Do Over The Counter Anxiety Meds Help?

Reviewed by Dawn Brown, LPC, NCC

Published 01/08/2021

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just take a pill, and your feelings of panic, worry, and hypervigilance would simply evaporate? If your racing heart and rapid breathing would slow down? Of course, many people do take anxiety meds to relieve these and other symptoms of anxiety. Yet, you may be concerned that prescription anxiety medications could come with side effects. At the same time, you might wonder if over the counter anxiety remedies will even work for you. Here’s a look into the subject of over-the-counter (OTC) meds as well as other options to treat anxiety.

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Types And Effectiveness Of OTC Anxiety Meds

Over-the-counter medications have several advantages. You don’t need insurance to buy them because they are relatively low in price than prescription drugs. They’re easily accessible, and you don’t have to get a prescription for them so that you can skip the doctor visit. But how well do they work? The following information may give you a little insight into several OTC meds for anxiety.

OTC Anxiety Pills

There are no over the counter medications that are approved for use as anxiety medications. Still, many people do buy an over the counter anxiety pill, hoping to curb anxiety symptoms. Some of the over the counter meds people use include:

  • Sleep medications – If your anxiety prevents you from sleeping well, you may be tempted to use an OTC sleep pill. The main problem with this is you may become so dependent on them that you can’t fall asleep without them.
  • Antihistamines – Benadryl is one of the antihistamines that people use to calm down or go to sleep. But these meds can cause daytime drowsiness and other side effects. They don’t help much with severe or long-term anxiety.
  • Pain Killers – Acetaminophen and other OTC pain relievers may have some effect on anxiety triggers
  • Cough and Cold Medicines – Cough and cold meds can cause drowsiness and often lead to dependence.

About “Natural” Medications

Natural medications have been used for thousands of years, and they’re still quite popular today. When people talk about natural medicines, they often mean herb teas or medications based on herbs. Here are a few things you need to know about herbal remedies for anxiety:

  • There is some evidence of certain natural anxiety medications’ effectiveness, but none are proven to work.
  • Natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Many herbal medications do have side effects, sometimes severe ones.
  • Some natural anxiety meds cause severe interactions with prescription meds you might need to take.
  • One way to protect yourself from any risks of taking these medications is to include them in your anxiety meds list them when you see your physician or check into a hospital.
  • Herbal or natural meds aren’t regulated the same way as prescription medications. The FDA doesn’t recommend them or control their production. The strength of the pills isn’t necessarily uniform, for instance.

Herbal Medications

There are a variety of herbs that seem to decrease anxiety. You can use them as teas, or some are available in oils or pill form as supplements. Some include:

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  • Chamomile – Some studies have shown that chamomile might be helpful for generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Passionflower – Few studies have been done, but passionflower shows promise in treating GAD and anxiety before surgery or dental work.
  • CBD oil – In early studies, CBD oil seems to benefit people with generalized or social anxiety or PTSD.
  • Lavender – The few studies that have been done say lavender oils taken orally might help with anxiety.
  • Kava Kava – In a 2013 study, Kava Kava was moderately effective as a short-term solution to anxiety. This herb may have some severe side effects, including liver damage.

Homeopathic Medicines

The practice of homeopathic medicine has been around since the late 1700s. Homeopathy is based on the belief that “like cures like.” The idea is that whatever caused your condition can cure it. Over the years, each homeopathic medicine for anxiety below has been used by people wanting to reduce their symptoms.

  • Aconite – Used for sudden anxiety or panic.
  • Argentum nitricum – Used for anxiety due to uncertainty or fear of ordinary things.
  • Arsenicum album – Recommended for people with anxiety due to loneliness or darkness.
  • Calcarea carbonica – Used for those with a fear of doing anything outside the ordinary.
  • Kali arsenicosum – For people with fears about their health.
  • Lycopodium – Suggested for people with low self-confidence.
  • Silica – Recommended for people who fear new things or being the center of attention.

But, do homeopathic medicines work? There has been some preliminary evidence that homeopathic meds do help with anxiety. However, there is not enough proof that they have been approved for this use.

Other Nonprescription Options

Anti-anxiety over the counter options are mostly unproven, and many have side effects. If you’d prefer not to take a prescription med, what can you do? Consider each of these options for a home remedy for anxiety. Anyone of them may be very beneficial with or without an anxiety drug.

