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What works for anxiety?

There is so much information about how to treat anxiety, it can be hard to know where to turn. The Beyond Blue publication, A guide to what works for anxiety, presents evidence-based reviews of a wide range of treatment options.

If you’re experiencing an anxiety condition, you may be looking for information about treatments. You may have had advice from family and friends. Or perhaps you have a loved one with an anxiety condition, and you’d like to help them with their treatment options.

There is so much information – and misinformation – that it can be hard to know where to turn. How do you know which treatments are supported by scientific evidence and are trustworthy? And what treatments best meet the needs of people with different types of anxiety?

Guiding the way

A guide to what works for anxiety: An evidence-based review is designed to answer these questions and more.

Compiled by a team of researchers from the Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, the in-depth yet easy-to-use guide provides evidence-based reviews for the public on a wide range of treatments for anxiety disorders, including psychological, medical, complementary and lifestyle interventions.

These include medical treatments (such as medications or medical procedures), psychological therapies (for example, talking therapies) and self-help (such as complementary and alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes).

Health practitioners may also find the guide useful when talking with patients about treatment options, particularly for those that fall outside of their own area of expertise.

Each entry in the guide is separated according to various anxiety conditions and includes a brief description of the treatment, how it’s thought to work, and a summary of the scientific evidence linked to it.

Thumbs up, thumbs down

The evidence is rated with a ‘thumbs up’ scale.

Treatments shown to work get a ‘three thumb’ rating. Studies with less supporting evidence are rated with one or two thumbs. If a treatment didn’t work, it’s marked with a ‘thumb down’ rating. Where there’s a lack of evidence to say either way, the rating has a question mark.

Helpfully, each entry also includes information on any associated risks as well as an overall recommendation.

Grounded in evidence

Treatments shown to be very effective include several psychological interventions, with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and behaviour therapy (including exposure therapy) up high on the list.

The last few years has seen a growth in popularity of computer-aided psychological therapies (CAP), and there’s now a good number of reliable studies of CAP for all types of anxiety.

If you’re looking into juggling therapy, however, there simply isn’t enough evidence yet to say whether it works or not.

The Australian government’s Head to Health website provides links to trusted online treatments for anxiety conditions, including CAP resources.

With 58 separate treatments, complementary and lifestyle approaches make up the largest section of the guide. However, with less supporting evidence behind these studies, it’s harder to be sure that they work for people with anxiety.

Interestingly, in this group of interventions relaxation training, meditation and bibliotherapy (a therapeutic approach that uses literature to support good mental health) have the most supporting evidence.

It’s important to remember that even if a treatment is shown to work in known research studies conducted so far, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work equally well for everyone.

As the guide details, for some people, the same treatment may cause side effects, or it may not suit their lifestyle. Always check with your doctor before stopping a treatment, particularly any kind of medication, or if you have any concerns about starting a new treatment.

A stand-alone resource, the guide also includes background information on anxiety, its causes, and who can assist. It outlines the range of practitioners available, the kinds of treatment they provide, and how to seek help.

For health professionals and other people who may be seeking more in-depth information about a listed treatment option, details of all the related studies can be found listed in the references section of the booklet.

If you’d also like reliable information on the effectiveness of a wide variety of treatment approaches for depression, find out more about another Beyond Blue publication, A guide to what works for depression.

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