According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, approximately 40,000,000 adults are affected by an anxiety disorder in the U.S., most of them women. Left untreated, anxiety can escalate and impact career, social, and family relationships. In addition, studies have shown that having an anxiety disorder significantly increases the risk of developing other conditions, such as depression and heart disease. However, until fairly recently, the condition was poorly understood and even dismissed. Fortunately, increased awareness has resulted in several effective treatments for anxiety becoming available.
Careful screening and diagnosis by a qualified health care practitioner is necessary to determine the best course of treatment. This is because there are several types of anxiety disorders, each having a different origin and therapeutic response. For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stems from surviving a traumatic event, such as a violent crime, accident, or natural disaster. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), on the other hand, is characterized by a feeling of dread about upcoming social events due to an irrational fear of being judged or humiliated. However, the most common anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is accompanied by chronic worry, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating.
Conventional treatments for anxiety generally consist of medication or psychotherapy, or both. Medications often prescribed include benzodiazepines (sedatives) and buspirone (a serotonin receptor agonist), and antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac®). In terms of psychiatric treatments for anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) usually heads the list. The goal of this therapy is to modify automatic thought processes so that negative thoughts and behaviors may be replaced by more positive ones.
Other less conventional treatments for anxiety are becoming increasingly popular too. For example, Exposure Therapy (ET) is another form of behavioral therapy in which the patient is guided through facing situations previously avoided by being exposed to them in a safe and supportive setting. Usually a short-term therapy, ET is most often used to treat PTSD and panic attacks. In some cases, this therapy may be expanded to involve imaginary or interoceptive exposure to situations that would otherwise be unsafe or impossible to explore physically. A case example where this therapy might apply would be a war veteran who has survived being wounded in battle.
There are also nutritional treatments for anxiety to consider. For example, studies have shown that supplementation with the amino acids L-tryptophan and L-tyrosine reduces symptoms of anxiety. The mechanism behind this action is due to serotonin and norepinephrine production being dependent on sufficient amounts of these amino acids being available. In addition, L-lysine keeps cortisol levels in check, which tend to become elevated during times of emotional stress. Theanine, another amino acid found in green tea, increases serotonin and dopamine production and alpha brain wave activity while providing a mild tranquilizing effect.