Top Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

Having an anxiety disorder may feel overwhelming, but your condition can improve with treatment.

therapy session with two women

Updated on March 8, 2023.

If you’re one of the 40 million adults in the United States with an anxiety disorder, know that you don’t need to deal with it alone. One wise move is getting help from a healthcare provider (HCP). They have the tools—and knowledge—to help you put together a treatment plan and overcome your anxiety disorder. Here's what you can expect.

Pinpointing your treatment options

Before treatment begins, your HCP will find out if your symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or another emotional or physical condition. The three main anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.

Your HCP will also look for any coexisting conditions, such as depression or a substance use disorder. They may also use tests to rule out a physical cause, rather than an emotional cause. To make the diagnosis, they'll need to hear all about your symptoms and how they're affecting your life. 

Once you're diagnosed, your HCP may prescribe medications, talk therapy, or a combination of both to put you on the road to recovery. You can combine these treatments with practicing good coping strategies at home to really make a difference in your anxiety levels.

Antidepressants offer relief. If your HCP prescribes an antidepressant, it could take you up to four to six weeks to feel relief from your anxiety. The most common antidepressants for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), escitalopram (Lexapro), and citalopram (Celexa).

If you’ve tried an SSRI and it didn’t work for you, your HCP may try a tricyclic antidepressant next, such as clomipramine (Anafranil) or imipramine (Tofranil).

Anti-anxiety medicines work well in the short-term. To help you feel calm and relaxed right away, many HCPs prescribe anti-anxiety medicine. The most widely prescribed class of anti-anxiety drugs is benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). 

Keep in mind that you may experience side effects like sleepiness, grogginess, dry mouth, or feeling uncoordinated. Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for shorter periods of time, since people can develop a tolerance or dependency, which means the drug doesn't work as well over time or you begin to need the drug too often. 

Beta-blockers may help your physical symptoms. These include rapid heart rate, sweating, and dizziness. They aren’t FDA-approved to treat anxiety and are usually meant to treat heart-related conditions. Despite a lack of strong evidence so far regarding how well they work, beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed to treat phobias or performance anxiety, since they don't affect the emotional symptoms of anxiety. Common beta-blockers include atenolol (Tenormin) and propranolol (Inderal).

Talk it out with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Discussing your problems can also help you overcome anxiety. HCPs often recommend using CBT—also known as talk therapy—to treat anxiety disorders. You can set up an appointment to speak with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. Therapy can help you find the root of your anxiety and learn how to manage anxiety symptoms.

How effective is treatment?

Once you know anxiety's signs and symptoms, it's up to you to seek treatment as soon as possible. Remember, the goal of treatment is to help you function well and feel better, making each day yours for the taking once again.

Help yourself by learning coping strategies

Building healthy habits and go-to coping strategies into your lifestyle can help ease anxiety. Here are some things you can do to feel less stressed out or anxious.

  • Make sure you get enough rest. Most healthy adults need about seven or eight hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Exercise every day. Believe it or not, just 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day can make a real difference in your wellbeing. 
  • Eat balanced, nutritional meals. Keep healthful snacks with you when you’re out and about, too.
  • Try to limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. They can make anxiety worse and even cause panic attacks. 
  • Look for laughs. Whether it’s from movies, comic books, stand-up comedy, or a funny friend, laughter is a mood booster and can lessen anxiety. 

The ways you and your HCP decide to treat your anxiety depends on the specific problems you're facing, as well as your preferences. With an effective treatment plan in place, many adults not only see improvement in their symptoms, but also find they can lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Article sources open article sources

Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Anxiety Disorders – Facts & Statistics. Page last updated October 28, 2022.
Brahmbhatt A, Richardson L, Prajapati S. Identifying and Managing Anxiety Disorders in Primary Care. Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2021;17(1):18-25. 
National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders. Page last reviewed April 2022. 
Steenen SA, van Wijk AJ, van der Heijden GJ, et al. Propranolol for the treatment of anxiety disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(2):128-139.
Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress. Page last updated December 12, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep and Sleep Disorders: How Much Sleep Do I Need? Last reviewed September 14, 2022.
Saint-Maurice PF, Graubard BI, Troiano RP, et al. Estimated Number of Deaths Prevented Through Increased Physical Activity Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(3):349–352.
Demir Doğan M. The Effect of Laughter Therapy on Anxiety: A Meta-analysis. Holist Nurs Pract. 2020;34(1):35-39.

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