How Does Anxiety Therapy Work?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety. This makes it the most common mental health challenge that the country faces. The prevalence of anxiety disorders has only continued to increase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anxiety is treatable, however, and there are various types of therapy for anxiety that can be used to manage and treat this condition. However, it may not be as simple as finding just any anxiety therapy. Instead, you will need to discover the type of treatment that works best for you.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
- Separation anxiety disorder: Characterized by fear and distress around parting with someone such as a parent or other attachment figure
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): Fear surrounding social situations where one could be judged, criticized, or rejected by others
- Specific phobias: Often defined by extreme fear around an object, location, situation, or type of person
- Panic disorder: Characterized by recurring panic attacks and avoidance of situations in which sudden panic attacks may occur
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Persistent worry about everyday activities like school, work, finances, and health that interferes with daily functioning
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Persistent obsessions and compulsions driven by fear or worry
People with anxiety disorders may experience symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, muscle aches, sleep disturbances, or struggles with controlling emotions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) sets guidelines for what generalized anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions are in order to appropriately diagnose them.
Anxiety disorders can significantly impact an individual's quality of life. Other disorders may be linked to anxiety disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. Therefore, treating anxiety disorders may involve addressing underlying conditions as well.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A few mental health conditions or symptoms are related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is a condition categorized by obsessive or intrusive thoughts, sometimes accompanied by compulsions. Symptoms and associated conditions may include:
- Trichotillomania: Compulsive hair pulling
- Body dysmorphic disorder: Preoccupation or obsession with physical appearance
- Hoarding disorder: Struggling to part with objects
- Excoriation: Skin picking
OCD may or may not include the above symptoms, and it is not a synonym for “clean” or “quirky.” OCD is an actual mental health condition that often causes severe distress for those experiencing it.
Stress And Trauma-Related Disorders
Stress and trauma-related disorders are those directly related to trauma or stressful events and include the following conditions:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Symptoms may include reliving past events, dissociative episodes, trying to avoid reminders of the traumatic experience, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, sleep disturbance, exaggerated startle response, and problems concentrating.
- Adjustment disorder: Adjustment disorder occurs within a short-term period of a stressful or traumatic event and may be less severe than PTSD or develop into PTSD over time.
Treatments Used For Anxiety
The National Institute of Mental Health describes the many therapy options available to treat anxiety and anxiety disorders. The goal of each type may be to help clients better understand their behavior and learn ways to cope with anxious feelings, fears, or thoughts. Below are a few common forms of psychotherapy used for anxiety.
Exposure Response And Prevention (ERP)
Exposure therapy is commonly used when treating phobias, OCD, or PTSD. During the session, a client may be exposed to a distressing or fear-evoking situation, item, or stimulus. It may be important to work with a professional that knows how to use this type of therapy to get started. They can help you outline a list of your triggers and work with you on treating your least scary to most scary fears.
As you begin exposing yourself to stressful stimuli, the triggers may lose power over you or feel less scary. This therapy may also alleviate muscle tension by teaching relaxation techniques and promoting progressive muscle relaxation to overcome anxiety symptoms. Studies have found that exposure therapy is effective at reducing anxiety symptoms in people with OCD.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating clinical anxiety. CBT is a behavioral therapy that involves learning to identify the thoughts and feelings that bring on anxiety and adopting new thought patterns. Therapists or other mental health professionals can help you examine frightening thoughts through the lens of distorted thinking. Once you label your cognitive distortions, you may recognize when to challenge them through cognitive restructuring.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy examines effective ways for people to control their emotions. The therapy is often conducted in an individual, family, or group setting and includes modules such as distress tolerance, emotional control, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based action to help individuals manage anxiety. ACT helps individuals develop psychological flexibility by learning to accept uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and take action despite those feelings.
This approach emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment and developing a more flexible relationship with thoughts and emotions. ACT has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving overall mental well-being.
Systematic desensitization involves teaching individuals relaxation techniques and gradually exposing them to anxiety-provoking situations. The aim is to reduce the individual's anxiety response over time.
Interpersonal therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills to relieve anxiety symptoms. This approach aims to address interpersonal issues and conflicts that may contribute to anxiety disorders. Individuals can learn to communicate more effectively, develop problem-solving skills, and build supportive relationships.
There have been several studies and clinical trials conducted to determine the effectiveness of these approaches for treating anxiety disorders. Randomized controlled trials have shown that CBT, exposure therapy, and commitment therapy can be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. These therapies can also be used to treat stress-related disorders.
A psychiatrist or doctor may prescribe certain medications to help individuals get temporary relief from severe anxiety or minimize the most distressing symptoms as needed. If you are taking anti-anxiety medications, a healthcare provider may also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to promote behavioral changes.
If you are experiencing depression with anxiety, you may benefit from certain antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). You can discuss these and other anti-anxiety medications with your provider. Do not start, stop, or change a medication without consulting a medical doctor.
