It can be difficult for a person to come to a stage where they feel they need treatment for anxiety, and seeking anxiety help can be a challenge in itself. Treatments for anxiety are varied and, depending on which type of anxiety you have, different anxiety treatments may work better for you. The best course of action is to visit your GP in the first instance.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This psychological therapy involves a combination of talking about your worries as well as breaking down negative thought patterns. Most therapy sessions last for around one hour and the length of time a person will need sessions for will depend on the individual, how much anxiety symptoms are affecting their life, and how deeply rooted their anxiety is. CBT attempts to help a person shift into a more positive frame of mind, work through past experiences that may be causing their anxiety, and challenge their beliefs. CBT does not work for everyone and requires quite a bit of commitment, as most therapists will encourage a person to work on things outside of their sessions and keep a record or workbook.
To find out more about whether this anxiety treatment is suitable for you, visit the Mind website.
Your GP should be able to tell you about local NHS funded CBT services, which you are able to refer yourself to. Alternatively, you may wish to seek a private therapist who specialises in CBT. You may wish to search for a suitably qualified CBT therapist on the CBT register from The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).
You are also able to search for a variety of local therapy services on the NHS website.
Some people find that learning relaxation techniques helps form part of their anxiety treatment plan. Anxiety symptoms occur as a result of the body’s reaction to fear, worry and stress. Relaxing the body and calming the breathing can help control and reverse this automatic reaction, which gives the body the message that there is no danger, which in turn makes symptoms of anxiety lessen.
The type of relaxation required is deep muscle relaxation. It’s different to ‘relaxing at home’, watching TV, reading, etc. There are many online resources that can help you learn to relax your muscles, and No Panic provides lots of information and guidance about how to learn what it feels like when muscles are tense, compared to when they are relaxed, as well as the benefits of this type of technique for reducing anxiety symptoms.
Some people prefer to use self-help tools and methods as a treatment for anxiety. Self-help means you use widely available tools such as apps, websites, books, etc. to try to work through your anxiety in your own time. This is undertaken without the support of a therapist, although many psychological therapies such as CBT will recommend some self-help methods for you as well.
There are lots of mental health helplines that may also be able to offer you support and guidance, or just a friendly ear if you need someone to talk to – for example, Samaritans offers 24 hour-a-day emotional support over the telephone.
Many people find self-help useful. To find out more, visit the NHS Moodzone.
Mindfulness is an age-old practice related to the Buddhist tradition which, in the past decade, has grown in its popularity because of its evidenced benefits to people experiencing anxiety, stress, depression and other cognitive-related health problems.
Mindfulness, in a nutshell, is the practice of being ‘present’ in everyday life rather than getting caught up in thoughts, stories and memories of the past or plans for the future. Mindfulness can be practiced during day-to-day activities or during short meditations, and involves watching or noticing what thoughts arise whilst you are doing something or doing nothing.
For example, whilst making a cup of tea, a person could be mindful about this activity by really focusing on the task at hand, feeling the weight of the kettle, watching the steam when it boils, stirring the tea, and when their thoughts drift onto other things, bringing their attention back to the task at hand.
Mindfulness meditation usually involves sitting alone and doing nothing. Many of us are so busy, we rarely sit and do nothing – no phone, no TV, no talking to others. Inevitably, as a person sits doing nothing, their thoughts continue to whirl around their head. Mindfulness is not about stopping those thoughts, but noticing them and not judging them.
There are many different techniques that can be adopted to help develop this skill, and it does take time, but evidence shows mindfulness actually alters the human brain. Research has shown that even after developing a short mindfulness practice, a person’s brain has the capacity to physically change – the amygdala shrinks and the pre-frontal cortex expands, which means our brains become more aware, abler to make decisions and concentrate, whilst the stress and fear part of our brain becomes less active.
Mindfulness can be challenging for people who have negative thoughts that they want to escape, but many people with anxiety disorders report that the realisation that their thoughts are not ‘real’ and do not control them, is a refreshing and motivating experience.
For more information on mindfulness, visit the Mind website. You may also wish to explore apps with audio meditations, such as Headspace or Buddhify.
Read about one person’s experience of mindfulness and how it can be used in everyday life.
If a person has a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, this can have an impact on their overall mood, and if this is the case, their GP may recommend the use of antidepressant medication. There are lots of types of antidepressant, but common ones prescribed for low mood related to anxiety are called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as citalopram or fluoxetine (known by the brand name Prozac).
SSRIs tend to start to work in a couple of weeks and it’s thought that they help with low mood and depression by altering the levels of chemicals in the brain that are related to mood and emotion.
It is entirely up to each individual if they choose to take the medication prescribed to them, and it is advisable to undertake a psychological therapy or self-help anxiety treatment alongside an antidepressant medication. SSRIs do not necessarily help reduce anxiety symptoms or anxious thoughts, although many people respond well in terms of their mood. Sometimes, people find that they are able to face having therapy when their mood is a little improved, and they feel less emotional, so the two can work hand in hand.
There are potential side effects of SSRIs, and how long you will need to take them will be up to you and your GP. Most people take them for at least 6 months. SSRIs are not addictive, but people do have withdrawal symptoms when they decide to stop taking them, so it’s important to very gradually reduce the dosage to avoid this.
For more information on antidepressant medication, visit the Rethink website.
The NHS also provides information about a range of other antidepressant medications.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for everybody, and if you have an anxiety disorder, getting the right nutrition is essential. Some people find their anxiety symptoms make them less hungry or have less appetite. Other people may overeat or choose to eat unhealthy foods.
Our bodies function best when we have the optimum fuel, so eating a varied and balanced diet is important for a person with anxiety. Not eating enough means we are not getting the energy we need, which can make us feel more tired, and it’s harder to function properly and think straight. Eating too much, or too much of the less nutritious foods such as junk food, can cause issues with weight gain, which may affect our body image and cause low mood. Eating too many high sugar foods can affect our blood sugar levels, which are closely related to our moods. If you have anxiety symptoms and feel you could be eating more healthily, talk to your GP or download the Eatwell Guide.
Caffeine is known to increase anxiety symptoms, so it’s advisable for people experiencing anxiety to cut right down or cut out caffeine completely.
Many people take herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements for anxiety. Always speak to your GP before taking anxiety supplements of any sort. There are herbal remedies available that some people report help them with mood-related issues, such as St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Bach Flower Remedies. Some people take B vitamins, vitamin D or magnesium, but be advised that some supplements may interact with other medications, and there’s little scientific evidence that these actually work.
Exercise for anxiety
Regular, moderate intensity exercise is important for everyone, and people with anxiety disorders often report exercise helps them beat their anxiety symptoms. Exercise boosts feel-good hormones called endorphins, and burns off excess adrenalin that the body creates when it is responding to anxiety. Exercise can increase appetite, provide opportunity for socialising, reduce stress and boost energy.
Any physical activity can help but many people find that yoga, pilates, walking and tai chi are beneficial. If you have any existing medical conditions, talk to your GP before starting a new exercise regime.
For more information on anxiety exercise, visit Anxiety UK.
Anxiety and employment
People with anxiety are usually able to work, but work may be part of their anxiety. Some people are happiest at work where they are busy. If you are experiencing anxiety, it can be difficult to talk about this at work, to colleagues or your employers. Sometimes though, it can help to share the problems you are having, especially if work is what triggers anxiety for you. Your employer may be able to make reasonable adjustments to your working day, deadlines, job role, etc in order to help reduce your anxiety. If you are finding work really difficult, speak to your GP or read this blog for tips on coping with work anxiety. If you are an employer concerned about anxiety at work, Anxiety UK offers online resources that may be useful for you.