Suffer from anxiety? You’re far from alone! Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., and affect about 18 percent of the population each year.
Medical therapy, in addition to talk therapy, for management for anxiety symptoms is very common and can improve quality of life significantly. Sometimes, however, these medications can have effects above and beyond benefit of anxiety relief, and some of those effects are not always wanted.
Here are some of the more common side effects that may occur (but not always!) with use of anti-anxiety medications. These are simply things to look out for if you’re already taking an anti-anxiety medication, or to discuss with your physician if you’re considering medication to manage your anxiety symptoms.
It is always important to discuss potential side effects of medication with your physician prior to starting any new medication therapy. Should you experience anything unexpected after taking the medication you were prescribed, please consult your physician.
1. Sleep disturbances
One of the more prevalent dilemmas when taking medication for anxiety is the impact on sleep. Some people are stimulated after taking their medication, while others feel fatigued. Luckily, this is typically an easy fix – simply switching the time of day at which you take the medication can be a safe and effective way to alleviate some sleep disturbances. For example, switch a medication dose to bedtime if it’s sedating, or switch a stimulating medication dose to the morning.
It is important to note that medications that regulate serotonin and norepinephrine (two brain chemicals related to depression and anxiety) can alter your natural sleep cycle in a way that is unpredictable, and sleep quality may suffer as a result. Additionally, as we age, sleep quality declines as well. Speak with your doctor about good “sleep hygiene” and a bedtime routine as part of a comprehensive health and wellness plan.
Dizziness is another side effect of some anti-anxiety medications. Use caution and take your time when getting up from a seated or laying position. This will allow adequate time for blood to return to your brain and reduce the feeling of being lightheaded. Focusing on a single point about ten feet in front of you can also help you feel centered during dizzy spells.
3. Dry mouth
This can be seen with many anti-anxiety medications but is most often seen with use of tricyclic antidepressants. Patients can cope with dry mouth by letting sugar-free, sour hard candy dissolve in their mouth when this symptom is bothering them, or by using a moisturizing, alcohol-free mouth rinse such as Biotène®.
If you experience diarrhea with use of a new anti-anxiety medication, this can often be resolved by lowering the initial dosage and increasing the dose more gradually to an effective dose. This allows your body to slowly adjust to the effective dose. Maintain adequate hydration and also speak with your doctor if you experience diarrhea.
Increasing your water intake plus adding more fibrous vegetables to your diet can be helpful in promoting bowel movements. As an additional benefit, eating a diet balanced with fresh vegetables can improve cognitive function and make you feel more energized.
6. Blood pressure changes
Occasionally, blood pressure can drop or elevate depending on which medication you take (mainly if you are taking a Selective Serotonin/Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor or a Beta Blocker). Signs of abrupt blood pressure changes can be dizziness upon standing, what feels like heart palpitations, or headaches. If you experience any of these side effects, please consult your physician.
7. Excessive sweating
Is it a hot flash? Maybe not; it could just be your medication. Avoiding sweat triggers and using antiperspirants with aluminum chloride can reduce sweating. Antiperspirants can be applied to armpits, soles of feet, and palms of hands, depending on where the sweat is being produced.
8. Weight gain or loss
Either of these is a possibility when starting anti-anxiety medications. Be sure to focus on healthy eating habits, incorporating fresh produce and whole grains into your diet. Check out resources on recommended dietary habits from health.gov to make informed decisions.
While this list is not comprehensive, it represents the most commonly reported side effects among study populations. Medication that may work well for someone else may not for you, and vice versa, so as a reminder, consult your physician with any concerns you have. Your shared goal is to find the optimal medication therapy and treatment plan for you.
By Emily Black, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist and Sanvello Clinical Advisory Board Member
Dr. Black is a clinical pharmacist specializing in medication management of chronic disease states. She is dual board certified in pharmacotherapy and ambulatory care clinical pharmacy. She was previously a retail pharmacist, having worked at Walgreens for five years. She completed residency training at Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System with focus on primary care medication management. She worked as a clinical pharmacist at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center as part of the home-based primary care program, and is currently a clinical pharmacist at a large integrated health system providing care in Pennsylvania. Her current practice is integrated into a primary care office managing medications for patients with diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, asthma, COPD, chronic pain, medically complex adolescents, and patients on blood thinners.