“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of strength” – Corrie ten Boom
What you need to know about anxiety medications, tolerance and withdrawal
Many prescription and non-prescription drugs can be effective in reducing our anxiety, but if this were the complete picture, many more of us would be taking them! For example, Benzodiazepines can work very quickly and very effectively to reduce anxiety, but they carry significant risks of tolerance and significant withdrawal symptoms. Users of Benzodiazepines develop tolerance to the drug, which means they need to take larger and larger quantities to get the same reduction in anxiety. Furthermore, the body quickly becomes used to taking these medications, and users can experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms upon stopping or reducing the medication, this combination can easily lead to addiction. These powerful drugs are best taken under close medical supervision, usually only short term for very severe anxiety. Some people develop addictions to alcohol for the same reason, as an attempt to self medicate for anxiety. Other medications for anxiety (often the same medications used for treating depression) can be safer, carry fewer negative side-effects, and may be helpful if someone is so anxious that they struggle to attend an initial counselling session.
What are the connections between your physical health and your anxiety?
Often there is an identifiable emotional cause for experiencing anxiety. Examples include, the onset of anxiety following relationship difficulties or endings, anxiety that is part of a depression or mood difficulty, anxiety associated with significant pressures to perform or that is triggered by past traumas. If you can't identify a significant emotional trigger, your counsellor might suggest that you see your GP for some blood tests to make sure there isn't a medical cause for your anxiety such as a thyroid or adrenal gland imbalance. Another example of a commonly overlooked purely physical cause of anxiety difficulties is excessive caffeine or sugar consumption. If you have excessive anxiety and are consuming more than three caffeinated beverages/energy drinks per day, consider reducing this and monitoring to see if your anxiety decreases.
How to gain a sense of mastery over your anxiety
People who treat their anxiety only with medication are unlikely to experience something that is crucial to preventing a relapse to further anxiety: a sense of mastery over the anxiety. Mastery doesn't mean being able to totally control what we feel, but it does mean having a sense of confidence about being effective in responding to further experiences of anxiety, as they inevitably come up through the course of a life time. Depending on the type of counselling that you are doing for your anxiety, the sense of mastery that you get through successful treatment might look different. Those who are working in their counselling with CBT might get their sense of mastery through having challenged themselves to approach rather than avoid anxiety provoking situations, and may have gained mastery through successfully challenging their own catastrophic thinking that feeds the anxiety. Those who are working in their counselling with DBT or mindfulness based therapy may get a sense of mastery by being able to effectively control their attention, soothing their anxiety with a sense of focus of being able to focus on their breathing or external environment to regulate their anxiety when needed. Those who are working in their counselling in a more insight oriented or psychodynamic way may get mastery by facing the inner conflicts or feelings that are making them anxious in the first place. Gaining a sense of mastery over anxiety is an important form of self development that helps us to deal with a range of challenges that arise over our life time.