11 Proven Treatments for Anxiety
Most of these proven treatments are excellent for self-help
The Mental Health Epidemic
Anxiety rates have exploded in recent decades. According to ADAA 18.1% of adults in the USA have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
It’s gotten so bad that I’ve heard it called a mental health epidemic.
And considering the state of the world, with steadily increasing levels of stress… I’m sorry to say it doesn’t seem like things will get better anytime soon.
Luckily the increase in anxiety rates has also led to an explosion in available treatments and therapies.
Some of these have been miraculous and life-saving, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), modern medications, and research into various healthy lifestyle choices (relaxation, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, etc.).
Others have been the complete opposite, causing at best nothing, and at worst more pain and suffering.
The last I want is for you to waste your time or end up suffering unnecessarily, so here are 11 treatments that have proven themselves effective at treating anxiety!
Exposure essentially boils down to facing your fears, and it’s the most effective treatment known for anxiety.
Why is it so effective?
Because the things all anxiety disorders have in common are an unwillingness to fully experience anxiety, and the subsequent avoidance of whatever causes anxiety.
- In panic disorder the fear of new panic attacks causes avoidance of anything that might act as a trigger.
- In social anxiety the fear of rejection and scrutiny causes immense anxiety, and social situations are avoided to minimize anxiety.
- And at the core of generalized anxiety disorder is constant worry and overthinking, in a misguided attempt to reduce future anxiety.
Whenever anxiety becomes an issue, this same pattern is found.
Exposure isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it does get directly to the core of the problem, helping us see that there’s no reason to fear anxiety.
2) Cognitive Restructuring
In cognitive behavioral therapy it’s given that irrational thinking is a big factor in emotional disorders.
Basically whenever you feel anxious or panicky, there’s likely a lot of not too healthy thinking going on as well, and it keeps fueling the anxiety/panic.
Through a process known as cognitive restructuring you learn to think more rationally and be more skeptical of your thoughts.
Once thoughts and even beliefs over time become more realistic, anxiety no longer packs that strong of a punch.
When it does show up, you learn to see the thoughts that fuel it and challenge them in real time.
Mindfulness might seem like a complicated concept, but I don’t think it has to be.
To me it simply means to be here in the present moment, observing what’s actually happening without constantly judging everything.
This is completely opposite of what the mind typically does, with the constant chatter and frankly existing more in the past or future than here in the now.
And if you think about what anxiety is for a second, it becomes clear why mindfulness is so powerful.
Anxiety traps us entirely inside our minds in a storm of “what if”-thoughts and horrible worst-case scenarios.
But that’s all in the potential future, so by connecting with the present moment, anxiety literally cannot follow. There simply is no space for anxiety when you’re here in the now.
The way we tend to struggle and resist against anxiety is a major reason why anxiety gets so out of control, believe it or not.
When anxious or panicky, the mind is already under a ton of stress and tension, so what do you think happens when we try to wrestle with anxiety?
If you guessed that the amount of stress and tension increases, you’re exactly right!
I tend to liken struggling against anxiety to throwing fuel on a fire, because that’s essentially what happens.
Anxiety simply feeds off of our resistance. It gets way worse, and keeps going for longer than it could have ever done if ignored.
Acceptance, or willingness to experience anxiety as it’s also known, is the complete opposite of struggling.
And although a bit counter-intuitive and scary at first, it’s incredibly effective at making anxiety manageable.
Exercise, as we’re still in the midst of learning, is shockingly good at improving mental health.
A short 30 minute workout can literally wash away most traces of anxiety and depression, leaving you feeling calm and content for hours upon hours after.
And the long-term effects are even greater. Studies show that exercise heals and restores the brain, making it more resilient toward future bouts of depression and anxiety.
It doesn’t seem to matter much what sort of workouts you perform, as long as you exercise often enough and consistently.
But I gotta say, I personally vouch for and believe more in endurance training like running, jogging, swimming, etc.
Anxiety and panic have a brake that not many people know about, and it’s called the relaxation response.
You can activate this response and enter a state of deep relaxation at any point by practicing relaxation techniques.
This state can feel somewhat like floating on a cloud, free of all stress, anxiety, and tension.
But most importantly, when practicing regularly, relaxation techniques can lead to considerable reductions in anxiety and stress.
I find it difficult to describe just how powerful and influential meditation can be. It’s really not an understatement to say that it can change your entire life.
It’s by far the number one way to build awareness of your mind and to become more mindful.
The learning curve is however a little steep, which makes it tricky to pick up.
But practice daily for a couple of months and I promise you’ll see some real crazy benefits!
I know a lot of people are turned off by the idea of taking medications, and in some circumstances I agree that they’re bad.
I’m actually of the opinion that we rely way too heavily on meds to treat anxiety and depression.
But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes they’re needed!
I’m on antidepressants myself to treat a very stubborn mild to moderate depression.
I recommend at least looking into medications if your anxiety or depression is stubborn as well, especially modern antidepressants.
They have very few side-effects, are not addictive, and can be very helpful if you give them time to work.
I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again now.
Great achievements are made by people with great support networks.
And let nobody say that dealing with anxiety, panic, or really mental health issues in general is easy!
Surround yourself with understanding, positive, and helpful people, and you’re set for life.
It can also be a great idea to join a dedicated support network if you’re dealing with something that’s difficult to understand for “outsiders”.
10) Stress management
It turns out stress levels can be a good indicator for general mental health.
High stress is correlated with higher rates of anxiety, panic, depression, and a long list of serious physical conditions.
Now, it should be said that not all stress is bad. In fact, a small amount of stress is good, because it makes us more focused and motivates us to work harder.
So we’re really trying to find that balance between enough stress and too much stress. And a good way is through practicing stress management.
Stress management is a broad topic that incorporates a long list of lifestyle changes and techniques like:
- Time management
- Sleep hygiene
- Social habits
Many forms of modern psychotherapy have proven themselves very effective at treating anxiety issues.
The one I’m most familiar with, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is generally considered to be the best option available today.
Personally, I’m leaning more toward acceptance and mindfulness-based therapies, like that of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), but that’s really still in its infancy.
But regardless of what form of therapy you go for, expect that most of the heavy lifting will still be done by you.
Modern psychotherapies aren’t a quick fix where a professional somehow magically fixes your issues with words alone.
It’s more like being guided along the correct path, but you still have to walk it yourself.
You Should Experiment
If you have a keen eye you might have noticed that most of these proven treatments are excellent for self-help.
It’s also true that successful recoveries often combine more than one of the treatments. For example:
- Deep relaxation, mindfulness, and stress management are all examples of lifestyle choices often covered in CBT and other modern therapies.
- Studies show the best results come from combining therapy with medications, compared to either one on their own.
- I personally use a combination of exercise, meditation, relaxation, CBT techniques, and medications to manage my own anxiety.
Of course there are also countless other lifestyle changes that will improve and lessen anxiety. To mention just a few:
- Proper nutrition
- Being organized and planning out your days
- Removing yourself from toxic people/situations
- Sleep Hygiene
These are all important, but I wouldn’t classify them as treatments, but that’s really just my own opinion.
I recommend experimenting a bit with everything and finding what works best for you and your anxiety.
Finally I want to recommend that you always be critical and skeptical. Especially around alleged treatments for anxiety.
Do your own research, and don’t take anything on good faith.
And yes, that also includes everything I’ve written in this article. I’m certainly not infallible or worthy of immediate trust.
So what do you usually do to treat your own anxiety? I would love to hear what works for you, feel free to let me know in the comments below or send me an email!