wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

Anxiety medication fact sheet

Medical definition – a drug that is used to treat or prevent disease.

Claire definition – FIXERS, (not strictly true but it sounds good).

Medication, often a topic of great controversy and debate. Nothing divides the experts quite like it.
But it can also be a source of confusion and uncertainty. So I hope to shed some light on the basics.

**Disclaimer** I am NOT a doctor. Please consult your GP to discuss treatments that might be right for you. The below is purely my own opinion… and lets be honest, what the Hell do I know!

SSRIs – Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Seriously what a bloody complicated name.. it’s practically a tongue twister! Sometimes I wonder whether the medical industry use OTT jargon just to intimidate, (but I’ll save that rant for another day).

Ok so…

  • Serotonin = a neurotransmitter (carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It is a vital chemical that helps the brain to function and keep moods and emotions stable.
  • A lack of serotonin can have a serious impact on the nervous system. It basically causes the brain to malfunction and freak out, (for want of a better phrase). A freak out = an anxiety or panic attack.
  • Try and think of serotonin as the body’s natural tranquiliser. If you have anxiety then it’s more likely that your levels are depleted.
  • SSRIs work by increasing the body’s levels of serotonin, thereby assisting the brain and helping to balance emotions and stress.
  • Personally I think of serotonin as happy fuel, which I unfortunately lack. So I take SSRI medication to keep everything running smoothly.

There are a variety of SSRIs available in the UK. According to the NHS, the most common are:

  • Citalopram (Cipramil)
  • Escitalopram (Cipralex)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac or Oxactin)
  • Fluvoxamine (Faverin)
  • Paroxetine (Seroxat)
  • Sertraline (Lustral)

Although from personal experience, Citalopram and Sertraline seem to be the ‘go to’ ones.
I’ve been taking 50mg of Sertraline for over one year now and I’m happy to say that it works well with my body.

Side effects

This is one of the questions/concerns that I hear the most. “I’m worried about the side affects, what if get addicted? I just can’t bring myself to take them.” Apologies, but I’m going to sound incredibly harsh with my response. I’m afraid that you’re just going to have to suck it up and be brave. Nothing ventured nothing gained and you can be damn sure that if you don’t act then nothing will change. It’s true, SSRIs can often make symptoms of anxiety worse for three to five days. Your body needs to acclimatise to the sudden change in chemicals. But tell me, is three days of nausea, fatigue or emotional outbursts worse than years of feeling anxious every single day? I doubt it.

However, there are some exceptions. In rarer cases some SSRIs have been known to make a person feel suicidal (and unfortunately I can count myself among them)! I won’t sugar coat it, it was horrendous and I have never been so afraid. But I promptly went back to the doctor and we tried something else, (Sertraline).
As with many things in life it’s about trial and error. It’s important to find the right medication for you.

Is it a pain in the arse? YES. Is it worth it in the end? In my opinion yes.

  • With regard to addiction, while I wouldn’t recommend that you suddenly stop taking any medication, (it’s better to wean yourself off them slowly), they are not addictive in the ‘heroin’ way that everybody seems to fear. In fact, I was recently told by my GP that it would be fine to continue taking my Sertraline whilst pregnant. (No I don’t have any plans, but it’s reassuring to know).

Next…

Beta Blockers – Propranolol

This has actually become the celebrity/high power businesses person drug of choice over the years

  • I like to call them chill pills. Why? Because they slow the heart rate down, (In a safe way, don’t freak out)!
  • They treat purely physical symptoms and can work wonders with problems such as: Pounding heart, tremors, sweating and blushing.
  • A GP once told me (in a moment of honesty), that they allow you to be ‘yourself at your best.’ Which is why so many people in high power positions have been known to take one before an important meeting.
  • However, they won’t do anything for emotional or mental issues.
  • I personally only take Beta Blockers when necessary, e.g. If my tremors are particularly bad.
  • If physical symptoms are the most distressing for you, then Beta Blockers might be one to consider.
  • However – again be sure to discuss your options with a doctor.

Zopiclone – sleeping tablet

Ok, this one is slightly more hardcore, but I think it’s important to discuss.

One of my biggest anxiety triggers is a lack of sleep. It makes sense, nobody can function properly if they’re tired, whether they have anxiety or not! I’ve always been a troubled sleeper and when I’m really stressed this intensifies.
A vicious cycle emerges whereby – I can’t sleep, so I feel anxious and raw the following day – I then worry that I won’t be able to sleep that night – this results in high levels of stress before bed time, making it impossible to sleep!
After discussing the problem at length with my doctor, it was decided that I should try a short course of Zopiclone. It helped to get me back into a regular sleeping cycle again.

