The normal discomfort and worry most people experience in common, unpleasant situations is temporary, but for 40 million Americans each year, that same apprehension crosses a line, becoming a dread that won’t go away. Uneasiness intensifies into a sustained, uncontrollable fear becoming a disorder that requires treatment.
Diagnosis and Scope of Anxiety Disorders
It’s easy for the distressing symptoms of anxiety disorders to be masked by medical conditions, making diagnoses difficult for physicians. Depression is often a companion issue for anxiety disorder sufferers and symptoms may overlap. A thorough patient examination helps to eliminate any medical problems. Once a disorder is isolated and identified, treatment may include medication, psychiatric therapy or even a combination of standard and alternative therapies.
Excessive anxiety and underlying distress that interfere with everyday living are common factors among the six major psychiatric conditions known as anxiety disorders. These are generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each condition manifests itself differently from patient to patient requiring customized treatment, according to an individual’s specific disorder and needs. Successful treatment is commonly accomplished within a relatively short period of time.
Anxiety Treatment with Medications
While medications are often integrated with therapy and sometimes complementary or alternative forms of treatment, medicines can also be used alone depending on the patient’s condition and preference of treatment. Medications used for treatment are not cures for an anxiety disorder; however, they can be used by the patient situationally or as a way to keep it under control during coexisting behavioral treatment.
When medications are suggested for treatment, doctors must first rule out any possible contributing causes for the anxiety that might interfere with the medication’s performance. Since patients with anxiety disorders are often simultaneously affected by depression or substance abuse, a doctor may suggest separate treatment for these particular problems in advance of any anxiety treatment.
Drugs Available for Anxiety Treatment
Depending on the symptoms and intensity of the anxiety disorder, a doctor may prescribe medications from one of three categories: antidepressants, beta-blockers or anti-anxiety drugs. Antidepressants are especially effective in treatment for those patients whose anxiety diagnosis also encompasses depression. Among the antidepressants prescribed are selective serotonin uptake reinhibitors or SSRIs, which facilitate neurotransmitter communication in the brain. Other antidepressants are tricyclics and, the dependable older antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs.
Treatment prescriptions, especially for those who have a joint diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse, may include anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines. Since the benzodiazepines Clonazapam and Buspirone can be habit-forming, they are meant only for short-term treatment. Beta-blockers like propranolol, also used in treating heart ailments, are most often prescribed for anxiety in limited doses to prevent the physical rather than emotional symptoms associated with anxiety.
When Anxiety Treatment Medications are Used
Depending on the anxiety disorder diagnosed, a patient may require anxiety medication only during certain anxiety-producing situations. An example would be an anxiety sufferer who is afraid to fly. In that case, a patient would only need a prescription medicine before a flight would take place. Alternately, a patient may be asked to continue taking medication to help control ongoing anxiety symptoms during the course of a companion psychiatric treatment. Generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder normally require longer prescriptions. Because some anxiety treatment medications may be addictive and cause negative side effects, most are prescribed for anxiety treatment only for short-term use.
Anxiety Treatment with Psychiatry
Medications are frequently paired with psychotherapy to increase the effectiveness of anxiety treatment. Psychotherapy, conducted with a mental health professional and sometimes called talk therapy, is used to encourage a patient to reflect on the past to learn the root cause of an anxiety disorder. This type of therapy can work well for anxiety suffers who have trouble associating the anxiety disorder with life experiences that may have triggered it.
Another type of psychiatric anxiety treatment is CBT or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT goes beyond sourcing the anxiety disorder and moves in a direction that helps a patient change patterns or behaviors related to his fears. By altering what a patient thinks about fear and how he responds to it, the intensity of the anxiety symptoms can eventually diminish and even disappear.
As part of the progression of anxiety treatment in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, a patient may be asked to confront his fear directly in a safe and supervised environment. As the exposure to the object or situation he most fears increases during CBT anxiety treatment, the patient learns to take feel more comfortable and begins to take more control of his responses.
Anxiety Treatment Alternatives
Therapy and medication are widely believed to be the optimum anxiety treatment, but recently doctors and psychiatrists have considered complementary and alternative anxiety treatments to further ensure treatment success. The alternatives offer new options for anxiety treatment, some of which are under the direct control of the patient.
In conjunction with the anxiety treatments already prescribed, a patient may be directed to take up a vigorous exercise program. Consistent exercise helps to naturally release endorphins, hormones that positively affect emotions and help produce a sense of wellbeing. An anxiety disorder patient could also be instructed in alternate breathing techniques, learned through yoga classes, that would help to balance the patient’s responses to anxiety. Hypnosis and biofeedback are also considered complementary anxiety treatments.