Anxiety Meds Won’t Solve Your Problems. Here’s What Will.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. If you suffer from anxiety, you’re one of over 42 million people with an anxiety disorder in the US. And that’s only those that have been diagnosed.
So many more experience the symptoms of anxiety—insomnia, digestive issues, feelings of panic or dread, even OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) without understanding the source and anxiety’s impact on their health and wellness.
In the U.S., the first response to an anxiety disorder is so often to throw drugs at it. The drugs most commonly prescribed for anxiety are benzodiazepines, like Xanax, Valium and Ativan. Benzodiazepines work by causing mild to severe depression of the nerves within the brain and sedation.
Benzodiazepines can provide temporary relief, but they are hardly a cure. At best, these anxiety meds mask a complex imbalance without a longterm solution for anxiety relief and management.
At worst, they send anxiety sufferers into a cycle of dependency with long-lasting and dangerous consequences. I’ve worked with many patients on benzodiazepines that struggled with confusion, impaired thinking, extreme drowsiness and memory issues.
And because they build up in the body, the side effects are compounding—getting worse the longer the drug is taken.
But, the withdrawal process is even more devastating. Symptoms of anxiety reappear, often worse, as well as side effects like insomnia, tremors and depression.
Psychosis, seizures, and hallucinations have even been reported in cases where patients stopped taking Xanax abruptly.
And withdrawal can last for months.
In my own research, I discovered over 12,000 people search for the term “Xanax withdrawal” on Google each month. That means there are literally hundreds of thousands of people experiencing anti-anxiety medication withdrawal every year in the US.
That’s just in the US. And that’s just Xanax. There are more than 15 other drugs prescribed in the US to manage anxiety.
Anxiety disorders keep rising
But despite all of the prescriptions being written, the prevalence of anxiety continues to rise.
Valium came out in the 1960s. And since the 1960s, the number of people who struggle with anxiety has also gone up—significantly.
In the US alone, there are a reported 100 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines written each year. And a 2010 study by Medco Health Solutions reported more than one in five American adults took medications for anxiety and depression that year—a 22% increase from 2001.
If anxiety meds are a true solution, shouldn’t those rates be going down, not up?
The 30-day Anti-Anxiety Meal plan is the easiest way to start healing your body and mind right away. In it, you’ll find insanely delicious recipes of what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 30 days to dramatically cut your anxiety.
Why you have anxiety
But here’s the important truth that most people are never told about anxiety: it is here to help you, to protect you. It’s your inner voice telling us something is wrong and urging us to take action.
If we numb ourselves with medication and quiet that voice, we’re missing out on the opportunity to listen. We can’t hear our body, our mind and our soul telling us what we really need. And we can’t make the changes that lead to true inner peace.
Turning off the smoke alarm is not the best way to deal with this fire. We’ve got to have the courage to put out the fire itself.
How to control anxiety: My Story
All of this might have you feeling pretty hopeless right about now. You’re probably asking, “How am I supposed to recover from anxiety if my medication won’t help me?” Well, I was burned by this same question and hopelessness too.
For over 15 years, I struggled with anxiety and depression. I spent the last couple years of high school hiding in a locked classroom during lunch hour. I skipped out on most social events. All just to avoid the anxiety and inevitable panic attacks that these social situations brought on.
I dealt by overeating. And consequently, I was unhealthy and overweight. I was always tired and had little interest in what was going on around me. I rarely exercised or did anything just for fun. My dreams seem too far out of reach to pursue.
The immediate solution my doctors offered was medication. As a freshman, I started a 10 year journey of testing every medication in the book. Xanax. Ativan. Zoloft. Cymbalta. Paxil. Wellbutrin. You name it. I tried it.
I did well in school and in the career that followed. But I walked through life with a deep sense of unworthiness. A belief that I was a burden to those around me.
Consequently, I shied away from going after my dreams and developing meaningful relationships.
Sometimes medication helped numb the pain, but I was never truly happy.
