How Effective is Anxiety Treatment?

If your anxiety has started to feel unmanageable, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and convinced there will never be a time when you can go about your day without feeling anxious.

The good news is that anxiety disorders are entirely treatable, and there are several science-backed ways to eliminate or reduce symptoms. After covering how anxiety manifests in students, you can read the pros and cons of each treatment to weigh up your options. 

Unfortunately, the answer to the question of how effective is anxiety treatment isn’t simple or standardised! However, by reading the information outlined, which is not intended to replace medical advice, you will be in a better position to make an informed decision.

What is Anxiety?

Typically, anxiety disorders manifest as a constant feeling of dread, worry, unease or nervousness. These feelings can be mild, or they can be severe enough to lead to panic attacks.

A certain amount of anxiety in high-pressure situations, such as attending your first lecture when starting as an undergrad or sitting an important exam, is natural.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when it becomes difficult to detach from these anxious thoughts, and they spill into day-to-day life. 

Anxiety can be a standalone condition; it can also be a part of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias, such as claustrophobia and agoraphobia. For sufferers of a general anxiety disorder (GAD), anxiety isn’t isolated to certain situations and events, and there is more than one trigger

Anxiety Symptoms

The primary symptoms of anxiety include restlessness and consistent worry; often people with anxiety struggle to remember the last time they could fully unwind and relax. These pervasive emotions can then lead to insomnia and the inability to concentrate. 

More severe cases of anxiety can lead to a sense of impending doom, panic or danger when there are no obvious threats to trigger your fight/flight/freeze stress response. 

The physiological symptoms of anxiety include an upset stomach, nausea, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing, which reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your brain, leading to dizziness or faintness. You may also start to feel your palms get sweaty and your hands or legs start to tremble. 

Some anxiety sufferers also experience panic attacks; they can be severe and frightening enough to lead to a trip to the emergency room, as the symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack or lead to a feeling a deep sense of fear or dread of dying. While some sufferers will experience chest pains, others will feel a tightness in their throats that makes it feel hard to swallow or breathe. 

Panic attacks can be incredibly distressing and create a fear cycle of avoidance, in which sufferers avoid certain situations. For example, if you had your first panic attack in a supermarket, you may start to grocery shop online to avoid being in the same situation. 

Often, panic attacks come on incredibly fast with a rush of intense mental and physical distress, meaning that there is no time to find a quiet place to relax or prepare for the onslaught of uncomfortable symptoms.

Anxiety at University

Anxiety amongst university students is becoming more prevalent than ever, with 71% of university students in the UK feeling anxious about their course or coursework and 37% of first-year university students struggling with either anxiety or depression. 

Anxiety in university students can look like: 

  • Disengagement from academic work 
  • Social Withdrawal 
  • Struggling to keep up with self-care
  • Difficulty finding the motivation to carry out tasks 
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns 
  • Avoiding certain situations 
two people having a chat across a table while studying

Common Anxiety Triggers for Students

While some university students struggle to leave their past trauma behind them, others move away from their hometown or country and suffer an entirely new set of anxious thoughts revolving around academic performance, fitting in with peers, or financial stress. 

Isolation, uncertainty over the future and health anxiety are also common reasons for GAD in University students – especially after the global pandemic, which many students are struggling to leave in the rear-view mirror. Whatever the trigger, there are ways to overcome every root cause behind anxiety. 

If you are unsure of your anxiety triggers, regular journaling can help you track your emotions. If your anxiety tends to spike before a big social event, your anxiety likely stems from socialising. If every time you feel run-down and unwell you start to get anxiety symptoms, you have likely health-based anxiety. If you struggle to find your triggers as they can be hard to accurately pin down, it may help to speak with a psychotherapist; their years of training will help you see the patterns in your anxiety. 

Poor self-care can also lead to anxiety symptoms. If you tend to skip breakfast and grab a strong cup of coffee instead, you are far more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety throughout the day.

How Effective is Anxiety Treatment?

So, how effective is anxiety treatment? Here are a few different treatments that you’ll most likely find in the UK.

Talking Therapies 

Talking therapies, AKA psychotherapy, help to uncover the underlying issues that cause emotional distress. Psychotherapists provide a safe space where you can work through past trauma, current anxieties, and daily stressors before teaching you healthy coping mechanisms. You can visit a psychotherapist in their office or have regular sessions over Zoom or the phone. Most psychotherapists recommend weekly sessions; for students on a budget, a session every two weeks is enough to get results. 

Talking therapies are more than just quick fixes; they can even help you to reduce the long-term risk of mental health conditions. In terms of effectiveness, talking therapies can be extremely effective. However, it can take weeks or months to make a breakthrough to ease your anxiety symptoms. 

The effectiveness of this anxiety treatment also relies on your willingness to be open and honest with your therapist before doing the necessary work. If you are looking for faster results, CBT may be more beneficial.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Unlike talk therapies, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) does not focus on the root causes of anxiety or past traumas. It is a goal-orientated therapy that will equip you with the coping skills and tools to manage and reduce your anxiety symptoms. 

Recent studies have shown that CBT can be as effective as medication in treating anxiety. Effectively, it changes the way the mind operates by looking at your current pattern of automatic thoughts before showing you how to adopt healthier processes. 

For the best results, work with a CBT specialist who can help you identify issues in your patterns of thinking; this will be a process of self-reflection and self-analysis, which may feel uncomfortable at first, but once you have got to the root of your issues, you will be better placed to tackle your triggers head on. At UWS London, we give all our students access to free e-CBT courses, which will empower you to overcome your anxiety symptoms and triggers. 

Medication 

If your anxiety has become unmanageable, there is no shame in contacting your GP and discussing your options. If you have never spoken with a GP about your mental health, on your first visit, the general practitioner will ask you to fill out a GAD Assessment form; a screening tool used to measure the severity of anxiety. 

For example, you will be asked how often you feel anxious, nervous or on edge. Your options will be not at all, several days, more than half the days, or nearly every day. If your GP finds that you will benefit from medication, you have multiple first-line treatment options. 

You can take short-term medications, such as Beta Blockers, or long-term medications, such as SSRIs, including Sertraline, Paroxetine, and Escitalopram. SSRIs work by rationing the serotonin in the brain to boost your mood. Whereas beta-blockers, such as Propranolol, can be taken as and when you need them to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, rapid breathing and increased heart rate. 

Everyone responds to medication differently, and while anxiety medications are beneficial at quashing the physical symptoms of anxiety, they do not cure it. Therefore, when you start any medication to reduce anxiety symptoms, you should also seek the help of a CBT practitioner or psychotherapist.

Conclusion

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating anxiety. Therefore, when answering the question, how effective is anxiety treatment? there isn’t a short or definitive answer. The effectiveness of any anxiety treatment will depend on the severity, the cause, other underlying mental and physical health conditions, and your self-care routines. 

For many, combatting anxiety is a long journey of self-reflection and discovery, but you will only arrive at your destination of calmness and confidence by taking the first steps. 

Medications can certainly help in the short term. However, to truly overcome your anxiety, it is advisable you also spend the time to find your triggers and work to reduce your symptoms when you encounter them. Remember that anxiety is treatable; it is not a life sentence. No matter how debilitating it feels in the present.

While seeking treatment for anxiety, bolster your self-care routine by incorporating progressive muscle relaxation techniques, meditation, exercise, and journaling. Exposure therapy is also one of the most effective anxiety treatments. It may feel uncomfortable to meet your triggers face to face, but in time, your mind will thank you for filling it with positive data on those situations you once feared.

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