Treating anxiety disorders
Effective treatments help you to control your anxiety so that it no longer controls you.
There are multiple methods for treating anxiety and which works best for you depends on you as an individual and what type of anxiety you are experiencing. There are a range of mental health services and healthcare professionals who can offer you advice, information, treatment and support, as well as a number of techniques you can use to help yourself.
Treating mild anxiety
For mild symptoms, simple lifestyle changes such as a good diet, regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep and reducing your stress levels may help you manage your anxiety. Other complementary lifestyle changes such as learning mindfulness or meditation, taking up yoga, or relaxation training may also help you manage your anxiety.
There are also online ‘e-therapies’, many of which are free, anonymous and easily accessible, which offer similar services to psychological treatments but in a self-help manner. For people with mild to moderate anxiety e-therapies can be just as effective as face-to-face services. They help teach the user to identify and change patterns of thinking and behaviour that may cause or prolong your anxiety. E-therapies can be used alone, however some form of professional support is usually also available.
Treating moderate to severe anxiety
Moderate to severe anxiety usually requires professional healthcare support as well as psychological or medical treatment. Consulting with your GP or mental health service will help you determine which treatment course would be best for you.
Psychological treatments (or ‘talking therapies’) help you change your thinking patterns and reduce irrational thoughts and worries. The delivery of psychological therapies depends on the individual, some prefer one-on-one treatment with a healthcare professional, others prefer a group environment or using online services such as e-therapies.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
The most common psychological treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which teaches you how the way we think (cognition) and act (behaviour) affects the way we feel. CBT is a structured treatment option where you work with a therapist to identify thought or behaviour pattens that contribute to your anxiety or prevent you from getting out of an anxious mindset. Recognising unhelpful patterns such as catastrophising (thinking the worst, anticipating things will go wrong) helps you replace them with more rational and realistic thoughts that reduce your anxiety and improve your coping mechanisms. Relaxation and breathing techniques may also be used in CBT to control your anxiety and reduce the physical symptoms.
Behavioural therapy, although a component of CBT, doesn’t try to change beliefs and attitudes but focuses on reversing patterns of avoidance and worry that perpetuate anxiety. By using ‘graded exposure’, behavioural therapy allows you to be slowly exposed to situations or things that make you anxious, giving you the opportunity to cope with fearful situations and feel a sense of satisfaction and reward.
Psychological treatments are usually the most effective treatment for anxiety, however in severe cases medication may be helpful. Common medications used for managing anxiety include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
Anxiety disorders can cause changes in the brain’s chemicals – serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Some types of antidepressant medication can be used to help manage anxiety by correcting the imbalance of these chemicals.
Another medication commonly prescribed in the short term for anxiety conditions are benzodiazepines (also known as minor tranquillisers and sleeping pills). Benzodiazepines reduce tension and promote relaxation and can help manage anxiety. However, they can only be used for a short period of time, or intermittently, and should be used as a secondary treatment as they can also be addictive.
Recovering from an anxiety disorder
The amount of time it takes for you to recover from the anxiety condition is different for everyone. Whilst psychological or medical treatment options will assist in your recovery there are also a number of ways you can help yourself get better and stay better.
For many people, experiencing anxiety can be scary, particularly when there is no obvious trigger. Numerous people who experience panic attacks believe they are having a heart attack and are going to die. Although anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in Australia, with over 2 million Australians affected, many people feel ashamed or embarrassed after being diagnosed with anxiety and struggle with feelings of denial. Anger and despair are also common feelings at being unable to control ones anxiety and its related difficulties.
However, by accepting the fact that you have an anxiety condition, and all the challenges that brings, you can receive support and discover new ways to deal with these changes. Treatment will help you manage the symptoms of anxiety, but recovery will allow you to accept and enjoy your life, even if it is different to before.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are numerous avenues of support, from friends and family to mental health services to support groups of other anxiety sufferers. You need to find the right treatments and the right support team for your condition and situation.
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