12 Anxiety treatment and self-help

Anxiety treatment

Treatment for anxiety, self-help exercises, advice and why herbal remedies are preferred by some, to prescribed medication.

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Anxiety results from stress and gives rise to a wide variety of symptoms. There is a good deal of overlap between these two problems and the treatment of anxiety closely follows the treatment for stress.

This page describes the most common anxiety treatments used.

We discuss firstly, some anxiety self-help techniques that are easy to learn. Helping yourself is a very important step to take if you are suffering from stress, no matter what stress or anxiety treatment you are using.

In addition, we discuss the conventional and complementary treatments for anxiety available.

Anxiety self-help

No matter what anxiety treatment you need, the first thing to do if you are experiencing anxiety symptoms  is to ask what you can do to help yourself.

People respond to stress in different ways and for every one of us, anxiety levels can vary from day to day. It is important to understand why you are feeling anxious and why these differences happen. Follow the link to our page on ‘What is anxiety ’ to find out more.

Perhaps the first thing you can do to help yourself is to find someone to talk to. This will help you to work out a way forward and to decide which of the anxiety treatments might be best for you to try.

Some people find speaking to a close friend very helpful. Others prefer to confide in someone they know less well. If you feel embarrassed speaking to people you know, make an appointment with your doctor, a stress psychologist or counsellor.

The right anxiety treatment for you will depend on why you are feeling anxious, the symptoms you experience and whether or not there are underlying health problems to take into account.

Exercise as a treatment for anxiety

Many people find that exercise reduces stress and the symptoms of anxiety. Whilst it is not actually a treatment, it is a very useful form of self-help when you suffer anxiety symptoms. Why is this so?

Our bodies are built to see any stress as dangerous and it responds by producing stress chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This basic reaction prepares our beings to face danger and was a very important factor in our caveman days when man-eating mammoths were neighbours.

The stresses we face nowadays are less exciting – for example, sitting on crowded, delayed trains, in traffic jams or at our desks.

However, our bodies seem to find them just as taxing, and the ‘stress reaction’ part of our systems cannot tell the difference between something that will eat you alive, and an event that will simply make you late for a dental appointment. Stress chemicals are produced in both circumstances.

Exercise is a great way of using up these stress chemicals in the body, helping to reduce anxiety. It is because of this that exercise can be a very useful activity for anxiety self-help, and should be part of any anxiety treatment programme.

Learning to relax

There are a good number of ways in which you can choose to relax.

Some relaxation techniques such as yoga and pilates can be considered to be exercises and the comments in the paragraph above will be relevant. Others, such as reflexology and meditation cannot.

No matter what anxiety treatment you may be using, it is important to learn or use a few relaxation techniques. The most common relaxation disciplines used include aromatherapy, meditation, yoga, reflexology, massage, aromatherapy and pilates.

However, you do not need to join a class, or read a book on yoga exercises, in order to learn to relax. Simple deep-breathing exercises can help you a great deal. Try this simple exercise:

  • Sit comfortably (anywhere quiet) and close your eyes
  • Breathe in deeply to a slow count of 5, then out
  • Next, breathe in to the count of 6, then breathe out
  • Repeat until you can count to 10 as slowly as you can.

This exercise is basic, deceptively simple, but effective. It can be used practically anywhere. Some recommend it as a ‘must’ and part of your self-help programme, no matter what anxiety treatment you are using.

Support groups & counselling

These are well-established treatments for anxiety and recommended by both conventional doctors and complementary practitioners.

Talking about your problems on a ‘one-to-one’ basis or in ‘group sessions’ can be very helpful. Speaking to other people helps you identify issues you can’t always see and solutions which are not obvious.

There are a number of disciplines you can choose from, and treatment sessions for anxiety should be readily available to you unless you live somewhere terribly remote.

You may have to contact your local GP to find out where the nearest support group or counsellor is based. Alternatively, your local health food store can also be a good source of information on these therapies and other types of anxiety treatments.

Herbal medicines as anxiety treatments

Sometimes, despite all the exercises you do and the time spent on relaxation and other self-help techniques, you still end up feeling anxious. You need something more.

Herbal remedies have been used as treatment for anxiety symptoms for many centuries. Today, they are perhaps the most widely used types of herbal remedies in many parts of the world, including the UK.

The main reason for this is that prescribed medicines for anxiety (the types you get from your doctor) are generally associated with a number of side-effects. For most people, licensed herbal medicines are the treatment of first choice if they wish to take something to ‘calm their nerves’.

The most common herbs used for treatment of anxiety symptoms are:

  • Valerian root
  • Hops
  • Passiflora
  • Avena sativa  (oats)

In addition, as anxiety can sometimes be associated with low mood, the herb St. John’s wort (Hypericum) can be very helpful.

Prescribed medicines as anxiety treatments

These are considered, even by the most orthodox of doctors, to be the anxiety treatment of last resort. Prescribed drugs for anxiety tend to belong to the benzodiazepine class of medicines (eg. the infamous valium) and are usually only prescribed for short periods of time.

Drugs may be recommended by your GP in very specific situations where there is a great deal of stress giving rise to acute or severe symptoms of anxiety – for example, an unexpected bereavement.

The reason for this reticence is that prescribed drugs used in the treatment of anxiety symptoms tend to cause significant side effects, not least of which is the tendency for people to become ‘addicted’ to these medicines.

Further reading:
What is anxiety
Anxiety symptoms

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