What To Expect When You Take Anxiety Medication

It’s normal to feel a little curious about what to expect if you are trying an anxiety medication for the first time. Or you could be about to try a different anxiety medication, and you might be questioning if there is anything new you need to know. 

Gaining more insight into what to expect when taking an anxiety medication will undoubtedly help you feel more prepared. Keep reading to find out more information on what to expect from taking anxiety medication. 

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling you have when you are about to sit for a test or do anything that creates a lot of stress or pressure. While some anxiety is normal, too much can lead to an anxiety disorder. 

If you are about to take anxiety medication, then your doctor might have diagnosed you with a condition such as: 

Anxiety symptoms

Understanding the symptoms of anxiety is important because the treatment you’ll be taking should reduce any symptoms you are experiencing. 

For example, some of the symptoms you experience might be:

Anxiety medication

You might have heard doctors refer to your treatment as ‘anxiolytic’ medication. Anxiolytic is a term used for medicines that reduce anxiety. Rather than saying anxiolytic, some people might say anti-anxiety medication instead or just call it anxiety medication. 

There are lots of different anxiety medications available. Hence, if you feel that one type of medication is not working for you, then there are others you might be able to try. 

While there are many different medications available, they often fall under one of these categories:

However, some other anxiety medications do not fall within these categories, including beta-blockers like atenolol, buspirone, and mirtazapine

If you cannot remember which category your medication falls under, that is fine. The important thing to note is that while there are some differences between how these medications are classified, the general principles are quite similar. 

You might have also noticed that some anxiety medications are called antidepressants. This is because many antidepressants have also been shown to help with anxiety. 

Hence, if your doctor has prescribed you an antidepressant for your anxiety, this is perfectly normal even if you are not depressed. However, it is not uncommon for anxiety and depression to occur together. Your doctor may have opted for a particular medication to treat both conditions together. 

While some medications can treat anxiety and depression, it does not mean that these illnesses are the same. Therefore, if you think you might have depression, do not assume that your anxiety medication will also be the appropriate treatment choice for your depression. It would still be best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor so they can make sure you are on the right treatment. 

Side effects

Anxiety medication can affect everyone differently. While some people may experience considerable side effects, others barely notice any side effects at all.

However, it’s still useful to be aware of the potential side effects. This is because you might experience an issue but not realize it is linked to your medication. 

Being aware of the side effects can also help you make necessary arrangements before taking it. 

Side effects that you may experience with anxiety medication include:

While this list may seem long, do not let it discourage you from taking your anxiety medication. You may only experience none or a few things from that list, or those side effects might only bother you while your body is adjusting to the new medication. 

Most importantly, it would be best not to stop taking your anxiety medication without consulting your doctor. If any side effects are causing significant issues, you should see your doctor immediately. 

Different anxiety medications will have some variation in the potential side effects. Therefore, it is important to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects linked to your medication specifically. 

Directions for use

Different anxiety medications might have some different directions. Therefore, you should make sure that a doctor or pharmacist advises you on how to take your medication. 

Here are some general directions to guide you. 

Do not stop taking your medication unless you are told to

If you are thinking about discontinuing your anxiety medication, then it’s crucial to talk to your doctor about this first. 

If you discontinue your medication suddenly, you could feel very unwell or experience unwanted side effects. These are referred to as ‘withdrawal’¹ symptoms. 

You are more likely to experience this if you have been on a high dose of medication. However, you should always check with your doctor regardless of the amount you are taking. 

Withdrawal symptoms are not always related to drug addiction, which often comes to mind when you hear the word ‘withdrawal.’ Because your body needs time to adjust to anxiety medication, it also needs time to adapt when you stop taking it. 

If you want to discontinue your medication, your doctor will create a plan for you to follow. This will involve gradually reducing the dose of the medication until it is safe for you to stop, which will minimize your chance of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can sometimes feel a lot like anxiety. Stopping medications without a clear plan also increases the risk of your anxiety returning.

Make sure you take your medication at the right time of day

Knowing when to take your medication is vital because some anxiety medications might make you feel tired, while others make you feel more awake. Or, it might not matter at all. 

Therefore, you need to ask your doctor or pharmacist whether it would be better to take your medication during the morning or night. 

For example, if your medication makes you feel drowsy, it might be better to take it at night. Or, it might be best to take it after you get home from work. On the other hand, if your medication makes you feel more awake, it would be better to take your medicine during the morning so that it does not keep you awake at night. 

