Anxiety Medication GUIDE
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the world. Do medications or natural treatments offer better risk vs reward?
Increased social awareness and acceptance of mental health conditions have led to more people being diagnosed with conditions such as anxiety. The term anxiety covers a wide range of mental health conditions, each with its triggers and symptoms. If you believe that you may have an anxiety condition, it is important to seek a professional diagnosis so that you can be treated properly.
Depending on the condition, medication may not be the best choice for anxiety. In many situations, anxiety can be managed through other methods, such as relaxation techniques or talk therapy. Some circumstances do require medication, however. You and your doctor must decide which anxiety medication will work best for you.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an umbrella term for several mental health conditions.1 Anxiety can be difficult to diagnose quickly as it often mimics other conditions and has many of the same symptoms as stress. Some indicators of a possible anxiety condition are constant feelings of tension, worry, or intrusive thoughts about everyday things.
It is common for people who have an anxiety disorder to have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pain or nausea, difficulty sleeping, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. In addition, they may experience racing thoughts, feelings of doom, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of inadequacy.
These feelings may cause an anxiety attack if nothing is done about them. They typically come on after a long period of stress or anxiety and can cause intense feelings of fear, distress, and worry. If you have never experienced an anxiety attack, it can be difficult to isolate the stressor that is causing the reaction.
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are different. Whereas an anxiety attack happens gradually and usually has a trigger or stressor, a panic attack happens suddenly and often without reason.
Both conditions have similar symptoms which include:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Tight chest/chest pain
- Change in appetite
Beck Anxiety Index
The Beck Anxiety Index is a self-conducted anxiety test given by a medical practitioner that helps diagnose anxiety conditions. This anxiety test asks a series of questions related to the symptoms of anxiety and can be used in conjunction with a physical examination, psychological evaluation, and other medical tests to accurately provide an anxiety diagnosis.2
Most Common Types of Anxiety
There are five main types of anxiety disorders.3 These include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Of these types, the two most common are social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder which can both present as high-functioning anxiety and can therefore be difficult to diagnose.
High Functioning Anxiety
Those with high-functioning anxiety can hide their symptoms and feelings of anxiety, and these individuals can complete most day-to-day tasks without their anxiety hindering them. For some, the anxious feelings cause them to overachieve and outperform their peers which makes it harder to diagnose.
Risk Factors for Anxiety
There are several risk factors associated with an increased risk of anxiety including:
- Gender (females are diagnosed nearly twice as often)
- Family history of anxiety
- Substance abuse
- Chronic Illness
- A traumatic event in the past
- Cumulative stress buildup
Benzodiazepine for Anxiety
One of the most common types of anxiety medications is known as benzodiazepine which includes Xanax, Valium, and Librium. These medications are all sedatives and should only be taken for very severe cases of anxiety, such as panic disorder. They are generally only prescribed for short-term use as they can be very addicting.4
Benzodiazepine Side Effects
Benzodiazepine has more severe side effects than some other anxiety medications. These effects include drowsiness, balance problems, blurred vision, memory loss, and if use is stopped suddenly seizures.
It is critical to only take this type of medication if you have a severe anxiety condition that other medication has not helped, and only if your doctor recommends it. These types of medications can be very addicting, and their use must be weaned off rather than stopping all at once. Be sure to let your doctor know if you are taking any other medications as they could potentially interact negatively.
SSRI Antidepressants for Anxiety
SSRIs are one of the most common medications prescribed for anxiety even though they were originally made for depression. Many people with anxiety also have depression, so this medication helps with both symptoms.5
This medication is typically started at a low dose and gradually increased over time until the appropriate dosage is reached. SSRIs increase the levels of serotonin in a person’s brain which affects mood, sleep, memory, and more.
SSRIs are generally preferred for mild to moderate anxiety due to the minimal side effects they cause. Most people do not experience them, but some side effects may include nausea, headaches, dry mouth, drowsiness, and sexual dysfunction. As with other anxiety medications, it is important to not abruptly stop taking SSRIs, but rather to wean off of them slowly.
Other Anti-Anxiety Medication
- Buspirone – Is believed to affect the chemicals in a person’s brain that regulate mood. It can take a few weeks to take effect and some people report having strange dreams, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and nausea.
- Beta-Blockers – Most commonly used to help treat the physical symptoms of anxiety and are typically given to those with social anxiety disorder. They generally do not cause side effects, but some people have reported drowsiness.
- MAOIs – Generally used to treat panic disorders, they work by increasing neurotransmitters that regulate mood. MAOIs tend to have a much higher amount of side effects associated with them and can interact negatively with some foods and other medications.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety
Medication may not always be necessary for treating and preventing anxiety.6 In many situations, particularly with high-functioning anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder, there are natural remedies for anxiety that a person can attempt before taking medications.
Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are particularly effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Through these types of therapy, a person learns how to recognize their stressors and triggers and may learn how to avoid or prevent them.
In cases where the triggers cannot be avoided, the person will learn how to manage and cope with their anxiety through relaxation and grounding techniques.
Regular low-impact activity can be a very effective form of anxiety relief. Check with your doctor before you begin any exercise regimen. For most people, a daily 30-minute walk is beneficial.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Calming, relaxing, and engaging, yoga and tai chi are perfect for helping people manage anxiety symptoms. They help develop an awareness and control of one’s body and, in turn, teach people relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises that help with anxiety.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation grounds a person and promotes thoughtfulness, breathing, and relaxation, which are beneficial to those with anxiety.