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Anxiety Treatment Facts: How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment Works

By Adina Michelsohn

Are you a worrier? Have you always been a worrier? You may not be having panic attacks, just suffering from constant anxiety. Anxiety sufferers tend to be constantly preoccupied with thoughts of things going wrong or amiss, such as worries about money, relationships, career or family. If these thoughts get in the way of living life normally, a doctor should be consulted. Once it's determined that there is nothing physically wrong, the diagnosis may be generalized anxiety disorder. Receiving a diagnosis may actually be a relief, to know that someone recognizes and is concerned about these difficult and uncomfortable feelings. So, what's the next step?

It should make you feel better to know that there are actually several anxiety treatment options available. Before these can be explored, however, you would need to have a thorough evaluation by a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist. The therapist you choose will try to pinpoint what is causing your anxiety and to identify if you suffer from any co-existing conditions, such as depression or substance abuse.

Once the evaluation is complete, the therapist will come up with a treatment plan, typically consisting of some form of talk therapy (psychotherapy), medication, or a combination of the two. Before you start undergoing treatment, you need to realize that it may take time to find the therapy that will help you best, and to not give up if at first the chosen therapy - or therapist - does not work.

Of the various talk therapies available, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known as CBT) is one of the more popular generalized anxiety disorder treatments recommended by mental health professionals. In some studies, it has been shown to be even more effective than anti-anxiety medication. The CBT approach works by giving you new cognitive tools to replace faulty thinking (such as, "I'm in danger"), alongside behavioral 'homework' designed to help you confront your fears and slowly overcome them.

The downside of CBT is that, at first, your anxiety might actually increase for a short while, because you are forcing yourself to deal with, as opposed to avoid, an uncomfortable thought or situation. But the upside is much greater: it is a short-term therapy (usually 12 weeks or less), has no side effects, should lead to an eventual decrease of anxiety symptoms, and is very self-empowering.

In some cases, medication may be recommended to complement your anxiety treatment. Be aware that while there is no medication that can cure anxiety, it can be helpful in lessening symptoms while you undergo psychotherapy. Medication needs to be prescribed by a medical doctor or psychiatrist, and if you are being seen by a psychologist or social worker, you will need to include a psychiatrist as part of your therapy team. The most commonly prescribed class of medications for anxiety are the SSRIs - serotonin reuptake inhibitors - that include well known anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor. Other medication options include anti-anxiety drugs, such as Ativan, Xanax, Valium or Buspar, but these tend to have more side effects than the SSRIs.

The downside of anxiety treatment medications are many: in addition to side effects, they take time (up to 6 weeks) for their full effect to be realized, and need to be taken consistently and possibly long-term. But their upside is worth considering: they can provide much needed relief from symptoms and enable you to regain full functioning in all aspects of your life.

Being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder can actually be a blessing in disguise. Armed with the proper diagnosis, you will be in good shape to take advantage of a host of treatment options now widely available and to take back full control of the life you are meant to live.

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