How Do Professionals Treat Anxiety?
Psychotherapy and medications are the two principal ways to treat anxiety. Moderate to severe anxiety is typically best treated with both medication and therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, also called CBT).
Let’s discuss two main treatment options:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for Anxiety
- Medications for Anxiety
CBT for Treating Anxiety
CBT is considered the gold standard of the treatment of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias. CBT is an evidence based practice that follows a particular format and has been shown to benefit most patients. The basic principles are as follows:
- Restructuring of automatic thought processes that are counterproductive such as negative thinking and interpreting ambiguous situations in a threatening manner.
- Addressing avoidance behaviors such as excessive preparation and checking behaviors
- Addressing avoidance behaviors: such as avoiding ordering in a restaurant or avoiding eye contact with a stranger.
- Teaching problem-solving skills when confronted with anxiety provoking situations
- Addressing fixed negative beliefs such as “the world is unsafe” or “disease is inevitable”
The treatment teaches skills using weekly sessions and reinforces them with homework or in home exposures to anxiety producing events. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscular relaxation and deep breathing help people lower their physical level of stress. CBT works best in people who are highly motivated and have the time and money to invest in the treatment.
Medications are Commonly Used to Treat Anxiety
Medications may help reduce anxiety to a manageable level so that people can begin to engage in learning CBT techniques. Preferred medications have few side effects and low potential for addiction or abuse. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common and effective medications for most anxiety disorders. Other medications such as benzodiazepines, antihistamines, and atypical antidepressants also play a role. I have summarized some take away points about each class of medication.
- SSRIs help to rebalance chemicals in the brain that can cause anxiety
- Benefits: low side effect burden, no addiction potential, effective in 60-70% of cases
- Negatives: can cause some sexual dysfunction, withdrawal syndrome if you stop abruptly, take 2-4 weeks to see initial results potential to cause suicidal thinking in people with undiagnosed or diagnosed bipolar disorder
- Buspirone is an anxiety medicine that helps to rebalance chemicals in the brain that may be causing anxiety.
- Benefits: Can have milder side effects and lower risk of withdrawal symptoms.
- Negatives: Can cause dizziness and drowsiness
- Benefits: Work very quickly, few side effects
- Negatives: Addictive, sedating, require seeing a physician face-to-face to prescribe
- Benefits: work relatively quickly, good side effect profile, no withdrawal syndrome
- Negatives: can cause dry mouth and dry eyes, can be sedating.
Click here for a link to the FDA medication guides.
Dr. Sean Paul provides consultations over the phone, computer, or in-person for anxiety by scheduling an Appointment or clicking on the image below.