Medication

Physicians may prescribe medications for anxiety disorders that are intended to keep anxiety under control; medication, however, cannot cure these disorders. Patients may take medication while undergoing psychotherapy for anxiety disorders.

Types of medications that may be prescribed to manage anxiety disorders include:

Antidepressants: Types of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These drugs were developed to treat depression but can also be effective for anxiety disorders.

The type of antidepressant prescribed for an anxiety disorder will depend on the nature of the disorder, as certain drugs appear to be more effective for certain disorders. Your doctor can explain more about which medications may be appropriate for you. Your doctor will also take into account potential side effects associated with particular antidepressants when selecting medication.

Anti-anxiety drugs: Drugs used to treat anxiety are called benzodiazepines. They include: Klonopin® (clonazepam), used for social phobia and GAD; Ativan® (lorazepam), used for panic disorder; and Xanax® (alprazolam), used for panic disorder and GAD. Because anti-anxiety drugs may have to be prescribed at high doses to be effective, they’re generally prescribed for short periods (this is particularly important among people who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse or who may easily become dependent on medication). If you’ve been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, it’s important that you take the medication as prescribed and are monitored by your physician—especially when you begin tapering off your medication, as you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Beta-blockers: These medications, which are used to treat heart conditions, are prescribed to control the physical symptoms of some anxiety disorders—social phobia, in particular.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy for treatment of an anxiety disorder involves talking with a trained mental health professional to try to determine the cause of an anxiety disorder and find ways to manage its symptoms. Examples of trained mental health professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

Here are a few examples of types of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a two-part approach: the cognitive part aims to change thinking patterns that support fears, while the behavioral part focus on changing the way an individual reacts when he or she experiences anxiety. Your mental healthcare professional can further explain CBT, including examples of how this approach may be used.

Exposure therapy is a form of CBT in which a person is gradually exposed to the object or situation he or she fears. The goal is that with exposure, the person will learn to become less sensitive to his or her fear. Exposure therapy may be useful for OCD and phobias.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is used to teach a person to accept experiences that create anxiety and establish, or commit to, behavioral changes to cope with them. The core of ACT is acceptance and mindfulness, or living in the moment and being open to experiences without judgment or unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Resources

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

National Institute of Mental Health

SOURCES

Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health Web site. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/complete-index.shtml. Accessed July 2010.

Understanding Anxiety. Anxiety Disorders Association of America Web site. Available at: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety. Accessed July 2010.