I was desperate for relief. Then, I took the first step that would eventually lead me on a path towards real healing. I signed up for a Masters in Social Work at Columbia University and learned about different forms of psychotherapy.
I studied Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, systematic approaches to changing dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.
I was soon able to acknowledge and change my faulty beliefs—that I was a burden to everyone and always falling short. I started developing a new sense of who I was.
With a healthier set of beliefs on my side, I slowly unearthed the confidence to pursue one of my greatest passions: solving global poverty.
I got a fellowship and moved to India to start a tech-based public health project. I loved what I was doing and felt valued and fulfilled.
But I was still ignoring my own needs. Too focused on saving others, I forgot to take care of myself.
Even though my confidence was higher, I was overworked, not eating right and not getting enough sleep. Consequently, my anxiety came roaring back. Stronger than ever.
This time, it shut down my body too. Along with daily panics attacks, my hair started falling out and I developed a hormonal condition.
Lucky for me, I was in India. Instead of being handed a prescription, I had the option to turn to the centuries of spiritual and natural healing traditions available.
Over the next three years, I immersed myself in the world of yoga, oils, herbs, reiki, meditation and nutrition studies.
My healing process was nothing short of miraculous. I cured my symptoms completely and threw away my medication. For good.
But that was just the beginning. I learned how to truly love and accept myself, to honor my values and to handle difficult situations with ease. I reconnected with my inner child and rediscovered sources of abundant joyfulness and play.
Through this journey, I realized that we need to take a 360-degree approach to healing anxiety. No matter the cause, anxiety takes a toll and alters your mind, body and soul – and it affects your relationships, your confidence and your career. So we must address all of these factors to recover from it completely.
I’ve now helped hundreds of clients take control of their anxiety within a matter of months using this same “holistic” approach.
The holistic approach to treating anxiety
In my practice, holistic means treating the whole person. It’s a comprehensive analysis and treatment of all of the factors that cause anxiety. These can include issues with relationships, negative thought patterns, diet and nutritional deficiencies and overstimulating or negative environments.
For example, you may have left that stressful job you hated, but you’re still feeling the effects. You can hear your old boss’s harsh feedback, along with all your other “critics,” on continuous playback in your head. You cope with this feeling of failure by eating foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats. Without addressing all of these issues, you will never truly overcome your anxiety.
With holistic treatment, we start with the most pressing factor contributing to the anxiety—usually a bad job, relationship or trauma from the past.
Then we move on to the big picture, taking into consideration the way you let others talk to you, and in turn, how you repeat those negative messages to yourself internally.
We’ll also look at your diet, your exercise, and routine. Even how you breathe.
All of this leads to the ability to practice mindfulness and be in a biological steady state to calmly confront your anxiety triggers when they emerge in the future.
So, if you want a holistic, lasting, sustainable healing to your anxiety, you must really examine the full picture of your life.
You can start by reflecting on the questions below, and choosing one area that you want to focus on. Getting that on track will build your confidence to turn toward the other areas, and to design a holistic, anti-anxiety way of living.
- Do I like who I am and who I am becoming?
- Do I think about my strengths as often as I do my weaknesses?
- Do I feel nourished and supported at home?
- Do I take the time to experience play and adventure?
- Do I express my true self every day?
- Do I feel like I’ve found the right livelihood?
- Have I let go of anger and grief about things that have happened in the past?
- Do I have enough money to accomplish the things that really matter to me?
- Do I have a nourishing level of health and vitality?
- Do I experience the feeling of family in my life?
- Do I have deeply loving and trust-filled friendships?
If you’re currently on medication, don’t go cold turkey now. We’ve talked about the dangers of stopping abruptly.
Instead, work to holistically resolve the root causes of your anxiety, then when you’re healthy, you can taper off with the help of a professional.
Cheat Sheet: Beating Anxiety with Self-Talk
Are you hijacked by your anxiety? Constantly making mental lists of all the ways that you could fail – and all the things that might go wrong?
Use this Cheat Sheet to transform your negative thoughts into loving and constructive self-talk – so you can ditch your anxiety once and for all!