  • Zopiclone is perfectly safe and effective at treating sleep problems. If you’re struggling to sleep then for God’s sake take one! Don’t mess about worrying “ooooh but it’s not natural” and all that shit. Sometimes, we all need a little help.
  • Bit obvious – but don’t drink alcohol when taking it.
  • I would recommend taking one every other night, (but again talk to your GP).
  • They can cause dependency and shouldn’t be taken for more than two weeks straight. But tbh, after a few days you should be back in a regular pattern anyway.
  • Tip: Try Nytol first if you’re a bit wary about prescription medicine. This can also be effective. Actual Nytol please, not the herbal crap!

Diazepam – Valium – Mother’s little helpers

Ahhh Diazepam, the wonder drug. Again slightly more hardcore but if used sensibly it can very useful.

  • It’s a tranquillising muscle-relaxant and is highly effective at relieving the symptoms of anxiety and panic.
  • This is often called the wonder drug because it combats the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety. In a nutshell, it’s an awesome sedative!
  • But naturally there’s a catch. *Rolls eyes* – no you don’t have to give up your first born, but this is NOT a medication that should be taken long term. Over use can cause dependence and even withdrawal. You certainly don’t want to get to the stage where you ‘need’ a hit to feel normal.
  • Speak to your GP about dosage, but it is generally recommended that Diazepam should not be taken for more than two weeks at a time.
  • Now don’t get me wrong, My words are certainly not designed to frighten. Veteran readers of my blog will know that I’m very pro Diazepam when needed. As with many things it all comes down to common sense. If you’ve been having panic attacks back to back all evening, or your muscles are aching from hours of tension then it is right to take one. This is exactly what it’s for. Why suffer needlessly?
  • As always, please read the instructions carefully. No drinking, driving or operating heavy machinery with Diazepam in your system!

That’s about it for the core groups of anxiety drugs. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

But before I finish, here are my medication ‘dos and don’ts’

  • DO – talk to those closest to you and explain that you might be affected by side effects. Explain that you might need their patience and support for a few days.
  • DO – start taking it on a Friday. This will give you the weekend to rest and not worry about work. I would book the Monday off too, just to be sure.
  • DO – ask questions. You’re GP is there to help, so talk about any concerns that you might have. Book a double appointment if neccessary
  • DON’T – stop taking your medication after three weeks cold turkey because ‘you feel better’ – this is one of the worst things that you can do, because it will mess with both your hormone and serotonin levels. Trust me, you’ll feel awful.
  • DON’T – say things like “I don’t want to take medication, I wish I could just deal with it myself” – well guess what… If you’ve been struggling with anxiety for years, then I’m afraid you can’t. Sorry for the harsh truth, but you need to get a grip on this. Believe me, I wish that I could deal with it naturally too, but I can’t. My brain just doesn’t produce enough serotonin, so I need a little help. Can you imagine if someone with Asthma said that? “I don’t want my inhaler, I want to deal with it myself!”
  • DON’T – be embarrassed. There is nothing to be ashamed of, (easier said than done I know). It doesn’t make you a freak or lunatic! If anything, it’s a really brave and positive step 🙂 – plus nobody even needs to know.

I hope this has been helpful.

Categories: Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Social Anxiety

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4 replies

  1. Thank you this is so helpful and well explained 🙂

  2. I was hoping you might say something about alprazolam and clonazepam. I was using alprazolam for panic which was great because it is fast acting but also wears off (for me) in about 4 hours but now all I can get is clonazepam which doesn’t work as fast and also makes me tired for a long time.

    • Both of these are chemical neighbours to Diazepam (Valium) & aren’t generally prescribed for long term use – unless a doctor has suggested otherwise. You might want to look into trying an SSRI drug & Beta Blockers for the panic attacks.

  3. Hi, interesting comments about medication. I was prescribed propranolol years ago when I was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, just to control the thyroid symptoms until the treatment had been completed. Having suffered with panic attacks since my early teens (to the extent that it shaped some of my life decisions, like choosing a low profile job) taking propranolol was like opening the door into a new world … suddenly I could speak out at meetings with confidence, I could even give presentations like a normal grown up human being. I would say it brought about a significant transformation. As a result, when the thryoid treatment was completed I asked if I could continue to be prescribed propranolol for ‘anxiety’ and the doctor agreed when I explained my condition. To be honest, I rarely use it but it’s good to know it’s there if I need it. At times I feel like I’m ‘cheating’ but I know I’d rather (as your doctor put it) ‘be myself at my best’ than continue to struggle … I’ve done that for far too long. It’s just a pity I couldn’t have had them back in the 70s when the attacks started and any attempts to explain to a doctor what was happening was usually greeted with a sort of dismissive ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘you’ll grow out of it’ response. I can’t go back to being 15 again but I can do my best to catch up on the things I wanted to do then!

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