Anxiety can interfere with relationships, sleep, eating habits, work, school, and hobbies. It is also one of the most common reasons people seek therapy. Effective therapy can reduce or eliminate symptoms that come with anxiety in a fairly short time. Although people may not be able to pinpoint the cause of their anxiety, therapy can help them find it. Therapists often help people work on many anxiety-related concerns.
It can take a while for a person with anxiety to be open with a therapist. It may take time for them to feel they can trust the therapeutic relationship and process. However, sticking to a healthy therapy plan can yield great success. There are many evidence-based methods for treating anxiety. You and your therapist can find one that works best for you.
If you think you have anxiety, there is never a bad time to reach out for help. Below are some signs it might be time to seek professional help for anxiety:
- You have thoughts that feel scary or out of control
- Anxiety is negatively impacting relationships you care about
- You feel like you can’t be in public or around other people
- You are having trouble sleeping
- Anxiety makes it hard to do daily tasks like eating, cleaning, going to work, or child care
- You are thinking about hurting yourself
The type of therapy most often used for treating anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Many studies have shown it is effective. CBT works by retraining how people think through exposure. For example, a therapist might instruct a person who is anxious about leaving their house to go on short errands. As the person in therapy becomes more comfortable, they might leave their house for longer amounts of time. Eventually, they may feel more comfortable doing so.
Although CBT is used most often, many forms of therapy are well-suited to work on anxiety. Therapy does not only treat symptoms of anxiety as medication does. Instead, it addresses the source of the anxiety. Therapy's self-reflective process helps people understand, unravel, and transform anxiety. People in therapy for anxiety learn how to self-soothe. If anxiety flares up again, having healthy coping skills can be key.
Other types of therapy that are often used to treat anxiety include:
- Biofeedback: This type of therapy uses bodily awareness to treat anxiety. It can help people understand how they react to anxiety physically.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): MBCT brings mindfulness practices to cognitive behavioral therapy. It has been shown to reduce anxiety by helping people increase their self-awareness in therapy.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): This type of therapy is often used for “difficult to treat” conditions. It may help people with severe anxiety stabilize, explore their anxiety, improve their quality of life, and maintain a sense of well-being.
- Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy can help people with anxiety by bringing their attention to their own thought patterns and habits. It may also encourage delving into the subconscious to get to the root cause of the anxiety.
- Eye movement desensitization resolution (EMDR): EMDR uses eye movement techniques to help people access difficult memories and can be helpful with treating anxiety.
- Hakomi Experiential Therapy: Using the practice of mindfulness, a person with anxiety will work with a trained therapist to look inward. They will bring false beliefs about themselves into consciousness and address them. The therapist may help the person substitute those ideas with more constructive ones. This type of therapy can be somatic. This means if the person in therapy consents, touch may be used to convey support and encouragement.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy can be used to treat phobias and anxiety. It can help people achieve self-exploration and insight by getting past conscious thought.
Modes of therapy are different ways a type of therapy can be conducted. It can include how many people are in therapy with you and how you get treatment. As anxiety can present its own set of challenges, certain modes of therapy may be more or less effective for a person with anxiety than someone with another condition.
Sometimes, obstacles prevent people from getting help for anxiety. A person with social anxiety might feel nervous about meeting a therapist in person or calling them on the phone. Agoraphobia or other specific phobias can also make people reluctant to leave their house or drive in a car. These activities are often necessary for getting to therapy. In this case, finding a therapist who can meet you in your home can be helpful. Or, you might choose to speak with a distance therapist online or on the phone.
Some people with anxiety might find it helpful to speak with others with similar experiences. These people could benefit from group therapy for anxiety. In a group therapy session, people can discuss and learn about their anxiety together, led by a licensed therapist. Not only can the group therapy experience be validating for many people, it can also help them practice skills they can use to reduce anxiety with other group members.
Psychotropic medications for anxiety are designed to treat the symptoms of anxiety and allow a person to function and feel better. However, they cannot address underlying emotional and psychological causes of anxiety or help people learn to cope with future scenarios that could bring on an anxious response. Common medications for anxiety include antidepressants, such as Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft, and anti-anxiety medications like Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin.
Unwanted side effects are common, and each person will respond to medication differently. It is important to track changes in mood, behavior, and other symptoms to find the right medication. For someone who is paralyzed by anxiety or has intense panic, medication may be essential to leading a fulfilling life.
Therapy can be an important part of working through any anxiety you have. In addition to treatment, certain habits may also help reduce your anxiety. It can be healthy to think about areas of your life where you can feel less anxious. Sometimes, a person in therapy might even work with their therapist to create a plan that includes some of these lifestyle changes. Keep in mind that some of these lifestyle changes may not be for everyone.
Many of these lifestyle changes are self-care habits and include:
- Keeping a journal
- Practicing mindfulness
- Getting enough sleep
- Cutting out or reducing intake of stimulants like caffeine
Anxiety can feel overwhelming. Untreated, it may grow more severe and can lead to isolation, depression, and thoughts of suicide. If you feel negatively impacted by anxiety, you can find a therapist to work with. If you feel like you need help for anxiety that could cause you to harm yourself, you can talk to someone who can help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY).
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
- Lawson, K. & Towey, S. (n.d.). What types of psychotherapy are helpful for anxiety and depression? University of Minnesota. Retrieved from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-types-psychotherapy-are-helpful-anxiety-and-depression
- Sauer-Zavala, S., Bufka, L., & Write, C.V. (2016). Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/anxiety.aspx
- Smith, M., Segal, R., & Segal, J. (2017). Therapy for anxiety disorders. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/therapy-for-anxiety-disorders.htm