Is Medication The Only Option For Treating Anxiety?

By: Vicki M. Taylor

“Anxiety can begin early in life for people with depression or bipolar disorder. Anxiety and mood disorders can be a co-occurring diagnosis.”- DBSA 

Treating anxiety disorder in combination with bipolar disorder can be tricky. Anti-depressants can often increase manic episodes for people with bipolar disorder. Benzodiazepines, another common medication used for anxiety, may not directly have negative effects on bipolar disorder. Still, they should only be used for short-term treatment for anxiety in patients with co-occurring bipolar disorder. However, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, benzodiazepines “may cause side effects, including physical dependence and tolerance (a need for more medication over time), and there is some risk of abuse among people suffering from bipolar disorder, particularly those who have experienced alcohol or substance abuse.”

If anxiety is something you struggle with in addition to bipolar, read on for some effective therapeutic tools that help manage it, without risking the side effects of medication.

Medication for anxiety should be considered a “last resort” option in a treatment protocol that involves your psychiatrist, therapist, and you.

Behavioral therapy is a better option, as it helps you build strong coping skills that you can use before resorting to medication, or even when your medication isn’t available.

Learning coping techniques specific for you gives you and the treatment a better chance at success.

What I suggest is listing all the events or situations that currently cause anxiety for you. Once you’ve identified each situation, put the list away and think about all the things you enjoy that are calming, comforting, and create ease. Some examples include drinking a cup of chamomile tea, reading, doing a puzzle, watching a funny movie, taking a walk, playing with your pet, playing soft music, taking a long soak in the tub, talking to a friend, meditating, and so much more. Make this list very specific to your personality.

Then, go back to the anxiety list, and look at each situation objectively. Match a calming option that you can do for each. You may find you have more than one match, which is great!

Next, find a container, large enough to hold the majority of items you would use, such as a book to read, puzzles, a list of friends to call, a list of movies to watch, a coloring book with crayons or colored pencils, and more. For me, I even have some bubbles to blow  in there – I can’t be anxious when I’m blowing bubbles!

Next, you might want to keep both of those lists in the container to remind you which coping technique to use depending on the situation triggering anxiety. We all know this container can’t be mobile, and there are other situations outside your home that cause anxiety, so consider what you can have with you that will be portable enough to help. Music on your smart phone? An iPod? An electronic reading device? A book? Applications on your smart phone that include meditations, calm music, links to comedians, or even podcasts?

The possibilities are nearly endless, depending on you and your personality.

The goal is to help you develop non-medication coping techniques for anxiety-inducing situations. It might be difficult at first to get used to trying some of these techniques, but as you use them more often, it will be easier. And, keeping the list in your container, (and in electronic format to be portable) helps as well. A lot of times when we are anxious, our brain “freezes” and we forget what we’re supposed to do to help ourselves. I know, I’ve been there.

If you have a therapist, ask them about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, and guided Meditation. Otherwise, use your internet search engine to find many helpful sites. Check out the International Bipolar Foundation website for helpful resources.

Remember, assess your anxiety and its source, logically determine the severity, match your coping technique(s), and monitor your physical and mental symptoms. Repeat if necessary. Only opt for a medication to treat your anxiety based on a set of parameters you and your doctor and therapist have agreed upon.

I wish you much success on strengthening your coping skills for anxiety; they may help you in other situations as well.

Read more of Vicki’s IBPF blogs here.

International Bipolar Foundation is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We do not recommend any specific treatment, drug, food or supplement. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional advice because of something you have read from IBPF.

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