Anti-anxiety Medication: An Article by Grace Williams
Grace Williams is a Third Year Psychology student studying at the University of Bristol. She has faced struggles with anxiety and kindly shared her story with the hope that it will help anyone facing similar struggles.
"It was only when I had such severe physical anxiety symptoms that I nearly called an ambulance for myself, that I realized I should probably go to the doctors about it. I genuinely thought I had a heart problem because of the intensity of chest pain I was feeling. I even had numbness in my arms and hands and heart palpitations. If you google these symptoms – which by the way, is a big mistake - these are all symptoms of an actual heart attack.
So, I went to the doctor, fully expecting to be told I was dying, and he promptly explained that I was a healthy 20-year-old and did not have a heart problem. He then went on to ask if I was feeling any stress or anxiety, to which my response was to break down in tears. After talking things through and recommending counselling, he then prescribed me Propranolol – a beta-blocker that treats the physical symptoms of anxiety.
I went home feeling deflated and scared. The doctor had mentioned side effects such as dizziness and fainting so of course, my anxious brain focused on all the possible things that could go wrong. I also felt like a failure because even in the depths of anxiety, I always told myself I was not going to take medication because I felt like I needed to recover without taking the ‘easy route’. Looking back I realize this was just another symptom of anxiety and perfectionism. I reluctantly took the first dose and waited to feel an extreme change in my body or mind. However, after a few days of taking it, I was surprised to realize that the only big difference I noticed was my chest pain had totally stopped and I felt like I could breathe again.
It is important to remember that this type of medication only treats the physical symptoms of anxiety, not the mental aspects of anxiety. I was also getting counselling at the same time that I started this medication. I found that because I was less worried about the physical symptoms, I was able to focus on what was really causing my anxiety and it really helped me to feel more in control. I also found that the propranolol helped my panic attacks hugely because they usually started with chest pain caused by stress and escalated into irrational thoughts about dying.
However, it was the counselling, mindfulness and exercise that helped me move from a world of tension and anxiety, to a much happier place.
I stopped taking the medication after the exam season because I noticed that I was starting to feel really flat. I went to the doctor who told me it was because I barely had any physical anxiety symptoms anymore so the medication was not really needed. The good thing about propranolol is that it is very fast acting and short-lived so you can take it as a one off (it is a really common medication that people take for public speaking). It is also not addictive so I was never worried about becoming reliant on it. This meant I stopped taking it with the security blanket of knowing I could take it if I suddenly started feeling anxious again. Fortunately, I have never felt the need to take it since, and I feel empowered knowing that I have improved to a point in my life where I don’t need the medication.
However, I am not ashamed to say I did need it and it seriously helped me to get a grip on my mental health.
First and foremost, I recommend counselling, but if you are struggling with physical symptoms of anxiety (chest pain / nausea / headaches / the shits / the list goes on…) please do go to the doctors and consider if medication may kick-start your road to recovery.
To find out more about Propranolol, click here. Please visit your GP and a medical professional for any further questions."