How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?

There are a number of treatment approaches for anxiety disorders. The type of treatment you receive will depend on your anxiety symptoms and type of disorder.

Not every treatment works for every person. You may need to try a number of treatments, or combinations of treatments, before finding what works for you.

The main treatments for anxiety disorders include:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy with a trained mental health professional)
  • Medications
  • Exercise
  • Complementary and alternative treatments

What Medications Are Prescribed for Anxiety Disorders? 

A range of medications are available to treat anxiety disorders, and they’re often used in conjunction with therapy. You may also be prescribed a combination of medications.

The two general types of medications used to treat anxiety disorders are:

  • Antidepressants (despite the name, they’re the first-line medication for anxiety)
  • Anti-anxiety medications (sometimes called anxiolytics)

Although in the short-term, drugs may seem cheaper and less time-consuming than therapy, you may not be able to overcome your anxiety using medication alone.

RELATED: Which Medications Are Best for Anxiety Disorders?

What Kind of Therapy Is Best for Anxiety?

A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on changing unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns through talk sessions with a trained therapist. Many studies have shown that it is very effective in the treatment of anxiety.

During CBT, you’ll work together with your therapist to develop positive techniques for coping with your anxiety symptoms. You’ll also learn to identify and manage factors that contribute to your anxiety.

CBT may involve learning how to change harmful thought patterns so that you experience less anxiety over time. You also may learn relaxation techniques — such as deep-breathing exercises — to help counteract your symptoms.

CBT is not a quick fix. A typical course of CBT takes about three or four months, but you may start to see benefits sooner than that, and the benefits may last much longer.

“One of the biggest strengths of CBT is that the improvement tends to be durable and long-lasting,” says Suma Chand, PhD, the director of the cognitive behavior therapy program at St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri. “By the end of the sessions, the person has learned strategies that can be used for the rest of his or her life. Most importantly, the treatment results in changes in the thinking patterns and beliefs that had maintained their anxiety.”

There are several different variations of CBT. One type of CBT is called exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is used to treat certain phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other conditions. It involves gradually facing a feared situation or object, causing you to become less fearful over time.

Research on the efficacy of therapy administered through the internet is still developing, but some studies suggest it might be just as helpful as going into your therapist’s office, depending on the condition being treated.

Other forms of therapy, such as dynamic therapy (what you probably think of when you think of traditional talk therapy) can also be helpful, depending on the form of anxiety and the amount of time one is able to spend in therapy.

Does Exercise Reduce Anxiety?

Exercise may be used alongside medication and/or psychotherapy to treat anxiety disorders.

One review of multiple studies, published in 2015, found that exercise may be as helpful as medication or CBT to those with anxiety or anxiety disorders and may work better than a placebo (inactive pill).

The findings in another review of studies, published in 2017, underscore that exercise significantly reduced symptoms and is an important treatment option for people with anxiety disorders.

But experts recognize that exercise may be the last thing those struggling with anxiety want to put on their to-do list, and it can be hard to put those routines in place. “Some people have anxiety so extreme that a 10-minute walk can be hard to undertake,” says Beth Salcedo, MD, a past board president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA).

“Anxiety and depression, which often occur together, lead to lower motivation, so it may be that medication might help in this case to give patients enough energy to exercise,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, the chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

RELATED: Best Stress and Anxiety Relief Products

Natural Remedies for Anxiety — Do They Work?

  • Meditation There’s some scientific evidence that meditation — especially a type of meditation training called mindfulness-based stress reduction — can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

  • Yoga Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Research suggests that practicing yoga can help reduce anxiety by reducing the body’s stress response.

  • Acupuncture Some scientific evidence suggests that acupuncture — the Chinese practice of inserting thin needles into the body at certain points — can help reduce anxiety symptoms. But the research is variable and inconsistent.

  • Kava This dietary supplement comes from the crushed root of a Polynesian shrub. A review of studies published in 2018 found that kava appeared to be an effective short-term (less than eight weeks) treatment for anxiety.

    Speak with your doctor before using kava; kava supplements have been linked to severe liver damage in some people.


  • Lavender Lavender oil is commonly used in aromatherapy. Some people believe that this scent has a calming or soothing effect. A 2019 meta-analysis of evidence on the use of lavender to lower anxiety levels found that it may be effective but that more, high-quality studies are needed.

  • St. Johns Wort Supplements made from the St. John’s wort plant have been used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. But research hasn’t shown that it’s effective in treating anxiety, and it may be dangerous to take with certain drugs, including antidepressants, contraceptives, and HIV and cancer medications.

  • Valerian This medicinal herb has been used to treat anxiety and depression for centuries.

    While research suggests it can help with insomnia, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to know whether valerian is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

Additional reporting by Carlene Bauer.

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