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5 new ways to treat anxiety

Anxiety disorder affects a staggering 10 million people in the UK. 

Current treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be very effective and yet, for many people, these therapies don’t work. Many people are left struggling with debilitating symptoms like prolonged feelings of worry, stress and panic.

The need to find new ways to tackle this widespread condition is vital and urgent. It’s why we’re funding scientists around the world to help create and advance treatments which could transform the lives of people struggling with anxiety.  

1. Is there an app for that?

There’s been an abundance of apps promising to solve our mental health in recent years, but just how effective are they?

Professor John Powell is testing whether an online self-help tool, E-couch, can treat social anxiety symptoms. The results will provide robust scientific evidence for how successful the treatment is. As many people fall through the cracks and struggle to get face-to-face treatment, this CBT-based app offers a convenient way for people to combat their symptoms.

2. Faster treatments, faster recovery

Just how quickly can someone with anxiety get better? Dr Andrea Reinecke is pushing CBT to its limits with a special one-hour session that’s had some impressive results. 

Andrea and her team ran a trial to see how effective their single-session CBT treatment could be; they found that it relieved symptoms from a third of patients. Now she’s combining it with a blood pressure drug to see if she can get even more people better. 

3. Timing treatments to our hormone levels

Dr Bronwyn Graham is looking at whether we can improve how effective anxiety treatments are by timing them around oestrogen levels, a sex hormone that naturally fluctuates in women due to the menstrual cycle.

Studies have shown that oestrogen can make it more difficult to learn to manage fear so giving people treatment tailored around this hormone could boost how well it works for people.

4. Understanding our bodies

Ever had the feeling your heart is racing? The emotional response we have to our own body’s functions, like our heartbeat, can cause automatic feelings of anxiety. 

Being able to control these responses and judge our physical functions better could reduce our anxiety levels.

Dr Jessica Eccles and Professor Hugo Critchley are turning this understanding into treatments. Jessica is creating and testing a new treatment for people with anxiety and hypermobility (overly flexible joints), who are more likely to experience faster heartbeats.

And Hugo is working on a computer-based therapy to help people with autism understand why physiological changes in our bodies happen and feel more confident responding to them.

5. Targeting negative thinking 

The propensity to get stuck in negative thought patterns is common in people with anxiety. Dr Colette Hirsch is looking at whether targeting these thought processes can reduce someone’s anxiety, offering the opportunity to improve treatments.

She’s doing this by assessing people with anxiety using Cognitive Bias Modification, a computer-based tool which tests how someone responds to negative stimuli compared to positive stimuli, like a word or a picture. Analysing the results will give her a window into the impact of negative thought processes and whether targeting them could reduce anxiety and depression.

Right now, our treatments for mental illness just aren’t good enough – too few people get them and too often they don’t work – only science has the power to transform treatments, and transform lives.   

Last updated: 26 January 2018

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