We all feel all experience anxiety at times. But when your anxious feelings don’t go away, if they pop up for no apparent reason, or if they stop you from doing the things you want to, it could be an indication that you have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a restrictive condition that can affect all areas and stop you from living the life you'd like to live. There are several types of anxiety, but they often share a common range of symptoms that can include panicked feelings, excessive worry, low self-esteem, isolation, and physical issues such as headaches and stomach aches.
In terms of anxiety treatment, we usually recommend using psychological therapies proven to have a strong success rate. There are many tried and trusted techniques that can last a lifetime whilst avoiding the possibility of side effects associated with medication.
There are, however, situations where medication is a necessary first step before starting psychological treatment. For example, if your anxiety is preventing you from leaving the house, it can be virtually impossible to get to your therapy session, let alone engage fully in it.
For others, talking therapy simply isn’t enough to overcome the complex chemical processes that occur in the brains of those with anxiety, so which medications can help?
Anxiolytics act primarily to reduce feelings of anxiety and the most common class is 'benzodiazepines' which you may have heard called 'benzos'. These drugs target receptors in the brain which are associated with anxiety, but the nervous system quickly adapts to their presence which makes them highly addictive and the long-term outcomes are generally poor. As such, they are rarely prescribed for regular use and are generally only used at times of crisis.
Rather than using anxiolytics, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends SSRIs. These are primarily used as antidepressant medications but have also been found to be useful in managing anxiety. This is because the chemical pathways they affect in the brain are the same for both anxiety and depression. These are not thought to be addictive, but they do need to be taken regularly to take full effect, and you may be advised to continue long-term treatment to prevent symptoms from returning.
There are currently eight SSRIs prescribed in the UK and the one you try first might not be the right one for you. This is why it's important to monitor the effects – and side effects – and to stay in regular contact with your prescribing doctor. If you find the medication ineffective, or if you are struggling to cope with unpleasant side effects, your doctor may suggest that you try a different SSRI. Your doctor may also recommend an SNRI, which is another form of antidepressant medication.
In some instances, your doctor may suggest pregabalin, a drug that was traditionally used in the treatment of epileptic seizures. If your doctor recommends this, please don’t be alarmed. Pregabalin also has strong anxiolytic properties and is increasingly prescribed to treat anxiety.
While medication is often the most effective treatment for many people, it's not the right choice for everyone, and your doctor should be able to offer an opinion on whether it will help with your particular symptoms and circumstances. Your doctor should also explain the likely benefits and risks of your chosen medication while explaining how long you should expect to wait before seeing an improvement.
Also remember that all medications can have side effects, including, in some cases, withdrawal effects. If you are experiencing symptoms that you think are related to your medication, it's important to speak to your prescribing doctor as soon as possible.
If you are struggling with anxiety and would like to speak to a specialist about possible treatment, call us on 0203 326 9160 and our friendly team will be happy to help.