Anxiety disorders are the most diagnosed mental health illness in the United States. Approximately 20 percent of adults and seven percent of children have either experienced periods of anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Everyone experiences symptoms differently on a broad spectrum ranging from infrequent and mild to constant and severe. There are many methods and forms of treatment for anxiety disorders. While changes in lifestyle, diet, and participation in therapy sessions are effective methods, it’s not enough for some people. In these cases, a psychiatrist may suggest introducing anti-anxiety medication to help curb the symptoms. It is pertinent to note that anxiety medications are not a cure but a helpful tool that some people may benefit from using.
At Mindful Living Group, psychiatric nurse practitioners are happy to sit down with you and discuss whether or not anti-anxiety medications are a helpful addition to your treatment plan. Like any other type of drug, Anxiolytics are not meant for everyone. The medical professionals at Mindful Living Group encourage individuals seeking treatment to honestly open up about all of their symptoms (even those that may not seem like a symptom) and medical history. The decision to begin taking medications or add/adjust to what you are already taking is serious. At MLG, there is no judgment or shame in what you feel or experience. With hearts full of compassion and empathy, therapists and psychiatrists are eager to help you regain control of your life.
Types Of Anxiety Medications And Use
There are various types of medications used to treat the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. Generally, as a first option, your psychiatrist will prescribe SSRIs or SNRIs as a first option. Other types of medication that may be prescribed for anxiety disorders are benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, or buspirone. The type of medication a psychiatrist prescribes depends on each person’s anxiety disorder and symptoms.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are technically antidepressant medications; however, they are markedly effective in treating anxiety disorders. These medications increase the amount of serotonin, norepinephrine, or both, in the brain. The heightened level of these neurotransmitters helps to elevate mood.
Beta-blockers primarily used to treat cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, may be used as an off-label treatment for anxiety disorders. Like SSRIs and SNRIs, beta-blockers may be taken long-term and routinely. Beta-blockers are designed to block epinephrine and norepinephrine receptor sites, reducing their effect on the sympathetic nervous system. Their role as an anxiolytic reduces the physiological symptoms of the fight-or-flight response. Symptoms include a racing heartbeat, tightness in the chest, sweating, and the like.
Benzodiazepines are fast-acting medications that depress activity in the central nervous system by acting on GABA receptors. This medication is generally taken as needed and recommended for short-term use as there is a high risk for dependency or addiction. Benzodiazepines may be used to augment the effects of other medications, such as SSRIs and SNRIs, or taken alone. If used long-term, it is paramount to keep in mind that your doctor will need to taper down the dosages over time to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and illness.
Anxiolytics and Psychotherapy
Before being prescribed any medications, your psychiatrist will conduct a complete evaluation of your mental health and your physical health. Depending on each person’s symptoms, this assessment may include but is not limited to recording your vitals, electrocardiograms (EKG), bloodwork, or other imaging tests. Psychological assessments may consist of questionnaires, consultations, and various testing methods. The examinations are executed for the safety and health of the patient. Medications, no matter the type, affect everyone differently; if you have not taken a particular drug before, it is difficult for psychiatrists (and other doctors) to fully know how you will be affected. Medical history and status help doctors decide which medications may or may not be safe and helpful for each person’s specific needs.
Like medications for other mental and physical health conditions, finding the proper anti-anxiety medication(s) and dosage may not happen on the first attempt. Historically, it takes time, trial and error, and a personal commitment to your health. The period of discovering the appropriate prescription treatment often becomes discouraging. This is one of the many reasons psychotherapy is recommended in conjunction with medications. Second, studies have noted individuals who participated in psychotherapy had higher success in their treatments than those taking medications alone. Anxiolytics help people reduce or eliminate the severity of their symptoms so they may regain healthier functioning and clarity. Anti-anxiety drugs do not address the source or teach people to cope or regulate their emotions. These skills are taught in therapy and resolve the root of the problem.
Like all medications, it is vital to follow your physician’s directions to avoid any health risks. Your psychiatrist will need to see you for follow-up appointments. Be sure to address any concerns you may have so adjustments can be made. Your doctor will monitor your health to ensure the medication(s) are not causing adverse side effects that may lead to serious health concerns.
Benefits of Anti-Anxiety Medications
For some individuals introducing anxiolytics into their overall treatment plan may be a defining moment for progress to continue. Other people may not do well with them due to common side effects such as drowsiness or an increase in other symptoms. Those who respond well to anti-anxiety medications may notice a variety of benefits on an emotional and physical level.
Physically, anxiolytics decrease activity in the brain and nervous system, allowing an individual to feel more relaxed and comfortable in their body. As your body relaxes, signals of threat to your brain decrease, and vice versa. Often individuals describe the effects of medications to “take the edge off,” which allows them to focus on the present moment and enjoy life as they are no longer hypervigilant.
Generally, with the use of SSRIs and SNRIs for treating depression, the focus is centered on balancing chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain. When used as a treatment for anxiety disorders, the focus shifts toward the medications’ effects on neuroplasticity. The increase in serotonin and norepinephrine encourages the development of new pathways in the brain. Our capacity for creating these pathways assists in building resilience against situations that trigger anxiety.
Are Anti-Anxiety Medications Right For You?
If you have been struggling with anxiety or progressing in therapy, incorporating anti-anxiety medications may be helpful. Mindful Living Group’s psychiatric nurse practitioners are highly knowledgeable in treating anxiety disorders and a large spectrum of mental health illnesses that may co-exist.
Contact Mindful Living Group and schedule an appointment to determine if anti-anxiety medications are the right option for you.