Whether we’ve recently been diagnosed or have been living with it for many years; anxiety treatment options can be confusing.
Treatments are often described using words or acronyms that we’ve never come across before, so we don’t know what they mean. Perhaps we’ve in therapy for a while but want to know what else we could try. Maybe we think we’ve tried every anxiety treatment going, and we’re wondering where to turn next.
Different therapies work for different people. Sometimes we need to try several different things, or a combination of things, to find something that works for us. By understanding our options, we can feel empowered to ask for what we need.
Acupuncture To Treat Anxiety
Although the NHS doesn’t list acupuncture as a treatment recommended for anxiety, Anxiety UK offer it.
Acupuncture works by placing very fine needles under our skin to stimulate our sensory nerves. As a result, our body then releases endorphins to relieve any pain. These endorphins also help to reduce some of the stress and tension that we feel, consequently reducing our anxiety.
Through applied relaxation we learn to relax our muscles when in anxiety-provoking situations.
When we engage with this anxiety treatment, we learn how to consciously relax our muscles. Next, we learn how to relax them quickly and in response to triggers. Just like any other skill, we’ll often have to keep practicing muscle relaxation for it to reach the point where we respond to triggers by using it without thinking about it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly offered to those who live with anxiety. It’s thought of being one of the most successful anxiety treatments currently available.
CBT helps us to understand the link between our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and emotions. We learn to question our negative thoughts and begin to do things that trigger our anxiety. This could include things that we’ve been avoiding for a long time.
For example, we might be worried about leaving the house because we don’t want people to stare at us. The thought (I don’t want people to look at me), then triggers the feelings (anxiety, shame) that inform our behaviour (staying indoors). Through CBT we would challenge that negative thought. This can help to reduce our feelings of anxiety and shame, making it easier to go outside more often as a result.
We could also be encouraged to do a behaviour experiment, such as leaving the house and taking note of how many people stare at us. Through this experiment, we might realise that the majority of people aren’t looking in our direction. So this can act as ‘evidence’ to help us to challenge our negative or unhelpful thoughts.
It’s all about understanding the links between thoughts, feelings, and actions, and how they affect one another
Compassion-Focussed Therapy (CFT)
Those of us with high levels of anxiety are often really hard on ourselves. Our confidence levels are often low, and we walk around shrouded in a thick cloak of shame. Many of us get annoyed and frustrated with ourselves, criticise ourselves, and constantly put ourselves down.
Compassion-focussed therapy (CFT) focusses on our threat, drive and ‘soothe’ systems. We learn how they interact with one another. These systems are all part of regulating our emotions including anxiety.
Counselling is often used as a catch-all term for any kind of talking therapy. But it’s a specific type of therapy in its own right.
When we meet with a counsellor, rather than learning specific therapy skills, we’re given space to talk about the things we’re finding tricky. As a result of talking about our worries in a safe, non-judgemental space, can help us to process them and work through our problems.
Creative therapies encompass a variety of different things. Art, drama, dance and music therapy are all types of ‘creative therapies’.
Some of us find it easier to express our emotions through creative therapies than to put them into words. Creativity can help us to process emotions and situations we’re finding difficult. Sometimes this means that our creativity reveals feelings or specific issues that are contributing to our anxiety. We can then look at them in more detail and start working through them.
Crisis support is for times when our anxiety and/or other emotions reach a point where we’re unable to cope. It’s there when we need immediate advice and support. Crisis team staff help us to get through a crisis safely. It’s usually in the form of short-term support specifically to help us past the point of crisis.
If we need crisis support we could use a helpline, go to A&E, ring 111, or ring 999.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) often encompasses a mixture of individual and group therapy. It comes from a cognitive-behavioural background but isn’t the same as CBT. Through DBT we learn skills to manage difficult emotions and relationships.
DBT therapists help us to learn different strategies and techniques to manage our emotions. Next, we practice these skills until we’re able to use them when we feel distressed. It focusses on four key areas; mindfulness, distress tolerance, regulating our emotions, and interpersonal effectiveness (effectively communicating with others).
Ecotherapy As An Anxiety Treatment
Ecotherapy is an anxiety treatment that uses nature and the outdoors to promote good mental and physical health.
Though exact programmes might vary depending on where we go, ecotherapy is always grounded in the natural world. Studies have shown that nature-based activities can reduce levels of anxiety and stress. Ecotherapy can also help us to leave the house, build social connections, and feel a sense of personal achievement.
Exposure Therapy To Treat Anxiety
As the name suggests, exposure therapy is an anxiety treatment that involved exposing ourselves to things that trigger our anxiety.
Through exposure therapy, we’re exposed to our triggers in a very supportive way. Many therapists use something called ‘graded exposure’, which is about starting small and working up to tricky things.
For example, if we had a fear of spiders, we might start by looking at pictures of them. We could then move onto sitting in the same room as one, holding one in a box, and eventually holding one in our hands.
Guided self-help might be one of the first anxiety treatments offered to us.
