Learning to Deal with Anxiety

Many people with IBS struggle with anxiety, stress or whatever the individual (or their doctor) wants to call it. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) almost 20 years before my IBS diagnosis. I have spent almost 20 years learning to deal with my mental health issues.

Medications for mental health

While there are many medication choices and combinations (cocktails) for bipolar disorder, depression issues, and most other psychiatric conditions, anxiety (without additional symptoms), only has a few options as far as medication. These options can also be problematic. It is my opinion (I am not a doctor) that a holistic approach is truly the only way to manage and control anxiety. The importance of what ‘normal’ and ‘extreme’ anxiety is, is also very important. Sometimes after struggling with anxiety for a while due to illness or concern over life events, we begin to believe that our stress and anxiety are ‘abnormal’ and there is something wrong with us. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety to some degree, but it is important to know when to bring in some reinforcements.

Treatments for anxiety

Medications specifically for anxiety are scarce. The most effective, in my experience, are called benzodiazepines. You probably know them by their brand names; Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium are the most well-known. While these drugs are very effective at controlling anxiety, they are also only meant to be prescribed for short periods of time, at low doses, due to the very real danger of dependence and addiction. Therefore, speaking with your doctor is of the utmost importance before deciding to take benzodiazepines.

If you have ever had any problems with compulsive or addictive behaviors…probably not a great idea. Doctors may also prescribe something called Buspar (Buspirone). While this is a non-narcotic, much safer option, the efficacy of this medication has not been determined. Another common choice is Vistaril (Hydroxyzine). Vistaril is an antihistamine. Ever take Benadryl? That will give you a pretty idea of what Vistaril does. In my experience, it does take the edge off a little and is non-narcotic and not habit-forming.

Tackling anxiety without medication

So now that we have been through the basic, first offered medications for anxiety, we can talk about what would happen next if you decide against the narcotic and the other two or three things don’t work. The doctor will most likely go to an antidepressant or combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic. Starting to sound complicated, isn’t it? If you are having issues with depression or other symptoms, as well as anxiety, you should be having this conversation with a psychiatrist. If you are just experiencing anxiety, you may need to speak with your doctor about how much medication is really necessary to combat it. There is another path, however.

Lifestyle changes and IBS

Are you living as healthfully as possible? Is your diet healthy, do you exercise (walking is exercise)? Do you have a hobby that makes you happy? A significant other? A good family? Do you derive strength from something higher than ourselves?

After trying so many medications for anxiety and not really getting the results I was looking for, I asked myself was I living as healthfully as I could. The answer at the time was...no. I slowly started to make improvements in my life and the way I lived it. This was more effective than any medication that I had ever tried. I have learned to manage. While having the discussion about your options with the doctor is important, I can promise you that taking care of your overall wellness, is just as, if not more important. Just my two cents.

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