Suffering with anxiety? Here are three types of therapy that can help
Anxiety disorders are among the most common types of mental health problems. They can significantly impact day-to-day functioning and can lead to severe physical symptoms that prevent people with the disorder from living a full and happy life.
Overcoming anxiety can be difficult because of how it operates, generating vicious cycles of anxiety that become difficult to escape. Left unchecked, symptoms can worsen and become increasingly disruptive to your lifestyle. This is why, as with any mental health problem, the sooner you seek help, the better. Fortunately, anxiety is also one of the most treatable conditions. Here are three of the most effective psychological treatments available.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most flexible and widely researched approaches to treating anxiety, and the evidence demonstrates its effectiveness for many anxiety disorders.
Avoidance is one of many survival mechanisms designed to protect us from danger It's also a common behaviour when a feared event happens, and anxiety strikes. CBT aims to interrupt the noisy voice of anxiety by showing that avoidance isn't necessary to keep us safe. It’s also easily tailored to an individual's needs, making it gentler than traditional behavioural therapy.
CBT is widely available on the NHS and privately, usually requiring an hour per week for 12-15 sessions, depending on the complexity of the problem. Once you have learnt the tools needed to help manage the feelings of anxiety, you can use them repeatedly and in all areas of life.
Behaviour therapy is one of the oldest psychological therapies for anxiety and is likely the most effective in many circumstances. It refers to a range of practical, hands-on approaches to tackling fears.
The most widely used method is exposure therapy, designed to help people confront their fears. People often tend to avoid feared objects, activities or situations. Avoiding these things over a long period can worsen the fear. Exposure therapy exposes people to the things that cause them distress, creating a safe environment in which a person can reduce anxiety, decrease avoidance, and improve their quality of life.
This is often done gradually, working with less anxiety-provoking things, before moving on to bigger, stronger fears; nonetheless, a degree of discomfort is expected. The upside is that if you can endure it, and fully engage with the therapy, the success rate is near 100%, and it is often quicker than talking-based approaches.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT can be used in conjunction with other approaches, or as a stand-alone treatment and is all about learning to apply mindfulness techniques at times of stress in an attempt to teach your body to relax. The idea is that by using the techniques, we can manually override our body's automatic fear response such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath and so on, adjusting the feedback loop to teach our brains that the triggering event doesn’t make us feel scared.
Common techniques include:
- Breathing exercises such as breathing in for four counts, and out for eight
- Progressive muscle relaxation is where you systematically tense and release the muscle groups in your body
- Guided visualisation - a spoken story that guides you on a peaceful journey
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence suggests attending 12–15 sessions, for one hour per week. However, this can be adjusted according to the complexity of the problem and the speed of clinical response.
There are many ways that people with anxiety disorders can be helped. Along with therapy, lifestyle changes, exercise, diet, and medication can help reduce the overwhelming sensations common with anxiety disorders.