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Can Antidepressants Cause Anxiety?


Antidepressants are drugs primarily used to treat cases of depression. In some cases, they may be prescribed for anxiety as well.

These drugs work by restoring the balance of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a brain chemical that helps transmit nerve impulses between brain cells and other parts of the nervous system.

Serotonin is mainly responsible for stabilizing your mood and producing positive emotions. When you have depression, there is an imbalance of serotonin in your brain, making you feel down most of the time. This imbalance is what antidepressants aim to correct.

Anxiety also works on a similar principle. Thus, antidepressants are also prescribed to those who suffer from anxiety.

However, one side effect of antidepressants is they can cause anxiety, particularly when they’re used to treat depression. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it happens. Read on to find out why and how you can manage this when it happens to you.

Antidepressant activation syndrome

When you’re new to antidepressants, you might experience jitteriness during the first month of your medication. This is known as activation syndrome. According to a 2014 study, seven percent of participants developed this syndrome.

If you happen to have activation syndrome, you will experience jitteriness and some of the following symptoms:

  • AntidepressantsAgitation or irritability
  • Impulsiveness
  • Hostility or aggression
  • Higher energy levels or elevated mood
  • Trouble staying still
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia

If you develop these symptoms, don’t worry. It does not mean you have a new mental health issue. Activation syndrome is just a sign that your body has not adapted to the antidepressant medication yet. Your doctor may need to adjust your medication as well to reduce these symptoms.

In any case, if you get activation syndrome, tell your doctor right away. Do not change your dosage or stop the medication by yourself. Your doctor will know whether to adjust your medication or if you should just let the symptoms subside over time.

If your medication needs to be altered, here are some things your doctor might do:

  • Switch to another antidepressant
  • Lower your dose, then increasing it slowly to the dose you need
  • Temporarily prescribing anti-anxiety drugs like Klonopin or Ativan

In general, the anxiety you get while taking antidepressants is mild. It will go away soon as your body adjusts to the medication.

Coping with antidepressant-induced anxiety

AntidepressantsIf you do get activation syndrome or antidepressant-induced anxiety, there are ways to lessen it.

For one, you could do some physical activity. Walking, jogging, biking, and other similar exercises can improve your mood. Deep breathing exercises help a lot too.

If you’re wondering how much physical activity you should get, here are some guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each week, adults should have at least 150 minutes of physical activity with moderate intensity. This translates to about 10 minutes of exercise three times a day.

Diet also plays a huge role in the progression of anxiety. Eat foods low in fat and sugar to help ease feelings of anxiety. Also, eat at regular times each day. Research has shown that anxiety increases when your diet consists of high-fat and high-sugar foods, as well as having inconsistent meal times.

Some food components are anxiety triggers as well. These include:

  • Caffeine
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Alcohol

If you reduce your intake of these food additives, your anxiety may also improve.

Socializing to reduce anxiety

It’s important to know that it’s not only you. Other people are also experiencing antidepressant-induced anxiety. If you can connect with those people, the anxiety will feel less of a burden. Also, you can learn tips and tricks to reduce anxiety from each other. You can share to others what works for you, and you can take their advice too.

Ask around your area to find an anxiety support group nearby. If you prefer to stay home, there are also a lot of online anxiety support groups around. Check a few of them out first until you find a group that you are comfortable with. The important thing is you feel welcome in the group and the other members are willing to help you in your journey.

You can find resources for dealing with anxiety with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as well. Browse through it to find resources that are best for your situation.

What are the signs of anxiety?

Whether or not anxiety is caused by antidepressants, there are signs you can watch out for. Here are some of them:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Being worried often
  • Always second-guessing yourself
  • Frequent irritability or frustration

AnxietyWhen you experience these symptoms, it’s best not to keep it to yourself. Talk to your doctor or a mental health specialist so they can recommend what you can do to deal with the anxiety.

If you’re not ready to ask for professional help yet, tell someone you trust the most. It could be your best friend, partner, or close family member. Talking to someone about your struggles is, in itself, a way to relieve your anxiety. Isolating yourself will only make it worse.

If you can, tell your trusted people how they can best help you get through your anxiety. Tell them honestly what you feel, what you think, and how the anxiety is bothering you. Let them know what they can do to make you feel less anxious.

If they encourage you to seek professional help, do so. You may ask them to go with you to make the process easier. In many cases, professional help does a lot to make anxiety more manageable and tolerable.

Is there a way to treat anxiety or depression without antidepressants?

Yes, anxiety and depression can be managed without antidepressants. These medications are not mandatory if you have these conditions. Some doctors may choose not to give you such prescriptions. Instead, they will recommend behavioral therapies.

Behavioral therapies aim to address the mental and emotional side of anxiety and depression. In some cases, medication is not needed at all; behavioral therapies are enough.