Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Can Anxiety Disorders Be Treated?

Fortunately, the vast majority of people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with the right professional care. There are no guarantees, and success rates vary with the circumstances. Treatment periods vary. Some individuals require only a few months of treatment, while others need a year or more. People with anxiety disorders often have more than one disorder, which can complicate treatment. Equally, substance abuse and clinical depression often co-exist in patients with an anxiety disorder.

Treatment Options

Treatment must be specially tailored for each individual, but there are a number of standard approaches. Individuals with anxiety disorders can almost always be treated without being admitted to a hospital.

Generally, therapists use a combination of the following treatments; there is no single correct approach.






Behavior Therapy

Modify and gain control over unwanted behavior Learning to cope with difficult situations, often through controlled exposure to them Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime Can take time to achieve results

Cognitive Therapy

Change unproductive thought patterns Examine feelings and learn to separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime Can take time to achieve results


Resolve symptoms Help restore chemical imbalances that lead to symptoms Effective for many people, enables other treatment to move forward Most medications have side effects

Relaxation Techniques

Help resolve stresses that can contribute to anxiety Breathing re- training, exercise and other skills Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime Can take time to achieve results

Treatment is successful in as many as 90 percent of anxiety disorder patients. Most people respond best to a combination of the four options summarized in this table.

Treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other research institutions. They are extremely effective and often combine medication or specific types of psychotherapy.

More medications are available than ever before to effectively treat anxiety disorders. These include antidepressants or benzodiazepines. If one medication is not effective, others can be tried. New medications are currently being tested or are under development to treat anxiety symptoms.

The two most effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders are behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy tries to change actions through techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing or through gradual exposure to what is frightening. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to understand their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety.


In-depth look at options for treatment of anxiety disorders and panic attacks; including benefits and drawbacks of each anxiety treatment.Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder often includes a combination of medication and therapy. Busipirone is frequently prescribed although other drugs are being researched. Therapeutic techniques can include cognitive or behavior therapy (see box), relaxation techniques, and biofeedback to alleviate muscle tension.


The physical symptoms associated with panic disorder can make diagnosis more difficult. Often, it is mistaken for heart disease, thyroid problems, respiratory disease or hypochondria.

Recent research has shown that the roots of panic disorder are both physical and psychological. The most successful treatment approach for panic disorder combines medication with cognitive and behavior therapy. In particular, medications, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, have proven effective for 75 to 90 percent of sufferers.


Treatment usually involves desensitization or exposure therapy through which the sufferer is exposed to the source of the phobia and gradually learns to overcome the fear. Exposure therapy can significantly reduce or end phobic reactions for at least seven years. Therapy is often combined with medication, such as antianxiety drugs, antidepressants and, in some cases, tranquilizers.


Behavior therapy is used to expose individuals to situations that provoke their compulsions and help them learn how to decrease and eventually refrain from performing the rituals. This treatment approach has been successful for 50 to 90 percent of those suffering from OCD. Because OCD may be accompanied by depression, it is important to identify whether this illness is present and treat it concurrently. For some individuals medications, such as chlomipramine or fluoxetine, are effective in alleviating obsessions.


Post-traumatic stress disorder can be successfully treated. Individual psychotherapy helps survivors work through their pain and grief. Support groups or peer counseling groups enable survivors of similar traumatic events to share their experiences and reactions. Family therapy may also be an important component of the treatment process. Medications, such as antidepressants, lithium, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers, can help control the symptoms of PTSD.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, February 19). Treatment for Anxiety Disorders, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, July 24 from

Last Updated: July 1, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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