Those that live with anxiety every day know how important it is to get relief. Anxiety is a life altering condition, and one that makes everything you do a little bit less enjoyable. Anxiety is a condition that you need to treat.
There are many different types of anxiety treatments. From therapy to relaxation exercises to herbal supplements, and more. Some people choose the pharmacological route, which begs the question: what is the best anti-anxiety medication?
How Much Anxiety Do You Have?
Everyone has a different level of anxiety, different types of anxiety, and different ways their body experiences it. All of these affect treatment.
We have a free 7 minute anxiety test that can give you an anxiety score, compare your anxiety to others, and provide solutions for resolving it.
Different Medications for Different Anxiety Disorders
One of the issues that comes from recommending a medication is that doctors have found that each medicine works differently on each individual. It starts with the disorder you suffer from. What works for generalized anxiety disorder may not work for panic disorder, and what works for panic disorder may not work for obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.
First, take my free 7 minute anxiety test to make sure you understand your anxiety and its symptoms. Then always take the advice of your doctor. No one can truly recommend a medication without knowing your own personal history, and you never want to take a medication that affects your mental health without a doctor's supervision.
The Problem With Relying on Medicine
Medications should always be your last resort when it comes to treating your anxiety. The reason is not just because anxiety medications (known as anxiolytics) have side effects - although side effects are a problem with every mental health medication - but because medications prevent you from learning to cope without them.
That's the greatest issue with medicines. All anxiety medications dull anxiety without teaching you how to control it. Anxiety isn't like getting an infection. You cannot simply take an antibiotic and have your anxiety go away. Those that rely too much on medication often find that they don't use or learn the skills necessary to cope with anxiety.
As soon as your stop taking any medicine your anxiety will always come back. And if you haven't learned any new coping skills, it may even be worse than before.
Safety and Other Considerations
It's also important to realize that the long term use of a mental health medication is going to have an effect on your wellbeing. Some cause digestion issues. Others cause extreme fatigue. Others cause very strange issues like "brain zaps." Your brain is extremely sensitive, and since anxiety drugs have to affect your brain to work, you should expect that these side effects will disrupt your life.
Similarly, some anti-anxiety medications cause dependency with severe withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it or miss too many doses. Others change your personality, and some medications may also lose their effectiveness over time (while still causing withdrawal symptoms). Keep this in mind when you decide on the right medication for you.
The Best Anti-Anxiety Medicine (Best Anxiolytic)
Since there is no such thing as a "best" anxiety medicaton, always work off of the advice of your doctor. Your needs are different than everyone else's, and you need to speak with your doctor about their recommendation. The best for you may not be the best for someone else.
Still, if one has to choose, it is this author's opinion that the best anxiety medication is also one of the weakest. That's because for severe anxiety, you need some of the "side effects" (like fatigue) to overcome the symptoms. The first anti-anxiety medicine worth trying is known as buspirone, commonly referred to as "Buspar."
Buspar is a mild anxiety medication, and doesn't appear to have an effect on panic attacks. Many users also report very little improvement in their anxiety symptoms. But from a strict anti-anxiety perspective, buspirone is probably the best anti-anxiety medicine on the market. It's not about the strength. It's about the difference between buspirone and other anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines:
- Buspar has very few side effects. Some people report "brain zaps" at higher doses, and some have a "nerve" feeling as though something is affecting their brain, but otherwise buspar is fairly side effect free compared to other medications.
- Buspar is _only_ an anxiolytic. Almost every other drug on the market for anxiety has other purposes. Some are antidepressants. Some are anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants. Buspar's only effect is its ability to control anxiety, which is all most people want.
- Buspar has no withdrawal symptoms and will not cause dependency. That will make it easier for you to stop taking buspirone in the event that you find a solution to control your anxiety.
While many other anti-anxiety drugs are more powerful, they are also more likely to fail at one of the above benefits. That's why even though buspirone tends to be the weakest, it is also a smart choice for your first anti-anxiety medication.
Alternative Treatments to Anxiety Drugs
As mentioned, however, no anxiety drug is completely beneficial. The truth is that all anxiety medications can cause harm, and none of them help you stop anxiety permanently. You always need to consider an alternative treatment first (ideally before you use a medication at all) and absolutely need to make sure that you partner any anxiety medication with a long term solution.
Alternative treatments include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Therapy is a completely safe and long term way of controlling anxiety, and unlike most medications it provides assistance for every type of anxiety disorder. Remember, not all medications work for all anxiety, but CBT techniques have been developed to permanently reduce any and all anxiety disorders and symptoms.
- Herbal Supplements Herbal supplements are another alternative to anxiety medications. They're generally safer, have no withdrawal symptoms, and can be used as needed. But be warned - the most powerful herbal supplements can still have side effects or drug interactions, so before you take herbal supplements (especially kava, which is the most powerful) you should still talk to your doctor.
- Exercise Exercise is a very real, very effective solution for anxiety, and should be one of the first you try. Studies have shown that exercise can be as powerful or more powerful than some anxiety medications, and of course exercise is healthier for you than any other option available.
If you truly want to find relief from anxiety without medication - or even with medication - you need to base your treatment off of your symptoms.
I've worked with many anxiety sufferers that have taken medication in the past. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. The test examines your symptoms, compares them to others with anxiety, and recommends appropriate choices for controlling anxiety.
Goldberg, Harold L., and Richard J. Finnerty. The comparative efficacy of buspirone and diazepam in the treatment of anxiety. The American journal of psychiatry (1979).
Rickels, Kar. Buspirone and diazepam in anxiety: a controlled study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (1982).
Barsky, Arthur J., et al. Nonspecific medication side effects and the nocebo phenomenon. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association 287.5 (2002): 622-627.
Vgontzas, AlexandrosN, Anthony Kales, and E. O. Bixler. Benzodiazepine side effects: role of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Pharmacology 51.4 (1995): 205-223.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.