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Can Anxiety Be Treated without Benzodiazepines?

Someone who has been experiencing panic attacks or insomnia is often prescribed a benzodiazepine–usually Xanax–to get the problem under control. Xanax kicks in quickly and lasts for several hours, which is usually plenty of time to get you through your anxiety-inducing flight or to let you fall asleep. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines can cause dependence in as little as two weeks of daily use and once you’ve developed a dependence, quitting cold turkey is dangerous. Whether you have a history of addiction or you just worry about becoming addicted to benzodiazepines, you may wonder if your anxiety can be treated without them. Typically, anxiety can be successfully treated without benzodiazepines. Here’s how.

Cognitive behavioral therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been proven effective in treating many kinds of issues, including anxiety. CBT focuses on identifying the faulty assumptions that feed anxiety and replacing them with more objective and constructive ways of thinking. For example, if you have bad social anxiety, you may assume people are judging you more harshly than they really are, or that the consequences of someone not liking you are extremely high. CBT helps you examine these fears and put them in the proper perspective. Then you learn practical strategies for dealing with feelings of anxiety.

SSRI medications.

The most common medications for anxiety are SSRIs, better known as antidepressants. These increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which is thought to improve mood. People with anxiety disorders typically have low serotonin levels and SSRIs appear to work by restoring those levels to normal. Not everyone needs medication, but if other interventions aren’t helping, it might be an option. SSRIs typically have mild side effects, especially compared to benzodiazepines, but everyone reacts differently, so you might have to experiment to decide whether medication is worth the tradeoff.


Exercise is good for reducing the symptoms of anxiety. Aerobic exercise has been shown in increase serotonin levels in the brain. In fact, some studies have found that exercise raises serotonin as much as SSRIs. Regular exercise also lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure, meaning you start out with a lower physiological baseline for stress. Exercise produces endorphins that boost your mood and it helps you sleep better.


Some foods are terrible for anxiety. Sugary or fatty foods can cause inflammation and make you feel sluggish and sick. Sugary foods can crash your blood sugar, making you feel anxious, irritable, and jittery. Low blood sugar also makes your heart race, or beat erratically. Caffeine may also make anxiety worse by raising your adrenaline and disrupting your sleep. On the other hand, a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can improve your mood and make you feel better in general.


Meditation can improve anxiety in several ways. First, it’s a way of consciously relaxing every day, which lowers your baseline level of stress. It’s also a way of exploring and processing feeling of anxiety in a safe environment, which can make it easier to manage in everyday life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety or addiction, Awakenings Recovery Program can help.

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