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Complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders: Physical, cognitive, and spiritual interventions

Alexander Bystritsky, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Murray B Stein, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


Epidemiologic studies have shown that anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems in the United States. Many patients with anxiety disorders find that conventional treatments are insufficient and turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as an adjunct to or substitute for Western mental health care.

Epidemiologic studies suggest that 30 to 43 percent of patients treated in primary care for anxiety use CAM remedies as at least part of their treatment [1-3]. Clinicians should be well prepared with knowledge about the efficacy and safety of CAM treatments marketed, available and/or used for anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Complementary and alternative treatments involving physical, cognitive, or spiritual activities for anxiety symptoms and disorders are described here. Herbal remedies and dietary supplements used as complementary and alternative medical treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders are described separately. Yoga is discussed in greater detail separately. Acupuncture is discussed separately. (See "Complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders: Herbs and medications" and "Overview of yoga" and "Acupuncture".)


Anxiety, when not addressed, can become excessive and cause stress to the body, contributing to, for example, heart disease, suicidality, and reduced quality of life [4-7]. If not reduced through effective interventions, high anxiety can contribute to overall morbidity and decrease quality of life [5,8-10].

Sixty-two percent of adults in the United States utilize some form of complementary and alternative medical treatment [3]. Individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric illness may be more likely than the general population to use these therapies, especially patients with elevated anxiety or anxiety disorders [11,12], in part because many who are treated psychiatrically respond only partially to treatment and have residual symptoms and impairment [13], for which further treatment options may be sought.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 07, 2017.
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