Small doses of stress can be positive, such as when stress helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when it becomes long-term chronic stress, it can start to negatively impact you physically and psychologically. Because stress hormones are released during the event or even when we’re just anticipating the event, certain medication can be used to mitigate the impact. Symptoms of chronic stress can include:
It is time to consult a doctor when your stress response does not stop firing and your stress levels are consistently high, affecting your overall quality of life.
What kind of medications can I use for stress?
If stress has evolved into anxiety or depression, and general lifestyle improvements such as diet, exercise, reducing the source of stress and talk therapy have not been helpful, medication may be helpful. While treatment for ‘stress’ alone does not warrant medication, if the symptoms are consistent with anxiety or depression, the most common types of medications doctors prescribe are anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Anti-anxiety medications include sedatives such as the benzodiazepines (which can be addictive) for rare but severe episodes of anxiety or panic, beta-blockers, and the SSRIs. All medications should be managed and prescribed by a licensed specialist.
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed group of sedatives that can help reduce severe bouts of anxiety and panic, and calm both physical and mental symptoms. They inhibit the activity of the central nervous system (CNS: brain and spinal cord) which in result reduces anxiety and tension, causes sleepiness and slows breathing. Examples of these drugs include:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
Since these medications have the potential to cause physiological and psychological dependence, they are typically used for short-term treatment. Other side effects can include sedation, slowed reflexes, poor judgement, problems with balance and memory, slurred speech, and an impaired ability to walk around.
Antidepressants are generally used in the treatment of Major Depression and related conditions, however, they are also used to treat symptoms of stress when it has escalated to cause either depression or daily anxiety. They work by affecting the brain’s receptors of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, and memory. The most common family of antidepressants prescribed today are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs):
- Paxil (paroxetine)
- Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
SSRIs are not known to be addictive, but they do have potential adverse side effects: nausea, dry mouth, muscle weakness, diarrhea, dizziness, and drowsiness — though most individuals tolerate them well.
- Beta Blockers
Beta blockers are traditionally used to control high blood pressure and treat certain heart related conditions. However, in some cases, beta blockers can be used to decrease the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. They block the reaction of the neurotransmitter and hormone norepinephrine in the arteries and heart muscles. This leads to decreasing the rate and intensity of your heart pumping. Common beta blockers include:
- Propranolol (inderal)
- Atenolol (tenormin)
- Metoprolol (lopressor)
Beta Blockers don’t normally cause side effects in everyone, but the most common side effects can include cold hands and feet, tiredness, and sleep disturbances (i.e., nightmares); less common side effects include dizziness, digestive tract problems, skin rashes and dry eyes.
Natural remedies for stress relief
Due to adverse effects of some medications, one might not be inclined to take prescribed medications. A wide range of natural remedies can help manage and reduce the symptoms of stress.
- Nutritional Supplements
Nutritional supplements can oftentimes combat the negative symptoms of stress. Common supplements used as stress and anxiety remedies can include:
- Passion Flower
It is always advisable to speak with a physician trained in alternative medicine before using any of these supplements in order to find out how they work and their potential side effects.
- Exercise Regularly
A large body of research has shown that not only does exercise have physical health benefits, it is also a powerful stress reliever. Exercising can release endorphins that relax and calm the mind, fight stress, and heighten energy. Exercises to consider:
- Strengthening with weights
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Brisk walking
- Aerobic exercise
While exercising, you are not thinking about the stressful day you had or anticipating events in the future. It helps you stay in the present moment and focus on you and your health.
- Optimize your health
Many people use negative coping mechanisms such as drinking, tobacco use, or eating unhealthy to alleviate stress. But in the long run, they are only hurting you more. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet, avoiding the use of tobacco and nicotine products can help combat stress.
- Set realistic goals, boundaries and expectations
Setting boundaries is important to feeling in control of our lives. It’s okay to say “no” to opportunities that you do not have time for or that place too much stress on you. Setting realistic goals for yourself and focusing on what you can control will help reduce the impact of stress surrounding you.
There is no one-way to avoid and eliminate stress, but living a well-balanced lifestyle that reduces triggers of stress can help immensely. Contact your healthcare provider for more information on techniques to help manage stress, whether that be natural remedies, medication, or the combination of both. There is something for everyone.