Relaxation Techniques

Many relaxation techniques can help with the moment-to-moment symptoms of anxiety. If you’re experiencing muscle tension, consider trying systematic muscle relaxation exercises. Listening to a guided imagery or meditation recording may shift your focus away from worrisome thoughts. Deep breathing can help you get into a physical and mental state of calm. Each of these techniques is effective and is often used in clinical settings like hospitals and recovery centers.

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Exercise

A regular exercise routine can help you get fitter day by day. Your average heart rate may go down, your blood pressure might decrease, and you may feel more energetic and healthier if you lose weight. But exercise doesn’t just help your body. It also affects the way the neurotransmitters in your brain work. Both aerobic and nonaerobic exercise can be beneficial, especially for mild to moderate anxiety and when added to psychotherapy.

Music Therapy

Music therapy gives you an outlet for your anxiety, and it can be very calming. In fact, one study showed that music therapy reduced anxiety for people with a generalized anxiety disorder. Music has also shown effective in people who have anxiety due to several different medical conditions and over-stressed nurses.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital if you want to reduce your symptoms of anxiety. However, taking a sleeping pill may not be the right answer for you due to side effects like daytime drowsiness. So, before you turn to a pill for sleep, consider changing any habits that might affect your sleep. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark, and don’t use it for anything but sleep and sex. Avoid screen time for at least an hour before bedtime. If you’re having trouble sleeping, ask your doctor. They may need to do a sleep study to check for conditions like sleep apnea.

Diet

Eating a healthy diet is always good for your mental health. People with anxiety need to avoid eating too much sugar so you can keep a steady, normal blood sugar level. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase jittery, restless, or nervous feelings, limiting your coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

Nicotine And Drug Use

While nicotine may seem to make you feel calmer immediately, the truth is that it will increase your anxiety in the long run. Using street drugs is always a threat to your mental health. Many of these drugs are incredibly hard on people with anxiety.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is another non-drug treatment that can help with anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been studied extensively. Consistently, CBT has proven to help significantly with mental illnesses, including anxiety. Other types of therapy are also helpful, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy. You can immediately talk to a therapist or start with a test before deciding whether you need help.

What Drugs Are Prescribed For Anxiety?

Sometimes, nonprescription solutions alone aren’t enough to reduce anxiety symptoms to a bearable level. If your anxiety is severe, long-lasting, or interferes with your daily life, you may benefit from taking a drug for anxiety. The following is an anxiety drug list that includes several of the meds that are typically prescribed.

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Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are drugs that affect your brain in powerful ways. They offer quick, short-term relief from anxiety symptoms. The downsides of these medications are that they can be addictive, they lose their effect when you take them too long, and they can cause excessive daytime drowsiness. For this reason, these drugs are usually used for short-term anxiety.

Beta-Blockers

The primary use of beta-blockers is to lower blood pressure or treat heart problems. These also help with the physical effects of anxiety, including racing heart, sweating, trembling, and shakiness. These drugs can also cause drowsiness as well as fatigue and weakness.

Buspirone

Next on the anxiety med list is buspirone. This drug acts as a slow-acting tranquilizer. It calms you without sedating you. There’s little risk of becoming dependent on it. It usually helps with generalized anxiety disorder, though not other anxiety disorders.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants can do more than ease the symptoms of depression. Some of them can be very effective against signs of anxiety. The leading antidepressants prescribed for anxiety are SSRIs, such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro. These drugs are useful for many different anxiety types, including social anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, OCD, and GAD. If you take an SSRI, you must talk to your doctor before you stop taking them. That’s because withdrawal from these medications can bring physical and emotionally distressing symptoms.

What Should You Do For Your Anxiety?

With all the different OTC, prescription, and non-medication options for treating anxiety, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with information. But the first step is to determine how severe your anxiety is. You can take an anxiety test online in just a few minutes and get an immediate answer to this question.

Conclusion

You can then decide whether to try something simple, like getting more exercise or taking an OTC herbal remedy. Or, you can choose to seek help from an expert. Whatever you do at first, you can always change your mind if a treatment isn’t working for you. You can reduce the symptoms of your anxiety and become calmer, less worried, and less tense.