People selling expensive anti-anxiety programmes often tell us that anxiety can be cured. An increasing number of mainstream therapists and the medical establishment tell us the opposite: it is with you for life and can only be managed with therapy and drugs. So what's the truth? To cure or not to cure – that is the question.
There are two things that need to be cleared up at the very beginning:
1) The aforementioned anti-anxiety programmes which promise "instant cures", "quick cures", and "life-changing results in weeks" often achieve little. Many of these are just re-packaged CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), which is much better learnt from a trained, experienced therapist. Too many self-styled experts with something to sell are in reality expert in one thing only – marketing. You have been warned.
2) We need to agree on a definition of the word "cure" in the context of anxiety. Remember, anxiety is a natural emotion that is perfectly relevant to extreme stresses; we should not ask to never feel anxious again as anxiety, in the correct situation, helps keep us safe. A cure therefore is not the complete eradication of any feelings of anxiety, instead it is the eradication of UNNECESSARY and erroneous feelings of anxiety. This is the definition of an anxiety cure that I shall use from now on.
So, to get to the main point, can anxiety be cured or should we be looking to control it? There is not a simple answer to that question. Many millions of people suffer from anxiety and they are all unique. Certainly there are many people who have had anxiety in the past but no longer feel inappropriate, unnecessary anxiety. Does that mean that they have been cured? In a word, yes! Their anxiety may have receded for any number of reasons – dealing with something from the past, learning to respect themselves, falling in love … the list is endless. The fact is all inappropriate anxiety went. And it can happen to you as well.
There is another group of people who can be found on all the support forums across the Internet. They have had anxiety for years, they have tried every therapy under the sun from CBT to crystal healing, they have popped every pill and mastered seven different forms of meditation, but still their anxiety will not budge. When asked if they think a cure is possible they tend to say "No". They say sometimes anxiety retreats for a while but it always comes back, and with a vengeance.
So why is it curable for some people and not for others? There are various reasons:
1) Everyone is unique, so the length and severity, as well as the causes, unsurprisingly differ from case to case. Many people feel anxiety when they have been bereaved, but then feel better as they come to terms with their loss for example.
2) Some people believe it is curable and they will get through it. That positive attitude alone can take you a long way.
3) Those who are completely cured tend to have (maybe unconsciously) dealt with whatever it was that was bothering them. Or, alternatively, whatever it was that was bothering them ceased to be relevant or important. They could have outgrown it. Those who are having regular setbacks and relapses should maybe consider taking a more psychotherapeutic approach to see if they can understand their motivations better, and work out what is really bothering them and causing the anxiety. Some times the head-on approach of CBT and exposure therapy does not work and a more cunning "sideways" approach is called for, through say art therapy or psychoanalysis.
4) For some people anxiety was learnt through the miss-attribution of symptoms to outside stimuli. For example someone who develops a stomach bug and feels an urgent need to vomit while in a crowded shopping mall may develop a spiralling fear of open public spaces (agoraphobia). In cases such as these, where there is no deep-seated cause, exposure and cognitive therapy will probably bring about a complete cure.
In short, anxiety can be cured and symptoms can be reduced so they no longer matter and disappear all together. The time this takes and the ease of achieving it vary with each case. Those who never seem to progress or who progress only to slip back should start to "box clever" and try to understand their motivations for having anxiety. Because until they really want to get over it, deeply and truly, they probably will not!