What are the Treatments for Anxiety Disorders?

While there’s no way to prevent anxiety or predict what may cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, there are ways to reduce the impact of anxiety symptoms. Some strategies that can help you cope, whether you have occasional anxiety or an anxiety disorder, include:

  • Exercise. Go for a walk or jog, do yoga, or dance. Develop a routine so that you're physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It may improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start out slowly and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.
  • Talk to someone. It could be your spouse, a friend, relative, or doctor.
  • Keep a daily journal. This can help you become aware of what triggers your anxiety.
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques that can ease anxiety.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Don’t skip meals and focus on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.
  • Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. These substances can cause or worsen anxiety. If you can't quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.
  • Make sleep a priority. Do what you can to make sure you're getting enough sleep to feel rested. If you aren't sleeping well, see your doctor.

For those with severe anxiety, your doctor may recommend a combination of therapy and medication. Each person’s treatment plan will vary depending on how significantly generalized anxiety affects your daily routine, performance, or relationships.

How is Therapy Used to Treat Anxiety?

Therapy sessions are focused on developing skills that help manage worries and anxiety. Specific skills and strategies may help people return to activities or situations that were previously avoided. In addition to combating or coping with symptoms of anxiety, therapy is also aimed to help you understand the anxiety itself. By understanding your anxiety, you may be less afraid of its presence and begin to make choices independent of worry and anxiety.

Therapy sessions are typically conducted in an individual setting. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common methods used by therapists and counselors. CBT specifically targets a person’s thoughts and physical symptoms, including over-preparation, planning, and avoidance that characterize GAD.

Some specialists may also use exposure therapy, which involves gradual exposure to the object or situation that triggers anxiety, to promote confidence building and help you manage the situation and anxiety symptoms. Exposure therapy can be particularly helpful for people with agoraphobia or panic disorders. Mindfulness-based approaches may also used.

Which Medications are Prescribed to Treat Anxiety?

Several types of medications may be used to treat anxiety disorders. Talk with your doctor about the benefits, risks, and possible side effects before starting a medication.

  • Antidepressants: Including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are typically the first in line for medication treatments. These drugs include escitalopram (Lexapro), duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR), and paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva).
  • Buspirone: An anti-anxiety medication that may be used on an ongoing basis. It typically takes up to a several weeks to become fully effective.
  • Benzodiazepines: These sedatives are generally used only for relieving acute anxiety symptoms on a short-term basis. Because they can be habit-forming, these medications aren’t recommended for individuals who have had challenges with alcohol or substance use.

What are the Risks of Abruptly Stopping Medication?

If your doctor has prescribed a medication, it’s crucial you don’t stop taking the medication without first talking to your physician. Abruptly stopping your medication could suddenly worsen your symptoms or cause other side effects. In addition, stopping suddenly or missing several doses could cause withdrawal-like symptoms.

If you feel like your medication is doing more harm than good or if you’re experiencing negative side effects, talk to your doctor. He or she can work with you to safely change your medication or dosage.

Are Antidepressants Safe During Pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, tell your doctor before starting an antidepressant. Some antidepressants may pose a risk to your child. If you’re taking an antidepressant and become pregnant or plan to become pregnant, talk with your doctor.

What are the Side Effects of Antidepressants?

Most antidepressants are safe, however the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all antidepressants to carry a black box warning, the strictest warning for prescriptions. In some cases, patients, especially children, teenagers, and adults under 25, may have an increase in suicidal thoughts immediately after starting an antidepressant or changing the dose. Typically, suicidal thoughts will subside as the body adjusts to the medication. Keep in mind that antidepressants are more likely to reduce suicide risk long term.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts while taking an antidepressant, please seek help. You can contact your doctor or emergency help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

It’s important to remember, both therapy and medication can take time to work. It may take some trial and error to learn which treatments work best for you. Don’t give up on treatment too early. A healthy lifestyle will also help combat anxiety. Make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, eat a healthy diet, and turn to family and friends for support.

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MedStar Harbor Hospital
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225