How To Treat Anxiety: A Complete Overview

While there is currently no cure for anxiety disorders, there are a myriad of treatment options that have been proven to be effective in helping patients manage their symptoms and keep anxiety attacks at bay.

Here, we look at some of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders, from different kinds of therapy to medications to natural remedies.

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health problems in the world. In the US, about 18 percent of adults are diagnosed with anxiety each year.

Though anxiety is a normal response to stress, people with anxiety disorders experience disproportionate amounts of anxiety relative to the situation or object they fear. Anxiety disorders are often characterized by persistent and uncontrollable worrying, and at their worst, can keep sufferers from performing daily tasks, maintaining relationships, and even leaving their homes.  

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: GAD is a type of anxiety disorder marked by excessive, persistent worrying about typically ordinary and mundane issues, states the Mayo Clinic. Work, school, relationships, finances, and health can all be a source of anxiety for GAD-sufferers, who often fear the worst out of any situation. People with GAD may describe experiencing a mild but constant anxiety attack.
  • Panic Disorder: Some people may experience a panic attack without warning. Oftentimes, when this happens, they tend to develop a fear of recurring panic attacks, resulting in what is known as panic disorder. Those with panic disorders may avoid situations and places that could cause them to panic. 
  • Agoraphobia: Contrary to popular belief, agoraphobia is more than just a fear of going outside. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in a place where they cannot escape or get help. Agoraphobes have intense worries of losing control in an unfamiliar situation, and tend to avoid crowds, public transportation, wide open spaces, restaurants, theatres, and even standing in line.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is characterized by a fear of being judged and humiliated by other people. Those with SAD tend to avoid things like meeting new people, being the center of the discussion, a job interview, and even making phone calls.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: People with separation anxiety have an intense fear of being separated from loved ones. They can have nightmares about being left alone, and have unreasonable fears of going to school or work.
  • Specific Phobias: Phobias are intense and irrational fears about specific objects or situations. Some people with phobias will experience panic attacks when confronted with their fears. The most common phobias include the fear of dogs, flying, being trapped in a confined space, needles, and flying.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: While it doesn’t fall under the anxiety umbrella, this disorder is closely related to anxiety, as it is marked by recurring, intrusive thoughts or sensations (obsessions) which are then followed by compulsions, or repetitive behaviors. These compulsions – which can include hand washing, cleaning, counting, checking locks, etc. – are done by OCD sufferers to alleviate the distress brought upon by their obsessions. 
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: People who suffer from PTSD have witnessed or experienced a traumatic life event, and experience recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares about the event. 

How To Treat Anxiety With Psychotherapy

Through the help of a mental health professional, talk therapy helps you understand your illness, recognize why your negative thoughts and feelings of anxiety exist, identify your triggers, and change how you might react to them. 

There is no one-size-fits-all kind of therapy. Certain anxiety disorders can only be addressed by certain types of therapy. Different people respond to different treatments as well. Oftentimes, those with anxiety must go through a trial-and-error phase to figure out what kind of treatment suits them best. 

Therapy can be done either individually, with your family or partner, or with a group. Here are some of the most common kinds:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT helps patients recognize negative and harmful thought patterns, then teaches them to reframe their thinking and replace those thoughts with ones that are more realistic and helpful. 

Through the help of a therapist, patients learn to do CBT on their own, eventually learning how to become their own therapists in situations when negative thinking takes over. Your psychiatrist may assign you homework exercise to practice outside of your sessions. 

CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy, and is recommended for patients dealing with GAD, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and certain phobias.

Exposure Therapy

Another way to address phobias is through exposure therapy, a type of treatment that involves making patients confront their fears. Oftentimes, people suffering from phobias, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorders avoid the objects and events that can trigger their anxiety. While this can help to lower one’s stress, it can not only be detrimental to their overall health and day-to-day life, but make their fears worse in the long run.

Exposure strategies include making patients directly face and interact with their fears, imagine their fears, and even experience sensations that the person feared in order to show that it is ultimately harmless. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Falling under the CBT umbrella, DBT is a type of therapy that helps patients learn how to regulate their emotions by teaching them to accept their present situation and remind themselves that change is possible. The term “dialectical” is important here, as it describes the “opposite” strategies of “acceptance” and “change”. 

Some of the skills patients learn through DBT include mindfulness, distress tolerance, and assertiveness. DBT is especially helpful to people exhibiting self-destructive behaviors including those suffering from self-harm, substance misuse, eating disorders, and PTSD.

How To Treat Anxiety With Medication

It’s important for us to point out that medication can’t cure anxiety. However, medications are helpful at relieving symptoms of anxiety. Severe, untreated anxiety can feel overwhelming – as if one is stuck in a vicious cycle of fear and worry. In most cases, a doctor will prescribe meds to their patient so that they can regain a sense of control and address their anxiety through therapy and lifestyle changes. 

The three most common types of medications used for anxiety are:

Anti-anxiety Medications

The most prevalent anti-anxiety drugs are benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs that act as a sedative, encouraging muscle relaxation and lowering anxiety. Because benzos work quickly – taking effect in as little as 30 minutes – they’re often prescribed to people with panic disorders.

However, doctors do not usually prescribe benzos as long-term solutions because they are habit-forming, meaning that they can be addictive and subsequently abused. 


Antidepressants such as SSRIs are usually prescribed as a more long-term solution to anxiety. SSRIs work by balancing the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain – chemicals which help regulate mood and anxiety. This is why they are effective for treating depression.

The biggest downside to SSRIs is that they usually take a few weeks to take effect. During the adjustment period, patients can also experience undesirable side effects, from fatigue to nausea to weight gain. Patients can also experience symptoms of withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking antidepressants. 


Medications like propranolol and atenolol are typically used for conditions like high blood pressure and cardiovascular ailments. However, a doctor may prescribe beta blockers to a patient because they can help reduce some of the symptoms we experience when our stress response is triggered. This includes chest pain, racing heart, trembling, and excessive sweating. 

Lifestyle Changes 

Apart from therapy and medication, people struggling with anxiety can also manage their symptoms by making certain adjustments in their lifestyle. These changes include:

  • Maintaining a healthy routine
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating well
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs that can exacerbate anxiety symptoms
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Practicing relaxation exercises, such as breathing techniques and grounding relaxation techniques, which can reign in the central nervous system at times of heightened stress
  • Learning meditation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Trying natural home remedies and self-care techniques such as calming teas, warm baths, and gardening

Aside from these, people with anxiety can also benefit from surrounding themselves with empathetic and compassionate friends and loved ones, as well as joining support groups where they can meet people who are going through similar challenges. Like other mental health issues, anxiety can be isolating – by surrounding yourself with a support system, you can better combat negative thoughts about yourself and take care of your mental health.


Even though there is no easy fix for anxiety, there are more and more ways patients can get the help that they need, from psychotherapy to meditation to simple lifestyle changes. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, know that help is available. Transformations at Mending Fences provides treatments for anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions. Contact us to find out how to begin treatment.