How an Anxiety Disorder Is Treated

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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition that causes excessive worry accompanied by other symptoms. It is one of the anxiety disorders. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment options that can help you manage this condition.

Although you may start the process by seeing a primary care physician, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or other mental health professional for treatment. They all specialize in treating anxiety disorders. 

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Prescription Medications

Prescription medications cannot cure GAD, but they can help manage the symptoms.

Before taking any medication, you should discuss the possible side effects and make sure you mention all the other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs you are taking to avoid possible interactions.

Common prescription medications for GAD are antidepressants and antianxiety medications such as benzodiazepines.

Antidepressants include: 

  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)  
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants 
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) include:

  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta) 
  • Venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor XR)

Therapies

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is a common treatment for GAD.

In talk therapy, you talk to a therapist about your condition and work on understanding, reducing, and managing your symptoms.

Combination Treatment

Your doctor may combine prescription medications with psychotherapy.

Your doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you manage GAD.

CBT teaches you to change thinking patterns and behaviors. It is a short-term treatment that focuses on helping you change how you react to situations that cause anxiety. You identify and modify thoughts that cause anxiety.

Another component of this approach is exposure, which allows you to confront your fears and overcome them.

When you have cognitive behavior therapy, your doctor may also recommend relaxation and other mind-body exercises to help you.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one type of treatment that increases relaxation through meditation. MBSR allows you to focus on the present and become aware of the current moment.

Alternative Treatments

When you search for GAD treatments, you may find many alternative options. It is important to discuss them with your doctor before trying them to avoid possible interactions and side effects.

Warning About Vitamin Interactions

Some vitamins, minerals, and herbs can interfere with medications. They can be especially dangerous if you are already taking prescription drugs for GAD.

Alternative herbs and supplements include:

  • Kava extract 
  • St. John's wort
  • Lavender oil 
  • Tryptophan
  • 5-hydroxytryptophan
  • S-Adenosyl-L-methionine

Other alternative treatments include:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation 
  • Music therapy
  • Massage
  • Visualizations
  • Yoga

Lifestyle

There are lifestyle changes you can make to help you cope with GAD. Talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes in your lifestyle and don't forget to reach out to others for support.

Sleep 

It is important to get enough sleep every night to help your overall health and GAD. If you are experiencing sleep problems, talk to your doctor. 

Diet

Your diet affects how you feel, so eating healthy is important. Consider eliminating caffeine and alcohol because they may make GAD symptoms worse.

Exercise 

Exercise helps lower stress and may help you manage the symptoms of anxiety. Try to stay active every day and think about joining a gym or fitness group.

Avoid Smoking 

Research shows that stopping the use of nicotine products and avoiding smoking may reduce anxiety. Ask your doctor for help if you are having trouble avoiding nicotine and are dealing with an addiction.

Support Groups 

Ask your doctor about local support groups for GAD. It can be helpful to discuss what you are going through with others and share ideas. A support group offers understanding, empathy, and connections.

A Word From Verywell

You may feel scared or embarrassed about seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder. These feelings are normal, and many people experience them. However, you do not want them to stop you from getting the help you need. 

To get the right treatment, it is important to be honest and open about your symptoms. If you feel that a doctor is not providing you with the highest level of care or is not listening to you, then consider seeing a different doctor. Your primary care physician may be able to refer you to someone else who specializes in treating GAD.  

Your doctor may recommend a combination of prescription, therapy, and lifestyle treatments. Talk to a healthcare professional before trying alternative options, such as herbs or supplements, which may interact with your medications. 

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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders. Updated July 2018.

  2. Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(9):617-624.

  3. Niazi AK, Niazi SK. Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a non-pharmacological approach for chronic illnesses. N Am J Med Sci. 2011;3(1):20-23.