Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Introduction
The consensus among health professionals is that there is not a standard regimen for anxiety disorder treatments, but that most successful treatment plans utilize some form of psychotherapy or counseling and add medications or supplements as needed. It is often a process of trial and error before the best combination is found. Some treatments can be used by the patient in a self-help setting, but it is generally recommended that he or she be under a professional’s care if the anxiety disorder is debilitating or starts to become worse with an attempted treatment regimen.
Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Psychotherapy
Often times, the first step in treating an anxiety disorder is getting a professional opinion as to whether some form of psychotherapy or counseling might be beneficial for the condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is recommended in many cases of anxiety disorders. It is usually administered by a healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist, but sometimes different facets of CBT can be used by a patient on their own. Patients can overcome anxiety, which is usually stimulated by irrational fear, by realizing negative and unhelpful thought patterns and changing them into more constructive ones. This type of thought processing makes up the “cognitive” part of the therapy.
When addressing “behavior”, the therapist can help the patient learn to control the physical attributes of anxiety. For example, he or she can help the patient learn to breathe deeply in a seemingly dangerous situation. Another common CBT technique is exposure therapy. This works by planning an intended encounter with the anxiety-provoking stimulus, at which the patient learns (sometimes over a period of multiple sessions) how to deal with the feared object or situation.
Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Medication
Many times medication can be used at the start of therapy, and sometimes for an indefinite period of time, if warranted. There are many different types of medications that have proved effective for anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines have become some of the most commonly prescribed drugs for anxiety conditions because they are fast acting and work well. They have addiction potential, however, and withdrawing from long-term use can be life threatening. They work by encouraging the function of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA.
Another class of drugs, serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been used with some success. They are a viable option for long-term treatment of chronic anxiety, but have the disadvantage of taking a long time to build up to active levels within the system to be effective. They work by blocking the reuptake of the mood neurotransmitter serotonin, which increases the amount available in the synapse, which then helps balance the brain’s chemistry.
A new class of drugs, the azapirones, work in some of the same ways as SSRIs but increase the reuptake of dopamine as well. The mechanism of these newer drugs is not fully understood, but it is thought that they might work indirectly on the GABA system. Some other drug classes, like beta blockers, have applications for the treatment of anxiety disorders as well.
Many supplements have the potential to help with anxiety. Herbs like valerian, chamomile, and kava kava are believed to be effective. Amino acids, like tyrosine and tryptophan, can help the brain to process information better and lead to a calmer demeanor. Sometimes vitamin and mineral supplementation can help as well. Some commonly prescribed vitamins and minerals for the treatment of anxiety disorders include the B vitamins, zinc, and calcium.
NB: The content of this article is for information purposes and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.
National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders - https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Medication - https://www.adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/medication