The Best Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: Psychotherapy, Medication, or a Combination of the Two

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Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: Medication

There are six major types of anxiety disorders - generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder. The symptoms vary and so different medications may need to be used for each disorder.

Anxiety disorders are generally treated with medication, psychotherapy or both at the same time. Sometimes co-existing conditions occur alongside anxiety disorders, such as depression or substance abuse.

Medication will not cure anxiety disorders but they can help to keep them under control while the person works on the problem with therapy. Common anxiety medications are antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and beta-blockers. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, include such antidepressants as Prozac and Zoloft. They have a few side effects initially such as slight nausea or jitters, but they tend to subside over time.

Older medications like tricyclic antidepressants (Tofranil and Anafranil for example) are sometimes used. But they can cause dizziness, dry mouth and weight gain.

MAOIs, the oldest class of antidepressants, include Nardil and Parnate, and are prescribed for panic disorder and social phobia. Side effects include not being able to eat a variety of foods and beverages that contain tyramine.

Anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines have few side effects, but are usually only used in the short-term because people build a tolerance to them. Klonopin, Ativan and Xanax are examples.

Beta-blockers, such as Inderal, can prevent physical symptoms which accompany certain anxiety disorders, particularly social phobia.

Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: Psychotherapy

One of the most common treatments for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive part challenges people to change the thought patterns that support their fears, while the behavioral part assists them in changing the way they react to anxiety-filled situations. For example, a therapist using cognitive behavioral therapy might help the client acknowledge that panic attacks are not heart attacks and are not dangerous, while teaching social phobics that their belief that others are always watching and judging them is irrational. People with obsessive compulsive disorder with a low tolerance of dirt might be encouraged to let themselves get dirty and wait longer before washing. Exposure based therapy is often used with phobias; little by little the person encounters the cause of their fear, maybe through pictures in the beginning, and finally, face-to-face.

Treatments for Anxiety Disorders: Complementary

In mild anxiety disorders, the following treatments may provide some relief: exercise, relaxation techniques, biofeedback and hypnosis. As little as 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week can provide significant relief from anxiety, according to Helpguide. Relaxation techniques, when practiced regularly, can increase feelings of relaxation and well-being, while biofeedback measures physiological functions such as heart rate, breathing and muscle tension, and teaches you how to control them. Hypnosis can bring a state of deep relaxation and help you see your fears in a new way.

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:


National Institute of Mental Health: