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6 Unexpected Consequences of Taking Medication for Anxiety

I started taking medication for anxiety and mild depression a little more than two weeks ago, and because two weeks was the recommended “adjustment period” my psychiatrist gave me, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my “new normal” — a normal which was supposed to be anxiety-less, or at least anxiety-reduced. From where I am now, results have been mixed.

This was not a decision I took lightly. As someone who likes to tell others there’s no shame in taking medication, classically I couldn’t take my own advice. But bad days started to outnumber good days. I would have negative thoughts — including passive suicidal thoughts — running through my head at work and before bed. Anxiety attacks, uncomfortable back pain and stomach aches — the works. At the end of the day I would be overwhelmed and anxious for the next day to start. So I discussed it with my therapist and became more open to the idea of trying medication.

After months of avoiding, I finally made an appointment.

Even driving to the psychiatrist’s, I starting beating myself up for “wasting time.” I should have been working. I was fine. I didn’t need this (see also: I didn’t deserve this). I was mad at myself for being “so weak,” for disrupting my day for nothing.

But of course, when the nurse practitioner asked me how I was, I immediately burst into tears. And if you can cry and babble for 30 minutes straight when someone asks you how you are, that might be a sign you could use more support.

So here I am. I wanted to share some honest takeaways from my journey so far. Because while yes, you could say I’m literally “less anxious,” the experience has been as surprisingly underwhelming (spoiler: I’m still the same person!) as it has been rewarding.

For context: I’m taking a pretty low dose of an SSRI. Medication is not right for everyone, and not everyone will react to medication in the same way. Definitely talk to your doctor before starting or stopping medication.

Here are some of the unexpected things that happened when I started taking medication to manage anxiety.

1. At first, the silence in my brain was uncomfortable. 

I didn’t realize my brain had once been an echo chamber until there was silence. The new stillness was eery, like walking the streets of an empty city. I remember on the first day actually trying to produce a thought that might start echoing — but it stood, individually, on its own, without multiplying. Without the constant noise rattling around in my head, I wasn’t sure how to think. This left me feeling spacey and uncomfortable.

More recently, I’ve appreciated this silence. I deal with a lot of repetitive, negative thoughts (“I’m a bad person,” “I want to kill myself,” etc.), and now, it’s been much easier to let them pass through without letting them take over.

2. I felt “lazy,” which I later learned is called feeling “relaxed.”

Without the bully of anxiety bossing me around all day, I started to feel… lazy. Instead of waking up and instantly jumping out of bed so I could perform the “perfect” morning routine, I stayed a little longer. When I got home from work, instead of thinking, “What am I doing next?” “What am I doing next” I watched YouTube videos with my boyfriend. I talked to my roommate on the couch. Free from my shackles, I felt like I was rebelling — doing the opposite of what my anxious brain would urge me to do. You’re demanding I meditate in the morning? Fuck that — I’m sleeping as late as I can. Oh, I have to stay at work 30 more minutes or else everything will fall apart? Nope, I’m leaving now.

I learned being “lazy” was actually me feeling relaxed. I’m not used to feeling content with doing nothing or rejecting the way my brain tells me how I have to do things, so it’s a strange new thing to get to enjoy.

3. My anxious energy turned into crankiness. 

I’m not typically a cranky person, but when the energy inside me wasn’t being used to think mean thoughts about myself, it turned towards other people. Namely, people closest to me. OK, it was really just my boyfriend. But still, this sudden short-fuse was one of the more surprising side effects. I found myself starting arguments over nothing and getting irritated at small things. I didn’t like it, but it felt like the energy had no where else to go.

This has actually been decreasing as time goes on, and I’ve found exercise has been a great way of getting rid of that extra “energy.”

4. It eased practically all of my physical symptoms.

My anxiety lives in the back of my neck, so my upper back hurt basically all the time. Yoga would help, but it was always temporary relief. My body would tense up again as soon as I reentered the world. Since I’ve been taking this medication, the tension in my body has eased up a bit, and I’m no longer in so much pain.

5. I actually appreciate feeling stressed now.

This is something I’m not sure everyone understands, but when anxiety dominates and escalates any ounce of internal conflict, it’s actually pretty nice to feel pure stress, untainted with extra anxiety. It’s like I can actually manage things that stress me out without melting into a puddle of my own self-hate. I remember joking with my therapist, “I’m still stressed, but at least my brain isn’t telling me to kill myself!” Because while situational stress is part of being human, it’s easier to face without the extra, unnecessary anxiety.

6. Medication doesn’t make me happier – I will make me happier.

Here’s the thing: although my anxiety is mean, she’s well-intentioned. Like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum because she can’t communicate what she wants, it was more about how my anxiety chose to express itself, not what she was trying to tell me. Now with more control in my hands, I can ask my anxiety to “use its words.” Because I do like meditating in the morning. I do like working and pushing myself to be productive. These things themselves are inherently bad, and the energy of my anxiety is a part of what makes me, me. So my challenge now is relearning how to do things casually. How to navigate a day without my anxiety pulling the strings. It’s a little scary, and I haven’t nailed it yet, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to try.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Peterfactors

6 Unexpected Consequences of Taking Medication for Anxiety