Treatment of Anxiety Disorders (cont'd)

Other Anxiety Medications

Beta-blockers, such as propanolol, are often used to treat heart conditions but have also been found to be helpful in certain anxiety disorders, particularly in social phobia. When a feared situation, such as giving an oral presentation, can be predicted in advance, your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker that can be taken to keep your heart from pounding, your hands from shaking, and other physical symptoms from developing.

Taking Medications for Anxiety Disorders

Before taking medication for an anxiety disorder:

  • Ask your doctor to tell you about the effects and side effects of the drug he or she is prescribing.
  • Tell your doctor about any alternative therapies or over-the-counter medications you are using.
  • Ask your doctor when and how the medication will be stopped. Some drugs can't safely be stopped abruptly; they have to be tapered slowly under a physician's supervision.
  • Be aware that some medications are effective in anxiety disorders only as long as they are taken regularly, and symptoms may occur again when the medications are discontinued.
  • Work together with your doctor to determine the right dosage of the right medication to treat your anxiety disorder.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor to learn how to deal with problems like anxiety disorders.

Cognitive-Behavioral and Behavioral Therapy

Research has shown that a form of psychotherapy that is effective for several anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder and social phobia, is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It has two components. The cognitive component helps people change thinking patterns that keep them from overcoming their fears. For example, a person with panic disorder might be helped to see that his or her panic attacks are not really heart attacks as previously feared; the tendency to put the worst possible interpretation on physical symptoms can be overcome. Similarly, a person with social phobia might be helped to overcome the belief that others are continually watching and harshly judging him or her.

The behavioral component of CBT seeks to change people's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. A key element of this component is exposure, in which people confront the things they fear. An example would be a treatment approach called exposure and response prevention for people with OCD. If the person has a fear of dirt and germs, the therapist may encourage them to dirty their hands, then go a certain period of time without washing. The therapist helps the patient to cope with the resultant anxiety. Eventually, after this exercise has been repeated a number of times, anxiety will diminish. In another sort of exposure exercise, a person with social phobia may be encouraged to spend time in feared social situations without giving in to the temptation to flee. In some cases the individual with social phobia will be asked to deliberately make what appear to be slight social blunders and observe other people's reactions; if they are not as harsh as expected, the person's social anxiety may begin to fade. For a person with PTSD, exposure might consist of recalling the traumatic event in detail, as if in slow motion, and in effect re-experiencing it in a safe situation. If this is done carefully, with support from the therapist, it may be possible to defuse the anxiety associated with the memories. Another behavioral technique is to teach the patient deep breathing as an aid to relaxation and anxiety management.