Through guided self-help, we often work through CBT-based workbook or computer course. This might be with the support of a therapist.
Sometimes we do guided self-help in a group. In these circumstances, we meet with a group of others who have similar difficulties to learn anxiety-management skills from a trained therapist.
Herbal And Natural Remedies As Anxiety Treatments
Some people choose to use herbal or natural remedies to help them with their anxiety. Before we take any of these remedies, it’s really important to check that they’re safe to take alongside any other medications we’re on.
Herbal or natural remedies can come in a variety of forms. Some come in tablet form, others might be available in the form of tea. We might find other remedies in the form of sprays, roll-ons, or creams.
Herbal and natural remedies are available from a range of different suppliers at different price points. It’s always advisable to buy them from a reputable supplier.
Hypnosis As An Anxiety Treatment
If there’s something very specific that we’re anxious about, hypnosis can help us to overcome it.
Hypnosis is an anxiety treatment that works by putting us in a state of deep relaxation as we imagine something that makes us feel anxious.
In some cases, our anxiety might be very complex and reach the point where we struggle to function. Our risk levels might be high, so we could be regularly hitting crisis point, and might be unable to look after ourselves.
At this point, we might need to spend some time in hospital. Inpatient stays are designed to help us get to the point where we’re well enough to meet our basic needs again.
There are different types of medication available for anxiety. So finding a medication, or combination of medications, that works for us can take some trial and error.
Antidepressants are often the first type of medication we’re prescribed for anxiety. They can take a few weeks to work. Sometimes they don’t work for us and we need to try a different type. If anti-depressants don’t work for us, Pregabalin is another medication that can be prescribed. Both antidepressants and Pregabalin are medications that we would take daily.
Benzodiazepines are an anti-anxiety medication that we take as needed. They can be addictive if used long-term, so we’re don’t usually take them for any longer than four weeks at a time.
Many of us spend our lives rushing from one thing to another. As a result, we don’t have a chance to check in with ourselves about how we’re feeling.
When we practice mindfulness, we learn to focus on the ‘now’. It helps us to reconnect with our body and the world around us. Being aware of the present allows us to stand back and take stock of everything going on. Instead of letting our thoughts and anxieties get on top of us (because we don’t have time to work through them), we can learn to let them pass.
Working with an occupational therapist (OT) can help us to find meaning and purpose.
An OT can work with us on a range of things. This could vary from re-learning to engage with ‘daily life’ tasks, to working towards volunteering, work, or education. OTs are very good at identifying the barriers we face and thinking of how we could tackle them, helping to increase our confidence as a result.
For example, we might be struggling to cook for ourselves because our anxiety makes us shaky so we worry about cutting ourselves when chopping vegetables. An OT might have a chopping aid that we can use to guard our fingers. Or they might suggest other solutions such as buying ready-chopped vegetables.
Peer support is about people who’ve been through similar things supporting one another.
It can be ‘formal’ or ‘informal’. Informal peer support includes those relationships that develop naturally. For example, we could go to an anxiety treatment group, make friends with another participant, and consequently have an informal peer support relationship.
‘Formal’ peer support relationships are those set up with the specific purpose of peer support in mind. Some NHS Trusts employ ‘peer support workers’. We might even find a local support group or charity led by those with lived experience.
‘Lived experience’, means that the person we’re referring to has been through something similar to those they’re supporting. If an anxiety therapist advertises that they have ‘lived experience’ it usually means that they’ve experienced anxiety or another mental illness at some point.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy includes anxiety education, creating a positive relationship with our therapist, addressing core problems, exposure therapy, self-talk support, and help with social skills.
It’s most commonly used when we have a social anxiety disorder.
Psychoeducation As An Anxiety Treatment
Through psychoeducation, we learn about our mental health. So we gain a better understanding of what we experience, why, and how we can help ourselves.
Sometimes we have individual sessions, sometimes we’re part of a group, and sometimes we receive guided (or not-guided!) self-help.
Recovery colleges offer courses helping us to learn skills to manage our mental health. Sometimes they’re provided in person and sometimes online. Course themes can be wide-ranging; from understanding our medication to singing for wellbeing or coping with anxiety.
Anything we do to help ourselves comes under the title of ‘self-help’.
Through our self-help, we might find that we dip in and out of different anxiety treatments without realising. For example, we might listen to a podcast and learn about anxiety (psychoeducation) as a result. Strike up a peer support relationship over Twitter. Or use an app to teach ourselves mindfulness.
There is a wealth of ‘self-help‘ resources out there. In fact, there are so many that it can often be quite overwhelming. The NHS list of apps, NHS leaflets, the ‘Reading Well‘ selection of books, and websites that we know can be a good place to start.
We Deserve Support
Depending on where we live, we might find that some services are available through the NHS and others aren’t. We might choose to pay for private anxiety treatment, should we be able to afford it. Sometimes counsellors or charities have a range of prices in order to cater to different financial positions.
Whatever our situation, we deserve the help and support we need to manage our anxiety and to feel safe.
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