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There are many effective treatments for anxiety disorders including CBT, breathing control techniques, relaxation therapy, herbal treatments and exercise.


Education and information about anxiety disorders are very important first steps in the treatment process. If people understand anxiety is an exaggeration of a normal response as well as why they experience particular symptoms (ie. tingling fingers occur because the body has moved blood to major muscle groups) this assists in breaking down some of the fear associated with having an anxiety disorder.

There are a number of treatment options available for anxiety disorders, including cognitive behavior therapy, breathing control techniques, relaxation therapy, exercise, caffeine reduction, complementary therapies and medications.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

CBT is based on the notion that people develop negative, self defeating patterns of thought which results in emotional distress (such as anxiety or depression) and maladaptive or unhealthy learned behavior. These thought and behavior patterns can be unlearned. CBT is conducted by a therapist (counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) and usually consists of a series of sessions taking place over a number of weeks. Studies have found that CBT is at least as effective as medication in treating anxiety disorders and has the advantage of costing less over time and producing longer lasting benefits. There is, however, no clear evidence that combining medications with CBT enhances the treatment for anxiety disorders (13). The therapy typically produces benefits after a few weeks, depending on the frequency of visits to the therapist and the frequency of home practice. A disadvantage of CBT is that it requires a certain level of commitment, in both time and energy/motivation from a person. Also, it is not available in all areas of Australia.

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CBT for anxiety disorders involves teaching people to examine the thought patterns that produce their anxiety (14). Underlying most types of anxiety is the tendency to overestimate both the likelihood of a feared consequence and how bad it would really be if the feared consequence actually eventuated. People are encouraged to practice realistic thinking in order to evaluate the real level of threat or risk which is anxiety-causing. They learn to use evidence to challenge unhelpful or unrealistic thoughts and fears. For instance, if a person with panic disorder feels they are going to die when having a panic attack they are asked to explore the chances of this actually occurring. Did they die last time they had a panic attack? The results of any medical investigations of their anxiety symptoms can be used here as evidence (ie. have any tests shown you have heart disease or other physical conditions?).

Other techniques used in CBT include controlled breathing techniques and graded exposure. Graded exposure involves getting people to gradually confront situations which produce anxiety symptoms. For it to be successful, people have to remain in the situation until their anxiety has subsided and they must confront the feared situation repeatedly and frequently. People with OCD are provided with techniques to help them resist performing compulsive behaviors.

Breathing control techniques

Many people hyperventilate when anxious, and this can add to feelings of anxiety and symptoms of dizziness and tingling. A controlled rate of breathing, aiming for a rate of 8-12 breaths per minute breathing in a smooth, light way is very effective at reducing symptoms of panic and acute anxiety. Smooth, light breathing is preferred to deep breathing which can accentuate feelings of anxiety and light-headedness. Breathing control techniques should be practiced several times a day when not particularly anxious in order to make it habitual. This makes it more likely that an individual will be able to implement the technique even when highly anxious and perhaps not thinking clearly.

Relaxation therapy

Relaxation therapy involves several techniques designed to help people achieve a relaxed state such as breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing the muscles in the body, one major muscle group at a time. Over time, relaxation results in a measurable reduction in the basic level of anxiety or tension which an individual experiences.