Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. It affects about 40 million Americans every year, or 18% of the US population. Despite its prevalence, less than 40 percent of these people seek treatment.
These conditions are highly treatable, and a number of anxiety treatments are available. If you happen to have one, you may be wondering what the best treatment is. Read on to find out.
What are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety comes in different forms. Different events or situations can cause anxiety, but in most of these, symptoms may be similar. Common symptoms of different anxiety disorders include:
- Feeling uneasy in certain situations
- Trouble sleeping
Here are the different kinds of anxiety disorders according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterized by persistent and exaggerated feelings of worry. This happens even when there is nothing that can trigger these feelings.
When you have this condition, you get frequent, unexpected panic attacks. These are feelings of extreme fear as well as physical manifestations like heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD may develop after you have experienced a particularly terrifying event, such as a major accident, a natural disaster, or physical assault. It is characterized by constant flashbacks of the traumatic experience, as well as nightmares and persistent disturbing thoughts about that event.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterized by persistent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive activities (compulsions). If you have OCD, you would often perform tasks repeatedly, like washing your hands or checking if you have locked the doors, with the hope of making obsessive thoughts subside. But once you do them, it only provides temporary relief. If you don’t do those tasks, though, your anxiety level increases.
Also known as social anxiety disorder, this condition makes you overly self-conscious and fearful in social situations. It includes the fear of public speaking, and in some cases, the manifestations are more severe. There are cases of social phobia where individuals are afraid to eat in front of other people. In the worst cases, people may feel anxious anytime they are around others.
How would I know if I need anxiety treatment?
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, and everyone can experience it. Not everyone who feels anxiety needs treatment; only those afflicted with anxiety disorders need it.
If you are not sure if you have an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional first. They are the ones qualified to make an accurate diagnosis of your condition (if you have one).
Self-diagnosing is not recommended. Seeking treatment is not necessary if you do not have an anxiety disorder.
What anxiety treatments are there?
There are two main types of treatments for anxiety disorders: psychotherapies and medications. Medications address the biological causes of anxiety disorders, while psychotherapies address the mental and emotional components.
Medications for anxiety disorders vary. Psychiatrists prescribe them based on the kind of disorder you have and the symptoms you exhibit. Here are some examples of those medications:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Buspirone (Buspar)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Paroxetine (Pexeva, Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
However, medications are not always necessary. They can even have unpleasant side effects that may make your situation worse.
In most cases of anxiety disorders, psychotherapies are usual treatments. There are a number of these in use today, but by far the best one is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
CBT is a leading therapy used in treating anxiety disorders. It is highly effective, as most patients report significant improvement within just 8 to 10 therapy sessions according to the American Psychological Association. That’s why most anxiety therapies are short-term. Only more severe cases require longer treatments.
Basically, CBT aims to address and correct negative perceptions of the things around you. It has two main components:
- Cognitive therapy addresses the negative thoughts that lead to anxiety.
- Behavior therapy explores your behaviors and reactions to certain situations that trigger anxiety.
The main idea of CBT is this: Your thoughts, not the things around you, influence your feelings. Thus, to alleviate anxiety, you need to change the way you think about certain situations.
This is also known as thought challenging, and it aims to change negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety. Instead, your therapist trains you to replace negative thoughts with positive, realistic ones.
Cognitive restructuring involves three steps:
- Identify your negative thoughts. Your therapist will help you find out what you were thinking when faced with an anxiety-triggering situation.
- Challenge your negative thoughts. In this step, your therapist will teach you to evaluate those anxiety-inducing thoughts. This includes questioning the basis of those thoughts, finding out if those thoughts lead to real outcomes, and analyzing any unhelpful beliefs you may have. Chances are you will realize that your negative thoughts are not based on reality, or that the outcomes you’re afraid of have a very little chance of happening.
- Replace them with realistic thoughts. Finally, your therapist will train you to replace the negative, unrealistic thoughts with positive, realistic ones. He may also teach you positive, calming statements to tell yourself each time you face an anxiety-triggering situation.
Other aspects of CBT
Your therapist may also teach you to recognize what you feel in your body when you’re anxious. He will then give you relaxation techniques you can use to calm yourself down in those situations.
Once you know the physical signs of anxiety, you can stop it in its tracks before it becomes worse. Eventually, you will be able to confront your fears and face anxiety-inducing situations with confidence.