Some people who take the drug Adderall experience new symptoms of anxiety. Why does this happen and how do you manage it?
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Adderall is a central nervous stimulant that is often prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. It is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine.
It is also a sympathomimetic drug—it promotes activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response.
In the U.S., almost one in ten children suffer from ADHD.¹ About 3.1% of this population have taken Adderall within the previous year.
The neurotransmitter systems and brain regions that Adderall acts on for ADHD treatment are the same as those that are active when you experience anxiety. Amphetamines such as in Adderall can cause activity in an area of your brain called the amygdala.
The amygdala is often called the fear center of the brain. When your brain senses that you are in danger, the amygdala sends signals to the rest of your body to prepare for danger.
So, when Adderall causes activity in the amygdala, your brain thinks there is danger and your body immediately engages in the fight-or-flight response. This causes symptoms of anxiety, such as:
Here are some ways you can manage the anxiety caused by Adderall.
If you start experiencing anxiety after taking Adderall, tell your doctor right away. You can discuss with them if continuing treatment with Adderall is right for you, and they will be able to provide some help with the anxiety as well.
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if you choose to continue taking Adderall. Alternatively, there are several treatments for anxiety that don’t involve medication. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist, like a clinical psychologist, for anxiety treatment.
Studies have shown that your diet impacts your mental health² and wellbeing; more specifically, your diet has an impact on your gut. Your gut contains various kinds of bacteria, which make up your gut microbiome. While some bacteria are good, others are bad, especially in large quantities.
Many of these “bad” bacteria thrive on sugary or unhealthy foods. The more of these foods you eat, the more likely you are to be feeding it. This can cause an increase in the number of these bacteria in your gut. Research tells us that your gut health can influence your brain and mental wellbeing, including anxiety.
If you are struggling with anxiety, take a look at what you are eating. You should discuss with your doctor or dietician first before making any major dietary changes for anxiety treatment, but you may want to consider eating less of the following:
Processed vegetable oils
You should also make sure you are consuming enough omega-3 fish oils, vitamin D, and turmeric as these have been shown to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
An anxiogenic substance is something that can cause anxiety. Unfortunately for coffee lovers, caffeine is anxiogenic.³ If you struggle with anxiety caused by Adderall, reducing your daily caffeine consumption can help alleviate the symptoms.
A study has indicated that insomnia is a risk factor⁴ for developing both anxiety and depression. By maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting enough sleep every night, you will be helping your body function normally and deal with anxiety.
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety⁵ levels. Exercise can cause the release of endorphins, which leads to a feeling of wellbeing in your body, reducing your anxiety.
If you experience anxiety caused by Adderall, you could start swimming, running, or cycling two or three times a week to help manage your symptoms.
Meditation⁶ and yoga⁷ have been shown to reduce anxiety. These practices involve regulating your breathing, which can help regulate your nervous system, reducing your anxiety.
You can join in-person classes or check out online tutorials at home for both meditation and yoga to help manage your anxiety.
Relaxing music has been shown to help reduce anxiety in young women.⁸ If you experience anxiety caused by Adderall, listening to calming music—like LoFi beats or acoustic guitar—might help manage your anxiety symptoms.
There are several ways to relax your muscles to help manage anxiety. One of the common symptoms of anxiety, as part of the fight-or-flight response, is tense muscles. Your muscles can become sore or achy after being tense.
You could make an appointment with a trained therapist for progressive muscle relaxation, or you could also have a massage. Both have been shown to help reduce anxiety.
If you have a tub or a hot pool at home, soaking in warm water⁹ can help decrease the fight-or-flight response, reducing your anxiety symptoms and relieving your tense muscles.
If you are struggling with anxiety caused by Adderall, spending more time outdoors can help. Research has shown that spending time in nature reduces anxiety.¹⁰
Being outdoors can help reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, lessening your anxiety. If it is difficult to find the time, just go outside for five to ten minutes every couple of hours for a quick break. You could also eat your lunch outside on nice days.
Essential oils, such as sweet orange, ylang-ylang, and grapefruit, have anxiety-relieving properties.¹¹ These oils can either be absorbed into the body via the skin or inhaled through the nose.
There are several cosmetic products like creams and sprays that have these essential oils; many are even marketed as good for relieving anxiety. If you have anxiety caused by Adderall, bring one of these products with you when you go out so you can use them anytime, anywhere.
Alternatively, you could place a few drops of these oils in a steam diffuser in your house or office. This makes your environment relaxing and helps manage any anxiety.
One of the major symptoms of anxiety is short and shallow breathing. It often makes you lightheaded and feel like you can’t breathe. By focusing on taking long, deep, diaphragmatic breaths, you can help relieve your anxiety.
Follow these steps to help you control your breathing:
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
Breathe in slowly.
You should feel the air fill your diaphragm, expanding your stomach, and then your chest.
Slowly breathe out, feeling the air leave your diaphragm and your chest.
Repeat this for a few minutes.
Once you have done this for a few minutes, your body and mind will be much calmer and your anxiety will be reduced.
People who journal about their thoughts and emotions for the day have been found to have better mental wellbeing than those who write about more trivial things like the weather or what shoes they wore that day.
If you struggle with anxiety due to Adderall, you might find that journaling and writing down your emotions for about 15 minutes once a day may help relieve your symptoms.
Many people who take Adderall experience anxiety as a side effect. If you start taking this medication and feel anxiety symptoms afterward, tell your doctor right away so you can reevaluate your treatment options.
There are also effective ways you can do on your own to manage the anxiety caused by Adderall. However, if the symptoms become overwhelming or too hard to cope with, visit your doctor or mental health specialist for help.
Nurtured by nature | American Psychological Association