Medications and Treatment Approaches for Management of Anxiety

How to Relax With and Without Medications

If you have persistent anxiety that is impacting your life on a recurrent basis, your symptoms may be caused by an anxiety disorder. Often, anxiety disorders are treatable with medication, counseling, and therapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also a number of lifestyle methods that you can use to reduce your anxiety level.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Anti-anxiety medications have physical effects on the brain and the body, which can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, such as worry, fear, and panic attacks. These medications must be prescribed by a doctor, often by a psychiatrist.

Anti-anxiety medications are not cures for anxiety disorders, but they can help manage some of the symptoms.

There are a number of different anti-anxiety medications available, and the right medication for you depends on your type of anxiety disorder and whether you have other health problems or take other medications.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam) are sometimes used to treat anxiety for a short-term period. They are used for generalized anxiety disorder and may be used as a second-line treatment for panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, with antidepressants being the front-line choices. Benzodiazepines induce muscle relaxation and reduce other symptoms related to anxiety. These medications are not typically used long-term because they can cause addiction.

Beta-Blockers

Beta blockers are used to control heart disease. They help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure by blocking the effects of epinephrine, a stimulant that your body naturally produces. Beta-blockers can help control trembling, sweating, and other physical symptoms of anxiety. They may be prescribed for the short term when used for anxiety. Sectral (acebutolol), Tenormin (atenolol), Inderal LA (propranolol), are a few beta-blockers. Common side effects include weight gain, fatigue, and cold hands and feet. Beta-blockers are not recommended if you have asthma or diabetes.

Buspirone

BuSpar (buspirone) may be prescribed for long-term treatment of chronic anxiety, and it's recognized as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. It increases the action of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps improve mood and reduce anxiety. Buspar takes days to take full effect, so it is not considered effective for the treatment of anxiety attacks, and it must be taken consistently in order to have an effect on symptoms. It is less sedating than many of the other commonly used anti-anxiety medications, and it is non-addictive and has a low risk of overdose. Possible side effects include dizziness, headache, nervousness, and trouble sleeping.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Often used as a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include medications like Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Lexapro (escitalopram). SSRIs are considered antidepressants and they increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, which helps improve mood. Side effects include headaches, dry mouth, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction, diminished sex drive, and weight gain. As with many antidepressants, they can increase the risk of suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning suicide), particularly in children, teenagers, and young adults.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Another common category of medications used for anxiety are the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which are antidepressants, and include medications like Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). SNRIs increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine to help boost mood and are similar in effectiveness to SSRIs. Side effects are similar to those of SSRIs.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants are also used in treating anxiety. Common medications in this class are Tofranil (imipramine), Elavil (amitriptyline), Pamelor (nortriptyline) and Anafranil (clomipramine). Side effects may include constipation, dry mouth, blurry vision, a decrease in blood pressure when standing, and urinary retention (decreased ability to urinate).

Use as Directed

All of the anti-anxiety medications have side effects, and they can have serious adverse events if they are overused or used incorrectly. Many of them can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and level of alertness. They may cause loss of consciousness or even death when used in excessive amounts, in combination with other medications that interact with the central nervous system, or with alcohol or recreational drugs. Many of the antidepressants that are used for anxiety can also induce suicidal ideation.

Anti-Anxiety Lifestyle Strategies

If you have an anxiety disorder, talking with a therapist or psychiatrist can help guide your treatment plan. You may also benefit from learning and practicing ways to relax.

Here are some great ways to unwind and de-stress:

  • Exercising
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual practice
  • Dancing
  • Going for a walk
  • Writing and journaling
  • Sitting down for a few minutes
  • Watching the sunset or sunrise
  • Spending time with a friend
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Focusing on the positive aspects of your life
  • Planning a day to do nothing and following through with it
  • Taking a nap
  • Indulging in your favorite food
  • Doing a crossword puzzle or sudoku
  • Watching a comedy or funny online video
  • Spending time with your dog or cat
  • Planning a vacation and visualizing the setting
  • Massaging your temples for a few minutes
  • Chewing gum
  • Stretching out
  • Writing a poem or a song
  • Coloring, painting, or drawing
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking

A Word From Verywell

If you have anxiety, medication can help because the medications used for anxiety alter the chemicals in your body and brain, reducing symptoms, and often helping you calm down and focus on other things. Other approaches to symptom relief, such as counseling and developing relaxation techniques, can also reduce your anxiety. Often, a combination of approaches is needed to alleviate your symptoms.

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