One of the questions I get asked most frequently by my readers is whether or not I take any medication for my anxiety.
The answer is no.
There are a few reasons for this. The first reason is that I have always been afraid to try anxiety meds due to potential side effects. I’m a very nervous person when it comes to taking any kind of medication that isn’t “over-the-counter” (OTC). Even some OTC meds make me nervous to try, such as certain cold medications or melatonin. I don’t want to risk getting the jitters or having weird dreams, so I will deal with a stuffy nose and poor sleep.
A lot of us with chronic anxiety are emotionally sensitive people. I have discovered that a lot of us are also physically and mentally more sensitive as well, to things like sugar, caffeine, certain food additives, and some medications. So, being the worrier that I am, I try to expose myself to as few medications as possible to avoid the risk of unpleasant side effects taking over.
One reason physicians and patients choose to go the prescription route and that is to use certain meds to sedate and/or instigate a state of calm during intense periods of anxiety or panic, or to help promote sleep. These types of drugs, such as Ativan or Xanax, are classified as benzodiazepines.
Back during my severe anxiety days, I chose to also skip this form of prescription treatment because I have some control issues and I don’t like the idea of chemically forcing any particular mood upon myself, or helping myself out of one. Fear of how it would affect me also played a big role here.
Interestingly, somebody I spoke with today told me “Sometimes I have to take a sedative-type anxiety pill just to make sure I am not having a heart attack. If I take it and my chest pain goes away, then I know it’s just stress.” I had never considered that before. It makes a lot of sense to me. In addition, everybody has their threshold when they say “Enough. I need help today. I can’t/don’t want to do this on my own.” I completely understand and support their decision. We all have to do what we have to do and listen to our intuition and decide what is best for ourselves.
Another line of thinking that stopped me from using meds to manage my anxiety was that I have always thought it best to learn to calm myself down on my own, as opposed to risk becoming dependent on a drug to do it for me.
I have a tendency to become dependent on things, whether it is a routine, or a certain food, and I know myself well enough to know that if I had found a pill that took my anxiety away and made me calm, I could have become mentally and/or physically dependent on it and I would have to live with the fall out from that, and also would probably not have been as motivated to learn to manage my anxiety on my own. (Discomfort may not be fun, but it is a fabulous motivator.) Addiction is particularly an issue with benzodiazepines as compared to other types of anxiety drugs.
Additionally, I have always believed that my issues with anxiety stem from the way I respond to life and stress and it would be best for me to learn to tackle that on my own since I am going to be living with myself for the rest of my life.
20 years later having lived a bit more life, I understand that while I do think it is possible to develop the skill to calm yourself down regardless of the state you are in, there ARE physiological responses to stress that we cannot control. I have learned that there is more to the anxiety response system then just the release of adrenaline and its resulting symptoms, such as pounding heart or shaky hands.
There is an entire autonomic nervous system at work and its effects aren’t something you can just mentally “choose” to get under control. Chest pain, rib cage pain, stomach pain, headaches…..these are anxiety symptoms that you can’t just deep breathe or “calm” your way through. It is a more complicated process to get them under control, often related to elimination of a stressful trigger, and if people feel the need to take medication to help control the symptoms until that stressor has passed, I fully support it.
A final, important reason I don’t take drugs for my anxiety, is that I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with me or my brain.
In fact, I think my brain demonstrates it’s efficiency, resilience, and strength every day of my life simply based on the fact that it has not broken down and collapsed under the weight of my constant over thinking, hypersensitivity, and catastrophe prone imagination. I keep my brain in a pretty constant state of a combination of exhaustion, activity, and awareness, quite often with massive amounts of adrenaline and mental exhaustion thrown in, and yet it comes through for me every day. My brain is a champion.
Of course, there are many physicians and mental health professionals who prescribe medication to people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder and justify it by saying that there is a chemical imbalance that needs to be treated. At my first doctor appointment to discuss my panic disorder, this is what my physician told me, and he got a Sharpie out and drew a diagram of my brain and this cycle of chemical imbalance/anxiety symptoms that he told me I was currently living in, and that was responsible for all of my troubles.
I was immediately skeptical and refused his offer to put me on medications until I had time to go home and research. Go home and research is what I did, and I found not one piece of evidence or compelling research to convince me that what my physician told me was true. I made up my mind then and there to never medicate myself unless I saw some evidence that convinced me there was a reason for it. My brain was going through enough with the massive amount of stress it was under. I wasn’t about to risk compounding it by altering my brain chemistry.
This is my opinion and please don’t form your own conclusions from it. I would however, encourage people to talk to their doctors, ask questions, and really determine for themselves that they see an actual reason to medicate themselves that makes sense.
I want to make clear that when I talk about medication in this post, I am not discussing medication for manic depression or PTSD or depression of any kind.
I do not know anything about medicating any of those illnesses/disorders and would not form an opinion about it one way or the other.
Likewise, I form no opinion about whether other people living with anxiety or panic disorder choose to medicate. It is a decision strictly left between them and their doctor.
If somebody hears the pro-medication argument from their doctor and believes it makes sense, then they should absolutely go with that. In addition, if a person believes their anxiety or panic is so strong that they need help in the from of a sedative so that they can get through the day or get a good night’s sleep, I say they should take one. I have heard stories from many people who swear by anti-anxiety drugs and I am happy for each and every one of them.