Alcohol dependence, depression, and other conditions can sometimes have such a strong link to anxiety in some people that treating an anxiety disorder must wait until an individual manages any underlying conditions.
Recognizing the developing symptoms of anxious feelings and taking steps to manage the condition without medical assistance should be the first port of call.
However, if this does not reduce the impact of anxiety symptoms, or if the onset is particularly sudden or severe, other treatments are available.
Relaxation techniques can help to address anxious emotions before they develop into a disorder.
In some cases, a person can manage anxiety at home without clinical supervision. However, this may be limited to shorter and less severe periods of anxiety.
Doctors recommend several exercises and techniques to cope with brief or focused bouts of anxiety, including:
- Stress management: Limit potential triggers by managing stress levels. Keep an eye on pressures and deadlines, organize daunting tasks in to-do lists, and take enough time off from professional or educational obligations.
- Relaxation techniques: Certain measures can help reduce signs of anxiety, including deep-breathing exercises, long baths, meditation, yoga, and resting in the dark.
- Exercises to replace negative thoughts with positive ones: Write down a list of any negative thoughts, and make another list of positive thoughts to replace them. Picturing yourself successfully facing and conquering a specific fear can also provide benefits if the anxiety symptoms link to a specific stressor.
- Support network: Talk to a person who is supportive, such as a family member or friend. Avoid storing up and suppressing anxious feelings as this can worsen anxiety disorders.
- Exercise: Physical exertion and an active lifestyle can improve self-image and trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that stimulate positive emotions.
Counseling and therapy
Standard treatment for anxiety involves psychological counseling and therapy.
This might include psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or a combination of therapy and counseling.
CBT aims to recognize and alter the harmful thought patterns that can trigger an anxiety disorder and troublesome feelings, limit distorted thinking, and change the scale and intensity of reactions to stressors.
This helps people manage the way their body and mind react to certain triggers.
Psychotherapy is another treatment that involves talking with a trained mental health professional and working to the root of an anxiety disorder.
Sessions might explore the triggers of anxiety and possible coping mechanisms.
Several types of medication can support the treatment of an anxiety disorder.
Other medicines might help control some of the physical and mental symptoms. These include:
Tricyclics: This is a class of drugs that have demonstrated helpful effects on most anxiety disorders other than obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These drugs are known to cause side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain. Two examples of tricyclics are imipramine and clomipramine.
Some people require medication to manage an anxiety disorder.
Benzodiazepines: These are only available on prescription, but they can be highly addictive and would rarely be a first-line medication. These drugs tend not to cause many side effects, except for drowsiness and possible dependency. Diazepam, or Valium, is an example of a common benzodiazepine for people with anxiety.
Anti-depressants: While people most commonly use anti-depressants to manage depression, they also feature in the treatment of many anxiety disorders. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are one option, and they have fewer side effects than older anti-depressants. They are still likely to cause nausea and sexual dysfunction at the outset of treatment. Some types include fluoxetine and citalopram.
Other medications that can reduce anxiety include:
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Stopping some medications, especially anti-depressants, can cause withdrawal symptoms, including brain zaps. These are painful jolts in the head that feel like shocks of electricity.
An individual planning to adjust their approach to treating anxiety disorders after a long period of taking anti-depressants should consult their doctor about how best to move away from medications.
If severe, adverse, or unexpected effects occur after taking any prescribed medications, be sure to update a physician.
Although anxious feelings will always be present in daily life, there are ways to reduce the risk of a full-blown anxiety disorder.
Taking the following steps will help keep anxious emotions in check and prevent the development of a disorder, including:
- Consume less caffeine, tea, soda, and chocolate.
- Check with a doctor or pharmacist before using over-the-counter (OTC) or herbal remedies for chemicals that might make anxiety worse.
- Keep up a balanced, nutritious diet.
- Regular sleep patterns can be helpful.
- Avoid alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational drugs.
Treating an anxiety disorder focuses on psychological therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Treatment will be different for each person depending on the type of anxiety disorder they have and the presence of any underlying conditions.
Self-management is the first step for managing anxious feelings and often involves relaxation techniques, an active lifestyle, and effective time management. If these measures do not bring anxious reactions under control, visit a doctor and seek other avenues of treatment.
If anxious reactions are severe from the outset, for example taking the form of panic attacks, seek treatment.
Psychological therapies, including CBT, can help a person adjust the way they react to stressful life events and triggers, as well as the scale of the reaction. They can also help to limit distorted thinking and replace negative thoughts.
Medications that can support treatment include tricyclic medications, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. Speak to a doctor about any severe side effects or withdrawal symptoms after stopping.