Treatments for anxiety

There’s a wide range of evidence-based psychological and medical treatments for anxiety conditions. Some treatments work better for certain types of anxiety conditions.

You can work with your mental health professional to find the most effective treatments for you. You might need to try a few different ones before you find one or more which work for you.

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What’s the best treatment for anxiety?

For mild anxiety your health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels. You might also like to try online e-therapies, many of which are free, anonymous and easily accessible.

For moderate to severe anxiety, psychological or medical treatments (or both) are likely to be recommended.

On this page we focus on 6 treatments which have been proven to work by a lot of good-quality studies.

For a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of more than 30 different anxiety treatments, download our booklet: A guide to what works for anxiety: an evidence-based review (PDF, 4132KB).

It's important to seek support early if you're experiencing anxiety. Your symptoms may not go away on their own.

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Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a structured psychological treatment which recognises that the way we think (cognition) and act (behaviour) affects the way we feel. 

A therapist will work with you to identify unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns. Unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can make you more anxious. They can stop you from getting better when you’re experiencing anxiety.

Your therapist will help you replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with new ones that reduce your anxiety.

Example: Managing catastrophising thought patterns

You might find yourself stuck in catastrophising thinking patterns. Maybe you:

  • think the worst
  • believe something is far worse than it actually is
  • expect things to go wrong.

CBT helps by teaching you to have a more balanced attitude and focus on problem-solving.

Example: Reducing avoidance of anxiety triggers

You might avoid situations or things that cause anxiety. CBT can help you face your fears and approach these situations more rationally.

CBT techniques

Mental health professionals may use a range of CBT techniques. They might:

  • encourage you to recognise the difference between productive and unproductive worries
  • teach you how to let go of worries and solve problems
  • teach you relaxation and breathing techniques, particularly muscle relaxation, to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension.

CBT can be delivered one-on-one with a professional, in groups, or online. CBT is often combined with behaviour therapy.

Behaviour therapy

Behaviour therapy is used in CBT. It focuses on encouraging activities that are rewarding, pleasant or give a sense of satisfaction. This helps to reverse the patterns of avoidance and worry that make anxiety worse.

Exposure therapy for anxiety

Behaviour therapy for anxiety relies mainly on a treatment called 'graded exposure'.

If you avoid situations that make you anxious you don’t get a chance to face your fear and prove to yourself you can manage it.

Your therapist will use evidence-based techniques to help you gradually face your fears in a safe environment.

Example: Fear of public speaking exposure therapy

Taking small steps towards being able to speak in public might start with thinking about writing a speech. Once you feel more relaxed thinking about writing the speech, you’ll try facing more challenging situations. In order, this might look like:

  1. imagining yourself delivering the speech without an audience
  2. actually making the speech without an audience
  3. imagining speaking in front of your family
  4. actually speaking in front of your family
  5. preparing to speak in front of a work colleague
  6. speaking in front of a work colleague
  7. speaking in front of your work team
  8. delivering a speech to people you don’t know.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a recommended treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There isn’t enough evidence at the moment to say whether it works for other types of anxiety.

What is it?

It involves recalling these life experiences for short periods (15-30 seconds) while also moving the eyes back and forth. Sometimes another task, such as hand tapping or listening to tones, is used instead of eye movements.

How does it work?

There are two theories about how EMDR works:

  1. Eye movements help the person to deal with traumatic memories at a biological and psychological level.
  2. Eye movements don’t have a special role in dealing with the trauma. Instead, EMDR works like exposure therapy to help reduce anxiety.

Learn more about PTSD

Online therapies

If you have mild or moderate anxiety, online therapies can be just as effective as face-to-face services. They’re sometimes known as e-therapies or computer-aided psychological therapy.

Most online therapies follow the same principles as CBT or behaviour therapy.

You work through the program by yourself, usually with some support from a therapist. The therapist will help you apply what you’ve learned to your own life. You might talk to them on the phone, by email, text, or instant messaging.

Where to find online therapies

Online therapies are easy to access and can be done from home from anywhere in Australia. Usually you don’t need a referral from a GP.

Find a range of online programs at the Australian Government's Head to Health website.

Antidepressants for anxiety

Some types of antidepressant medication can help manage anxiety, even if you don’t have depression.

When you have an anxiety condition your brain's chemicals can become unbalanced, including serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Antidepressant medication can fix these chemical imbalances.

Learn more about antidepressants

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are sometimes called minor tranquillisers or sleeping pills. They’re a class of drug commonly prescribed in the short term to help manage anxiety conditions.

Benzodiazepines promote relaxation and reduce tension, but are not recommended for long-term use. They can reduce alertness, affect coordination, and can be addictive.

Learn more about benzodiazepines

Do I have anxiety or am I just feeling anxious?

You may be feeling unsure about whether you should seek support.

Our anonymous mental health check-in can help you understand whether your anxious feelings are the kind of worries that will go away on their own, or whether it’s time to get more support to help you feel better.

It’s an evidence-based tool which asks you 10 questions about the feelings you’ve been having over the past 4 weeks. It’s sometimes called the “K10” and is widely used by GPs and mental health professionals.

Mental health check-in

Journey to recovery - personal stories

If you have an anxiety condition, you’re not alone. 

Learn what anxiety feels like and how it can be managed.

Read and watch more personal stories about anxiety

“I thought I was dying” – Milli describes what a panic attack feels like

In her own words, Milli explains what it was like when she had her first panic attack and how she dealt with it.

Read more

"I thought I could outsmart my anxiety" – Colin's story

Colin shares his journey with anxiety, from trying to outsmart his condition to learning to live with it.

Read more

References

Beyond Blue uses statistics from trusted references and research. For a full list of references for all statistics quoted on our website, please visit Statistics.