How to manage your anti-anxiety medications
By Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRN Aug 10, 2022 • 7 min
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, with anxiety disorders affecting roughly 40 million adults in the U.S. every year. Medications are available that may help reduce anxiety symptoms, including panic attacks, extreme fear and worry. Some medication may also treat the short-term physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, rapid heartbeat and sweating, that people may experience in difficult situations. Taking prescribed anti-anxiety medications as directed by your healthcare provider may help keep your physical symptoms under control and reduce acute anxiety.
What are some symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is more than just feeling nervous. When someone has an anxiety disorder (such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder), their anxious feelings linger and may get worse over time. This anxiety can eventually affect the person's daily life, including job duties and relationships.
Generalized anxiety disorder. People with generalized anxiety disorder experience feelings of lasting worry and nervousness. They may also have anxiety-related symptoms, including irritability, difficulty concentrating, feeling overly tired or restless and muscle tension.
Panic disorder. Panic disorder is a common mental health condition in which people experience sudden episodes of intense fear and anxiety, also known as “panic attacks,” often occurring with physical symptoms, such as a fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating and lightheadedness. People who worry about future panic attacks for more than a month or change their behaviors to avoid triggering a panic episode may have panic disorder.
Social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder may fear being rejected, embarrassed or judged by other people, and so they dread or avoid social situations. For some people, social anxiety disorder may even cause difficulties with daily activities such as school or work.
How anti-anxiety medication can help
Medication is not intended as a cure for anxiety, but it may help alleviate some of the symptoms. Some common medications taken by people with anxiety disorders include anti-anxiety medicine (anxiolytics), antidepressants and beta-blockers. Your healthcare provider can determine an appropriate medication and treatment plan for your symptoms.
Can you become addicted to anti-anxiety medication?
Although anti-anxiety medications may be effective in relieving anxiety, certain types of medications can become habit-forming or cause people to develop a tolerance, if taken long term. In these cases, the individual may need higher doses to get the same effect. Some people may even become dependent on these medications. To avoid these problems, your healthcare provider may prescribe the medications for short intervals or specific situations that may cause your anxiety, such as riding in an airplane. You should use these medications exactly as directed and keep your healthcare provider informed about your progress with the medication. Your provider may determine that a different type of medication may be more appropriate for long-term management of your anxiety.
Before you stop taking an anxiety medication, speak with your healthcare provider first. You may need to slowly decrease the dosage instead of stopping suddenly in order to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your healthcare provider can help you safely stop medications and determine next steps in your treatment plan.
Possible side effects of anti-anxiety medication
Like any other medication, an anti-anxiety medication may cause side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider if you begin to experience side effects that do not go away. Similarly, you should speak with your healthcare provider if you experience any other concerns once you start taking a medication for anxiety even if you do not think they are linked.
Some common side effects of medication for anxiety may include:
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Impaired thinking or blurred vision
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain or loss
- Dryness of mouth
If you experience any lasting side effects, you should discuss them with your healthcare provider immediately, as they can recommend solutions that may work for you. You should not adjust the medication dosage or frequency that you have been prescribed or add other medications without first talking to your healthcare provider.
If you or another family member experiences suicidal thinking or behavior, nervousness, agitation, irritability, mood instability or sleeplessness that starts or worsens during treatment, you should call emergency services or go to your local emergency department.
You can also text or call 988, which is the National Suicide & Crisis Helpline, for mental health crisis support and resources available 24/7.
Long-term anti-anxiety medication management
Taking your medication for anxiety exactly as prescribed is important for managing symptoms.
You should also:
- Attend all follow-up appointments as scheduled with your healthcare provider
- Store and secure your medications so others can't access them. If you have concerns about your dosage or others taking your anti-anxiety medication, contact your provider immediately.
- Report any new or lasting symptoms to your healthcare provider
- Speak with your healthcare provider about your progress in managing your anxiety while on medication
Living with anxiety may be challenging, but there are options for your care. You can seek help from your healthcare provider to find an appropriate treatment plan for you. With the right treatment plan, you may be able to manage your symptoms effectively.
Clinically reviewed and updated August 2022.