Additionally, it would help if you also aimed to take your medication at the same time every day or at the prescribed intervals. Taking your medication at a consistent time ensures steadier levels in your system, helps it work more efficiently and reduces side effects. 

Follow the right guidelines around eating

Some medications need to be taken on an empty stomach, while you should take others on a full stomach. Your doctor or pharmacist will advise you on this if it is necessary. 

Avoid alcohol

All anxiety medications interact with alcohol in some way. Alcohol affects your body’s ability to break down medication in the liver. Combining alcohol with medication may also cause dangerous levels of sedation. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid alcohol entirely or limit your intake. 

Either way, if you are unsure whether it is safe to have alcohol with your medication, it is best to err on the side of caution and abstain.

Check interactions

Some medications, supplements, substances, or even certain foods can interact with your medication and cause undesired effects. For example, alcohol, mentioned above, is a substance that can interact with your anxiety medication and have dangerous effects. 

Certain foods and other over-the-counter medications can also have harmful interactions. 

Your doctor or pharmacist should discuss important interactions with you when considering medication options. You should always feel comfortable asking your health professional any questions you might have about medication and other interactions.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a well-known example of anxiety medications that can interact dangerously with certain foods and beverages. MAOIs affect how your body breaks down tyramine.

Tyramine is an amino acid commonly found in foods such as cheese, cured meats, sauerkraut, draft beer, and soy products. If you eat high-tyramine foods while taking an MAOI, it could dangerously increase your blood pressure

Other things to watch for are over-the-counter medications or supplements, and you should always read the labels before taking them. For example, some herbal pills, like St. John’s wort, can interact with anxiety medication. 

It’s always best to discuss all the medications you’re taking with your doctor, including any over-the-counter drugs and supplements. You can also ask your pharmacist about interactions. 

Check that your medication is safe to take during pregnancy

Some anxiety medications may have adverse effects during pregnancy. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor well before you start trying to conceive so that you can consider various options and adjust your treatment if needed. For many people, no changes are needed. But if you do need to change your treatment, it’s best to have ample time to do so.

When will your medication work?

Anxiety medications do not work instantaneously. It can take up to 2-4 weeks for some people to start noticing an effect and a month or longer before you see any significant improvement. Your doctor should inform you of how long your medication takes to work

Unfortunately, it is easy to feel discouraged about taking your medication when you do not notice any effects. Quite often, because of this, many people stop taking their medication before it has had a chance to work. 

It’s definitely worth giving the medication enough time to take effect. Be sure to book a follow-up appointment with your doctor. During the follow-up appointment, your doctor can assess how your medication is working for you and screen for any side effects. If you and your doctor think your medication is not working well enough, you might discuss increasing your dose or switching your medication. 

How many medications do you need to try?

Every individual responds differently to particular medications. You might find that your anxiety responds well to the first medication you try, and you have no or minimal side effects. 

On the other hand, the first medication you try may not be the medication that works best. Therefore, you might need to try several medications before finding the one that is right for you. Although it may take some time, it’s important to work with your doctor to ensure you have an adequate trial of each medication.

Combining medication with therapy

Talking therapies, in particular cognitive behavioral therapy, are effective first-line treatments for anxiety. Trying therapy in combination with medication could make a significant difference in reducing your anxiety

Sometimes anxiety gets worse before it gets better

You might have noticed on the list of side effects that anxiety medication can cause anxiety², agitation, jitteriness, or restlessness. Although this sounds contradictory, anxiety medication does have the potential to create more anxiety in some cases. Sometimes, you may experience these side effects in the first week of taking the medication. They tend to subside as you adjust to the medication. Don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor if these symptoms persist or are causing you a lot of distress.

When to see a doctor

Since you have already seen a doctor for your medication, you will need to make sure that you have a follow-up appointment booked. The follow-up appointment is to check how your anxiety responds to the medication and get a sense of your general well-being. 

Additionally, you will also need to see your doctor:

  • If you want to discontinue your medication 

  • If you are experiencing any unwanted side effects from your treatment 

  • If you think that your medication is not working properly 

  • If your anxiety is getting worse and not better 

If you are experiencing a serious adverse reaction to your medication, you should go to a hospital immediately. 

The lowdown

There is a lot of information to take in when trying anxiety medications for the first time. However, do not let this discourage you because your medication might be an important step in managing and improving your anxiety.

Ensure that you follow any advice given to you by your doctor or pharmacist, and if you are concerned about anything, do not hesitate to ask questions.

Have you considered clinical trials for Anxiety?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Anxiety, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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