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Therapy for Anxiety: What to Expect

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Published 05/04/2021

Anxiety is like a heavy, uneven sack on your shoulder: it’s cumbersome, it’s burdensome, and it keeps you in a constant state of adjustment just worrying about what could happen if you lose control. 

If you’ve ever felt like this, felt your chest tighten, your mouth go dry, or had days where you felt irritable for no good reason, you might suffer from anxiety. 

The good news is that anxiety is a treatable, controllable disorder that doesn’t have to run your life. But part of effectively treating anxiety is embracing therapy. 

Therapy is a wonderful and effective tool, with some types being more effective than others, but before we get into that, let’s take a look at what anxiety disorder is.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are a sort of blanket term for several anxiety disorders you may have heard of, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other phobias. 

Anxiety can take many forms, and because of that there may be spill over of symptoms between these disorders. For instance, panic sufferers may experience anxiety symptoms, anxiety sufferers may occasionally experience panic, and both may also experience phobias. 

We’re here to talk about the most common form, though, which is generalized anxiety disorder. 

GAD is primarily defined by an extended period of time spent feeling “excessive anxiety or worry,” which means that the occasional rare day of bad feelings with a specific cause behind them may not qualify you.

In other words, if you experience anxiety about a test you didn’t know you had, you may not have anxiety disorder. 

The National Institute of Mental Health says symptoms of the disorder are typically felt “most days for at least six months” by the patient.

As for symptoms, they include feeling restless or wound-up, feeling on edge, having difficulty concentrating, being easily fatigued, being irritable, having muscle tension or difficulty sleeping or having problems controlling feelings of worry.

It may sound like a pretty rough way to live, to feel that way so constantly, and this is probably a good time to remind you exactly how many people experience this disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health an estimated 31.1 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

If you’re looking for the ray of light in this doom and gloom, the good news is that there are many treatments available to anxiety sufferers.

Meditation, breathing techniques, increased exercise and medication all present effective options for coping with the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Our guide to coping with anxiety explores available treatments for anxiety disorders in more detail, so you should check that out. 

But techniques for dealing with the symptoms are incomplete without the inclusion of therapy.

If these techniques are Ikea furniture parts or Lego pieces, therapy is the handy visual instruction manual telling you what and where and how and why.

Therapy isn’t a cure for anxiety disorders so much as a safe and supportive space where you can explore your behavior and get help changing bad behaviors. It’s also a good place to discuss successes, failures, and learn about techniques for combatting your issues. 

Anxiety disorders generally respond well to therapy. 

For all patients with anxiety disorders of all kinds, one of the requirements for effective treatment is psychoeducation: talking and learning about the emotional problems associated with the particular anxiety disorder.

One of the most effective therapeutic styles is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps disorder sufferers recognize the disordered thinking patterns and systems that may let anxiety set in or trigger anxiety attacks.

A large number of controlled studies have shown CBT is effective at treating anxiety.

Correcting anxious behaviors is where CBT shines: it can help you understand negative thought patterns more deeply, and it can offer coping strategies to minimize or even prevent future attacks. 

This might also include the use of exposure techniques, which let patients confront feared situations in a controlled manner to help them grow.

This is sometimes called behavioral therapy, and can be effective in treating specific phobias, though evidence varies.

We’ve talked more about CBT in our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?.

Psychodynamic therapy is another style of treatment, somewhat related to more traditional psychoanalysis you may have seen on television. The evidence for this kind of therapy is weaker, and there are fewer controlled studies contributing to the evidence.

Anxiety can sometimes feel like a little prison, keeping you from achieving or growing for fear of rational and irrational dangers—including failure. That, in part, is why it’s so hard to seek therapy for anxiety. 

But as powerful as it may feel, anxiety hasn’t earned the right to control your life, nor has it won the battle for your future. It’s a fight you can win—and a fight you don’t have to fight alone. 

If you’re struggling with anxiety or any psychological issues, the most important thing you can do for yourself if talk to someone.

Whether you find a close friend or family member, or a trusted community member, talking to someone will help you realize that you’re not alone, you’re not messed up, and that many of us struggle with the same issues. 

Ditching that worry and isolation serves two purposes: it will help you take the brave first step in treatment, and it will serve as your first in a growing list of victories against those negative feelings.

If you’re ready to take the next step or still learning about your own issues, consult a mental health professional about psychiatry, therapy or other mental health treatment to see if they’re right for you.

4 Sources

  1. Anxiety disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from
  2. Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107.
  3. Taylor C. B. (2006). Panic disorder. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 332(7547), 951–955. Retrieved from
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. “Any Anxiety Disorder.”
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