STRESS AND ANXIETY – DO YOU NEED ‘NERVE PILLS’?

by stresswinner on March 5, 2010

“It requires a great deal of inexperience to be beyond the reach of anxiety”. (anon)
This is the age of anxiety!  Seventy percent of people today are stressed out from overload – working harder for the same pay, juggling family and work, and worrying about money.  As well, some people have Anxiety disorders such as panic, phobias, obsessions and compulsions – illnesses in which anxiety comes from within. To reduce stress and anxiety effectively we need to understand our symptoms and emotions, worry accurately, learn coping strategies, and find  support.  But  there must be an easier way – what about  ’nerve pills’?
A tranquillizer can calm racing minds, slow pounding hearts, ease tight breathing, relax tight, painful muscles and help us sleep. The Benzodiazepines, such as ‘Xanax’ (alprazolam – short-acting)  or ‘Rivotril’ (clonazepam – longer acting)  can help in dealing with major life stresses especially if taken at night when anxiety symptoms such as insomnia interfere significantly with work or caring for a child.
But taking more than just occasional doses can cause problems. Tranquillizers have potentially dangerous side effects including reduced mental alertness, concentration and memory, as well as physical unsteadiness. Driving may become dangerous, they may precipitate a depression and react badly with alcohol. Regular use can lead to tolerance and increasing doses – people in abusive situations or who have problems with alcohol or other drugs seem to be especially at risk for this.  Tranquillizers must be stopped gradually, or you risk dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. In most stressful situations, it would be better  to experience and express our emotions rather than just numbing them, and apply the energy of anxiety to finding healthier ways to become equal to the stress.
Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, panic, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, have much more severe  symptoms and anti-anxiety medications  may be invaluable in allowing us to function, at least in the early stages.  But in the long run  it’s best to correct any underlying biochemical imbalance using antidepressant drugs such as ‘Paxil’ or ‘Zoloft’.  These damp down excessive or obsessional worry without making you dopey, reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks and treat the depression which is often part of mood disorders.  Knowing you can control your anxiety improves motivation to find more long lasting success through self-management. However, a few people need to take medication indefinitely just to function adequately, and they shouldn’t feel any more guilty about it then a person with diabetes taking insulin.
Anxiety disorders can start young – many students quit high school because of a phobia about public speaking. If we started teaching about anxiety and coping skills early, perhaps we could reduce the rates of serious anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug abuse.
Tranquilizers really help in disabling anxiety,  but using drugs (or alcohol) to handle the common stresses of modern life is dangerous – like painting over a rust spot on your car without removing the rust.   If you do take tranquilizers, work closely with your doctor, aiming to gradually reduce the dose while learning  effective coping techniques. Ask your doctor about cognitive-behavioural therapy, anxiety programs, and support groups. Yoga, relaxation, some herbal remedies and acupuncture can also be helpful. Read books and learn from others who have recovered, because with knowledge, skills, support and persistence, the battle against anxiety can be won!

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