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7 Signs You Might Benefit from Anti-Anxiety Medication

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Welcome to life on Planet Earth, where everybody gets nervous and worried now and then. That’s common—and it can sometimes be controlled with talk therapy or strategies like exercise and meditation.

But if anxiety is your constant companion or it continues to interfere with your daily life, it might be time to ask your mental health clinician about medication for anxiety.

Here are seven signs that you might benefit from a new approach.

1. You’re Perpetually Nervous and on Edge

If you feel edgy almost every day, it’s a good idea to seek help. Talk therapy will sometimes do the trick.

However, if you often feel like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff—heart racing, palms sweating, feeling like you might faint—you could be having panic attacks. In that case, bring that up with your clinician or find one who can explain what is happening to you.

If talk therapy isn’t enough to help control your anxiety, your clinician may recommend prescription medications to treat it.

2. You Avoid Things That Are Good for You

Worried about giving a presentation or talking to other people?

If you’re anxiously imagining all of the things that could go wrong and avoiding the things that scare you, anxiety is holding you back.

You could miss out on a promotion because you’re afraid to participate in a conference. Or you might avoid an uncomfortable conversation with a significant other that could improve your relationship.

Instead of avoiding conflict, it is possible to reduce anxiety by getting more comfortable with it. Behaviors that we learn as little kids, such as not talking back to our parents, can stick—and our brains don’t always realize that now we’re adults. So those fears we learn as children can still be at work when we’re grown up.

3. You Toss and Turn Every Night

It’s a vicious cycle: Your anxiety is so bad you can’t sleep —and you’re exhausted the next day, which makes you even more anxious.

For our ancestors, late-night anxiety was a survival technique. They had to sleep with one eye open to spot the tiger lurking beyond the campfire. But if you’re worrying about money, a pounding heart won’t help you pay the mortgage.

A great solution for run-of-the-mill insomnia: exercise. It promotes better sleep and also helps you calm down in the moment. In addition, deep breathing resets your anxiety response.

But if you dread darkness because you know there will be no rest for you, talk to your clinician.

4. You Have Mysterious Aches and Pains

One of your body’s ways of coping with stress is to tighten your muscles and get poised to fend off an attack. You may find yourself clenching your jaw or hunching your shoulders. No wonder you’re constantly achy or in pain.

Mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and yoga can help relieve your anxiety—and those aching muscles. But if those solutions don’t ease your symptoms, you may not be successfully controlling your anxiety.

5. You Have a Permanent Bellyache

When you were a kid, your mom thought you were faking it if you got sick on the day of your math test. Turns out, your upset stomach and test anxiety were probably related. The microbiome inside your gut has trillions of microbes that help digest your food—and also protect you against bacteria that can cause health problems.

“People with anxiety tend to have distorted microbiomes,” says Gerard Mullin, MD, author of The Gut Balance Revolution. “Your gut and your brain are definitely linked.”

Scientists at University College Cork in Ireland found that persistent stomach problems often contribute to stress-related issues like depression and anxiety. Another study showed that people experiencing panic attacks were four to six times more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome.

With gut troubles—as with other health concerns—frequency matters. “When gut problems transform from rare to frequent or even daily, or when they go from mildly uncomfortable to noticeably annoying, it’s time to call your doctor,” says Dr. Mullin.

6. You Work Hard but Get Nothing Done

You know that scattered feeling: Your thoughts are all over the place, you can’t concentrate, and you find yourself wasting lots of time. You’ve got things to do, but you can’t settle down and get them done.

That’s because anxiety triggers your body’s stress response, which can affect the short-term learning and concentration areas of your brain. And difficulty concentrating can mean it takes you longer to do a task, whether it’s reading something or doing a simple math problem.

That extra time is one of the “hidden costs” of anxiety. If that rings a bell for you, let your clinician know.

7. You Regularly Fly Off the Handle

Do you find yourself getting annoyed or irritated by the smallest little things? If it happens a lot, it could be a sign of anxiety.

Researchers at Concordia University recently found a possible reason for this link. According to the researchers, when the outcome of a situation could be good or bad, anxious people tend to assume the worst. That results in heightened anxiety.

Calming your anxious thoughts—naturally or with the help of an anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a clinician—can improve your mood and relationships.

What does anxiety medication do?

In short, anxiety medications help to suppress fear signals and the fight or flight response. This can be helpful if therapy or lifestyle changes have not alleviated your symptoms.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are usually the first anxiety medications prescribed. These antidepressants help relieve anxiety symptoms by raising levels of important neurotransmitters in the brain.

Benzodiazepines are also used as anxiety medications for their calming effects. Benzodiazepines activate GABA receptors in the body. Increased GABA activity by way of benzodiazepines has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety. These medications are best used for acute anxiety (such as panic attacks) and should be cautiously evaluated for long term use.

See our complete guide to psychiatric medications, which provides more information on these classes of anxiety medications.

Personalize Your Treatment Plan

If your clinician recommends an anti-anxiety medication, ask if pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing can help personalize your treatment plan based on your genes.

Pharmacogenetic testing with Genomind, for example, looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions, including anxiety, and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:

  • Which medications may be more likely to be effective
  • Which medications may have side effects
  • How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance

The Genomind test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn more about Genomind here.

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