Many people find relief from anxiety with alternative therapies. Alternative methods like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, deep breathing exercises, and aromatherapy may be beneficial. Animal-assisted therapy is another form of alternative therapy in which you can connect with animals to manage anxiety symptoms.
Self-care may include caring for your mental and physical health and engaging in healthy behaviors like eating healthy, getting enough rest, and setting time for your hobbies. You can also talk to your doctor about group therapy or support groups that might be effective for specific anxiety disorders.
How Do I Find An Anxiety Therapist Near Me?
If you are ready to seek therapy, consider searching for a licensed therapist for anxiety in your area. You might ask for personal recommendations from friends and family or conduct an online search through psychology databases. Not all therapists may specialize in anxiety, so browse your therapist’s specializations and biography before meeting with them. You may also want to make sure they fit specific criteria.
Before beginning anxiety treatment, you may choose to talk to several therapists to make a decision. You might ask if they prefer to approach clients through psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, behavioral therapy, or another type of therapy for reducing anxiety. You can have an initial consultation with several therapists if you’re unsure.
You might also consider a therapist’s credentials, location, and cost. If you have health insurance, you can check with your insurance company to see if they can cover the therapist. Many therapists offer sliding scale pricing for those who do not have insurance or can’t cover the entire price of the session.
Online Counseling Options
Anxiety can make it challenging to seek an in-person therapy session with a mental health professional. You can consider online anxiety counseling if you feel anxious about therapy or face other barriers, such as cost. Online platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with thousands of therapists specializing in various areas of mental health.
Online therapy has also been proven effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety. A recent study suggested that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is as effective as traditional therapy when delivered online in treating anxiety and other mental health concerns. When you sign up for an online platform, you can choose the method you utilize for your sessions. If you feel nervous meeting over the phone or video chat, you can also consider a live chat messaging session with your therapist.
Receiving support for anxiety can be brave, and many types of therapies are available. Clinical neuroscience and psychology reviews have found that these approaches are effective. However, not everyone responds the same way to these therapies, and a personalized approach is recommended.
If you don’t find relief right away, note that therapy for anxiety can take time, and you can change your treatment goals whenever you need. If you’re interested in learning more about this process or how to sign up for counseling, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or online platform for further guidance and support.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are several commonly asked questions about anxiety.
What Therapy Is Best For Anxiety?
The best type of therapy for anxiety may be cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy modality can target symptoms of conditions like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and other psychiatric disorders. Cognitive therapy examines how you process thoughts and behave and may assist you in challenging harmful thoughts or beliefs. It is often referred to as talk therapy.
The American Psychological Association website states that cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective for various mental health diagnoses. Talk to a therapist about this behavioral therapy to gain insight into how it may reduce your anxiety symptoms.
How Long Does Therapy For Anxiety Take?
Often, the client may choose how long they continue to visit a therapist. The therapist may also suggest changes if they feel clients would not benefit more from their practices. Symptom severity and diagnosis may affect the timing of sessions or session progress. Some individuals may notice a reduction in symptom severity after a few sessions, while others might attend therapy for a year or more. Both options can be normal and positive.
What Is The 3-3-3 Rule For Anxiety?
When experiencing anxiety symptoms, you may take advantage of the 3-3-3 rule. The 3-3-3 rule is a mindfulness practice dedicated to reducing anxiety when it occurs. To practice it, follow these steps:
- Consider three objects you can see
- Listen for three sounds you can heart
- Name three areas of your body and look at them
Taking the time to pay attention to these areas may help you ground yourself and reduce anxiety symptoms. You can practice this in any location at any time.
Why Did I Develop Anxiety?
Causes of anxiety can vary. Some may experience the condition due to environmental factors, genetic factors, or a mixture of the two. If you have excessive worry or anxiety, consider seeking therapy. You may have an anxiety disorder that would benefit from treatment and support.
Can Therapy Make Anxiety Worse?
Therapy may not worsen anxiety unless you’re partaking in a counseling method focused on fear exposure, like ERP. In these cases, you might feel more anxious before you feel better. Otherwise, ask yourself why you may be feeling worse. Is your therapist offering the proper care? Do you feel safe and respected? Some clients choose to change therapists or treatment modalities if they find it isn’t helping after several sessions.
Does Anxiety Ever Go Away?
Anxiety is a treatable condition, and symptoms may disappear or become less severe over time. With a treatment plan and professional guidance, you may see benefits to your symptoms and feel more in control of your daily stressors.
How Do I Stop My Anxious Thoughts?
Learning relaxation techniques may help you alleviate stress or anxious thoughts. You can also consider meeting with a professional therapist to learn mind-quieting techniques and mindfulness for relaxation.
What Is The 54321 Method For Anxiety?
The 54321 method is another senses-related exercise based on mindfulness and grounding practices. To try it, follow these steps:
- Find five objects of a particular color within your space.
- Identify four physical sensations in your body, such as the feeling of a pillow as you sit on the floor
- Consider three sounds you can hear in your environment
- Label two smells you can identify near you
- Eat a snack or healthy food and mindfully focus on its texture, taste, and consistency
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