Drugs & Medications

My Anti Anxiety Medication Isn’t Working. What do I do?

Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., C. Psych

Written by

Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., C. Psych

Last updated February 6, 2022

My Anti Anxiety Medication Isn’t Working. What do I do?

While antianxiety medications such as Valium, Librium, or Xanax can be invaluable in helping people cope with stress and anxiety, they aren’t necessarily cure-alls and, in many cases, may not provide the kind of relief you might need. This is why you should learn as much as you can about what meds can and can’t do.

When You Are Starting on Meds For The First Time

If you have never been on antianxiety medications before, it’s essential to recognize that how your body responds to medication can change over time. Your biochemistry slowly adapts as medication levels build up to an optimum level in the bloodstream. For this reason, you shouldn’t panic if you aren’t getting immediate relief since it often takes a little while for the meds to have a good effect. 

You also need to recognize that there might be a trial-and-error period with many antianxiety medications. It would be great if the medicine your doctor starts you on works right from the beginning, but that isn’t usually the case. Your doctor may need to experiment with different medications, especially if you have been dealing with severe anxiety for a long time. Your doctor may also need to experiment to find the correct dosage since other factors such as body weight, gender, or medical history can mean a higher or lower dosage would be best.

But for this trial-and-error process to work correctly, you need to make sure your doctor is aware of your concerns. Your doctor isn’t a mind reader, so you must tell them how well the medication works to find the proper dosage level. This means seeing your doctor regularly and getting the necessary blood testing to rule out possible medical complications. There can also be other factors at work, including lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or physical problems that can contribute to your anxiety, so this needs to be discussed with your doctor as well.

Should I Consider Psychotherapy?

Just remember that antianxiety medication is NOT a stand-alone solution. The main purpose of these meds is to control symptoms enough to function more effectively in your daily life.  For example, if your anxiety comes from external problems like job loss, a  relationship break-up, or social medication alone will take the edge off your symptoms. Still, it won’t make these problems go away. Essentially, medication is just there to provide you with a bit of “breathing space” so you can find your own solutions.

You also need a joint approach combining medication with psychotherapy to explore the roots of your anxiety and learn better ways of coping with it.  Psychotherapy options include either group or individual psychotherapy and are often available at hours that you can fit into your schedule. If cost is an issue, you can discuss psychotherapy options with your doctor covered under your health plan. Another increasingly popular option is online psychotherapy allowing you to talk to therapists right in your own home. Don’t be afraid to explore these different options to find the one that works best for you.

What Else Should I Be Doing to Control My Anxiety?

But you can also explore additional ways of coping. If you are in therapy, you can receive training in stress management, relaxation and mindfulness techniques, deep breathing and visualization exercises, and meditation. Even if you aren’t in therapy at this time, you can still explore these coping skills on your own by doing online research online or through self-help books. These skills can help with moderate anxiety but should never take the place of psychotherapy for more severe anxiety symptoms. 

You should also learn your anxiety triggers. For most of us, anxiety occurs due to external problems such as job or school stress, health or financial concerns, daily hassles, or even the stress of dealing with the current pandemic. Recognize what is most likely to set your anxiety off and learn specific coping strategies to deal with these triggers as they occur. It can be beneficial to explore these triggers with your therapist, who can also teach you stress management techniques that can help.

You also need to learn as much as you can about stress and anxiety, including recognizing the signs of a panic or anxiety attack. Hyperventilating, rapid heartbeat, restlessness, trembling or chills, and feeling dizziness or light-headedness are all signs that you are experiencing panic or anxiety. Get up, walk around, do something like housework or regular chores, get moving in general. These can help take your mind off the anxiety symptoms you are experiencing and help you get things under control a little better. Just remember that the attack will subside and focus on more long-term strategies for handling anxiety as it happens.

And don’t be afraid to get active. Establish a regular fitness routine with medical approval. Keeping your body in good physical shape helps build resilience and improves your ability to handle stress.

Don’t Try Doing This Alone

But also recognize that you cannot do this alone. No man is an island, and anxiety can be especially bad if you try to “tough it out” by not sharing what you are going through with friends or family members. We all need social support networks to give us an emotional boost, and simply talking out your feelings can be enormously helpful. Far too many people may be reluctant to tell others about what they are experiencing because they don’t want to be seen as a burden or make others worry about them. In the same way, you would expect friends and family to tell you what is happening, don’t be afraid to do the same with them. 

It would also help to build up your professional support network as well as your friendship network. There are caring health professionals that you can turn to whenever your anxiety gets out of control. Along with your family doctor, there are also therapists you can turn to who can provide the guidance that can help you cope better with your anxiety. Don’t be afraid to call for an appointment or even an informal chat if you feel it’s needed.

Just Remember

One of the most important things to remember about chronic anxiety is that you can always do something to get your symptoms under control. While anxiety may always be a part of your life, that doesn’t mean that life can’t be enjoyable if you maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on the different ways of handling anxiety as it happens. And yes, medication can still be a part of that, so long as you remain aware that antianxiety medication alone won’t solve the problem. Stay in contact with your doctor, consider other medication alternatives as needed, but follow the other steps outlined here to help you get your anxiety under control. 

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