety disorder, are best treated through a combination of medication to address their symptoms and therapy to help them manage their reactions to anxiety-inducing situations.
Medications for Anxiety
Types of drugs that are commonly used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are antidepressants that affect brain levels of serotonin, a kind of neurotransmitter informally referred to as a “feel-good chemical” because one of its jobs is to pass “mood information” between cells in the body. They are effective in the treatment of a variety of anxiety disorders, and especially where depression is also present. Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft are all examples of SSRIs.
- Benzodiazapines. This family of anti-anxiety medications includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan), among others. They can be prescribed as a daily preventative dosage for consistent ongoing anxiety disorder treatment or on an as-needed basis for anxiety attacks.
- Beta blockers. Beta blockers keep the body from experiencing the effects of a spike in adrenline, which most people experience prior to activities such as getting up and speaking in front of a large group. They are meant to be used on an occasion-specific basis to reduce adrenaline-related anxiety symptoms like rapid heartrate and shaking, and not on an ongoing basis as the primary anxiety disorder treatment.
Anxiety Disorder Therapy
Although some people find they can keep their symptoms in check with the right medication(s), medical research consistently shows that anxiety disorders are better managed when drug treatment is complemented by talk therapy.
Certain compounds in grapefruit juice can increase the body’s absorption of some anti-anxiety medications, enhancing the drug’s effects and possibly causing adverse side effects. Avoid taking any medication for your anxiety disorder with grapefruit juice until you have confirmed with your doctor or pharmacist whether it is safe.
With phobias, exposure therapy has also proven useful. Exposure therapy requires the patient to gradually build coping skills through controlled exposure to the source of their irrational fear.
In addition to helping you learn to manage your reaction to triggers, your therapist can also provide you with strategies such as deep breathing exercises to help you better manage the symptoms of your anxiety disorder.