· By Caitlin Bray
Over the Counter Anxiety Medication: Does It Work?
Prescription medication is often considered a foregone conclusion when it comes to the treatment of anxiety. Most people just expect that they’ll have to take prescription meds at some point if they want to be effectively treated. However, other options do exist!
Plenty of people manage their anxiety with over the counter medication and supplementation, to a wide range of results.
But does it really work? Is it as effective as prescription medications?
To help you make your decision, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of over the counter anxiety medications.
What Exactly is Anxiety?
We can’t really understand or judge whether over the counter anxiety medications work without first looking at exactly what anxiety is.
If we break it down to its bare bones, anxiety is both our mind and our body’s reaction to what we perceive as stressful, unfamiliar, or dangerous situations. This can feel like a sense of dread, a feeling of panic, or even show physical symptoms like shaking, sweating, or heart palpitations.
Some people feel a low, constant feeling of anxiety while others will have full panic attacks. The scale of anxiety doesn’t matter, in the long run, as the end result is essentially the same: constantly feeling afraid for no particular reason. It can really affect your life if left unchecked.
A lot of this is due to the fact that our bodies are always on the lookout for potential danger via our fight or flight response. This is simply part of our evolution and is what has kept our species alive up until this point.
However, because the fight or flight response is an innate, involuntary system it often gets things wrong (we know logically that we have far more options than to just run away or get into a fight, especially if we’re facing a bear). For people with anxiety, this response is frequently triggered even in situations that don’t warrant it.
Anxiety is particularly dangerous when it continues over a longer period of time.
As the cortisol levels build up in the system, they tend to cause systemic problems like high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, rapid heart beat, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Over time, those symptoms can lead to larger problems like heart disease, weight gain, and even burn out.
It’s important to help reduce anxiety not only for those reasons, but also because it is just simply not a way that anyone should have to live.
Non-Prescription Options to Boost Mental Health
Now, onto the most important part! What, if any, over the counter anxiety remedies exist, and do they really work?
Kava kava is a great example of a non-prescription supplement with real potential.
Many people feel optimistic about the supplement because it can help with feelings of anxiety without the excessive tiredness that many prescription medications can cause.* It has been extensively researched, and it is believed that the way it works is by being able to bind with GABA which helps it increase in the brain.*
With more GABA, there is a natural reduction in anxiety due to a lessening of our fight or flight response. It can also help people who are going off of prescription anxiety medication to experience less side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
Another game-changing nutrient is L-theanine.
It is an “essential” amino acid, meaning it is important to the way our body functions but is not naturally made by the body. It works by promoting the levels of three different important neurotransmitters in the brain: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Each of these has a different effect on the brain and on our anxiety, but the ultimate result is the same… a reduction in our stress level and the ability to more easily cope with our anxiety.*
Supplements that contain more than one of these brain-boosting nutrients, like PYM Mood Chews that have both L-Theanine and GABA, are even more effective.* While research is still in its preliminary stages, what has been done is incredibly promising. Nearly everyone involved in the trials reported reduced acute stress responses, less anxiety, lower mental fatigue, and even increased alertness.*
5-HTP is another supplement ingredient making the rounds.
Another amino acid, this time one that can be manufactured naturally by the body, 5-HTP is critical for helping the brain produce serotonin. It is another over the counter anxiety remedy with plenty of research behind it, showing a significant reduction in feelings of anxiety as well as allowing people to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.* It is also safe to use in combination with prescription medications for an integrative approach, if preferred. With a healthy balance of 5-HTP in the body, serotonin can help regulate all areas of the central nervous system.
A final natural ingredient with known positive effects is GABA. Although many of the other supplements mentioned help the body to produce more GABA, supplementing with GABA itself is even more effective. Much like many of the other mental health-boosting supplements, GABA is an amino acid naturally produced by the brain. It functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, blocking certain brain signals that trigger feelings of anxiousness. When it makes contact with its assigned receptor, it naturally inhibits feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear while causing the body and the mind to feel calm.*
As the research catches up, we can expect to see what we already know anecdotally: these mental health supplements do seem to work to help improve mood and mental wellness. At the very least, as they have limited side effects, it can’t hurt to try!
Other Aids to Help With Feelings of Anxiety
In addition to medication, there are some other tips and tricks people dealing with anxiety can use to help them better manage their symptoms.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to naturally fight anxiety.
It has been studied extensively for many years, and researchers have found that intense exercise can actually mimic the effects that some of the stronger anxiety medications have. However, any form of exercise releases endorphins, while also working to effectively burn away cortisol (the stress hormone). If you’re experiencing anxiety, consider going for a run or to the gym. Even half an hour can help you knock down some of that excess anxiety.
Meditation is another great natural remedy for feelings of anxiety.
While meditation can seem intimidating to those who haven’t tried it before, it doesn’t have to be! Meditation is as simple as taking a little time to yourself to sit and think. All you need to do is to find a quiet room, take a few deep breaths, and focus on your physical body--you can even practice not focusing on anything at all. Taking a few deep breaths can help you calm down your fight or flight response, recenter, and be able to proceed from a healthier place.
Yoga is a great way to combine both exercise and meditation into one package.
It allows you to release endorphins while also focusing on your body and getting out of your head. Don’t be fooled into thinking that yoga is easy. While it isn’t as obvious as cardio exercise, you will definitely work up a good sweat while promoting some calmness in your mind. It’s something that you can do on your own or in a yoga studio, if you need more guidance.
One last action item is therapy.
Therapy is helpful for everyone, whether you’re going through a stressful period or not. Talking out your feelings, identifying your triggers, and putting an end to unhealthy coping mechanisms is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. It can help you get to the root of your anxiety, especially if it was triggered by a specific event.
There are many different types of therapies out there, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Finding a counselor that works for you, and that you get along with, is key. Don’t worry about “shopping around,” it may take time to find the right one. There are even therapists that work entirely online, if leaving the house isn’t a possibility or desire for you.
Treating your anxiety doesn’t have to include medication if you don’t want it to--you have a right to decide how you want to approach your own treatment plan.
There are options you can try to try and improve your mental health, like over the counter mental health supplements and even natural, action-based alternatives to consider. You may even want to combine medication, supplements, and physical activity to find the most effective combination for your specific issues.
You deserve to live your best life, and to get there in whatever way feels right. It’s important to remember that there isn’t one right path to mental health, and it’s all about finding what works for you.
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.