6 Ways to Cope with Anxiety After Quitting Xanax
Many people avoid quitting Xanax because they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to cope with their anxiety without medication, or because they are addicted to the drug, and are frightened of the intensified anxiety that occurs with Xanax withdrawal. It’s natural to be nervous when you are thinking about quitting Xanax, but there are effective ways of coping with anxiety naturally, such as with physical activity, meditation, or getting out into nature; and professional treatment is available for those in need of Xanax recovery.
The Prevalence of Anxiety in the U.S.
Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health issue faced by people in the United States today. Approximately 40 million Americans (18.1% of the total population) suffer anxiety disorders, and while many of them do not get the treatment they need, the approximately 37% who do get treatment are likely to use a benzodiazepine like Xanax to relieve their anxiety.
Around 5.2% of adults took benzodiazepines in 2008, with a large percentage of these being long-term benzodiazepine users. Unfortunately, taking benzodiazepines for more than occasional use, or taking them daily for longer than a few weeks, will lead to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms with discontinuation. Long-term use of benzodiazepines also increases the odds of misuse and addiction. Approximately 272,000 emergency room visits in 2008 were a result of nonmedical benzodiazepine use, and 40% of those involved combining the drugs with alcohol. This combination amplifies the intoxicating effects of each substance, as well as the adverse effects, such as respiratory depression, which puts individuals at high risk of fatal overdose.
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Why Does Quitting Xanax Make Anxiety Worse?
Some of the most intense and troubling Xanax withdrawal symptoms are the same as the symptoms for which the drug was originally prescribed, i.e. anxiety and insomnia. The more serious the Xanax addiction is, the more likely these symptoms are to return much worse than they were before treatment. The reason for this has to do with how Xanax works to relieve anxiety.
Benzodiazepines easily cross the blood brain barrier, and Xanax, which is a short-acting benzodiazepine, crosses over and begins to work very quickly. The drug calms the central nervous system, reducing anxiety and allowing people with insomnia to easily transition into sleep. Tolerance to these effects develops quite rapidly, although less quickly for the anti-anxiety effects than the muscle relaxant and sedating effects. Many people begin to increase their dosage or take Xanax more frequently when tolerance develops, and this leads to physical dependence, as the central nervous system adjusts the way it functions day to day based on the expectation that the drug will be present. When the drug is stopped, the central nervous system becomes out of balance and over-reactive, because it has been functioning in a way that requires the presence of Xanax. This over-reactivity can be healed given time, but individuals who already suffered from anxiety or panic disorders will likely remain anxiety-prone, the way they were before Xanax withdrawal, and will therefore need to develop coping techniques that are naturally calming.
6 Effective & Natural Ways to Cope with Anxiety
Exercise is one of the most effective natural ways to cope with anxiety, especially aerobic exercise. Regular physical activity is associated with a calmer nervous system and less hormonal reactivity. This means you will produce less of the chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious, and your brain won’t react as strongly to stressors as it once did. Even in the short-term, exercise can be a big help for anxiety. The body releases adrenaline in stressful situations to fuel the fight or flight response, so it makes sense that physical activity would help rid the body of the excess adrenaline associated with anxiety. Exercise also releases dopamine and endorphins, which allow you to feel calmer and happier. These exercise-induced effects may not be quite as powerful as taking a pill, but they will kick in even faster than Xanax takes effect, and over time, they can alter your brain function and chemistry in ways that make you less vulnerable to anxiety.
Meditation can calm anxiety symptoms by teaching you to allow your thoughts to exist without resisting or fighting them, and to detach from yourself until you are fully in the moment. With practice, you can even learn to deliberately slow down your heart rate, affecting your central nervous system with the power of your mind. Traditional meditation that requires you to sit very still and detach from yourself and your thoughts, however, isn’t for everyone. Some people find it makes them even more anxious. If this happens to you, don’t give up on meditation altogether; there are many different ways to meditate.
Some people use exercise as a form of meditation, and actually, any activity can become meditative if you focus all of your attention on what you are doing—washing dishes, driving, or raking leaves can become active meditation practice. Walking a labyrinth is another active way to meditate. While most people think of a labyrinth as a maze, they’re actually very different. A maze is a task to figure out. It has multiple paths and dead ends. A labyrinth is a single winding path laid out in a complex design. There is no trick. All you have to do is follow the path, and it will guide you through and out again. If you don’t have an actual labyrinth nearby, you can find and print out finger labyrinths to follow on paper.
3. Reduce Caffeine Intake
Caffeinated beverages are everywhere, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of drinking too much caffeine, especially if you are dealing with insomnia that makes you very sleepy in the daytime. Unfortunately, caffeine stimulates your fight or flight response which can bring on anxiety, or make you feel like you are on the edge of a panic attack, at which point anything can easily push you over the edge. Caffeine also inhibits sleep, even long after the feeling of alertness has passed. You can feel exhausted and still be unable to fall asleep because there is just enough caffeine in your system to keep your mind awake. That lingering caffeine can also keep your central nervous system in a more reactive state than it would be in otherwise, preventing you from relaxing and making anxious responses more likely.
4. Try Grounding Techniques
Grounding is a coping technique that uses your senses or directed thoughts to steady and link you to the present moment. When you feel anxiety coming on, you can essentially dodge it by opening a bottle of essential oils and focusing on the smell, or listening to music turned up very loud, or biting down on a slice of lime. Allow the intense sensory input to overwhelm you and eclipse any worry or jitters. You can also ground yourself by asking and answering a series of factual questions that remind you of who and where and when you are, such as, what year is it?, what is my name?, what month and day is it?, and so on.
Another way to both figuratively and literally ground yourself is to go outside and stand or walk around with bare feet. This is also called “earthing.” Feeling dirt, grass, sand, or rock directly under your feet is a quick way to center yourself, lower your stress level, and feel more balanced. Studies using scientific equipment to measure stress response have shown that earthing is a very effective anti-anxiety therapy for many people.
5. Monitor Your Diet
Not only does a healthy diet foster good general health, it can also help your anxiety. A balanced diet that includes a lot of fresh produce will give you plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, while also keeping your blood sugar level. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar to drop too low, which can make you feel weak and jittery, so be sure to eat when you are hungry. Eating too much sugar or processed foods will make you more prone to anxiety as well.
Foods rich in magnesium, such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and tofu, are calming, as are zinc-rich foods like oysters, liver, cashews, and egg yolks. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon help with anxiety, and so do B vitamins, which can be found in almonds and avocado. Supplements may be necessary for people who can’t get enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, but the nutrients in food are more beneficial, so try to make healthy food choices whenever you can.
Recent research has shown that good gut health is very important for mental health, and that a lot of emotional responses we once thought were located entirely in the brain are actually more controlled by the gut. For example, around 95% of serotonin receptors are located in the lining of your gut. Eating fresh, healthy food, helps with gut health, and so does eating probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and olives. You can take probiotic supplements, but just like with vitamin and mineral supplements, the pills are less effective than actually eating the food.
6. Attend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide you with practical ways of keeping drug-free in Xanax recovery, while also giving you valuable coping skills for managing stress and anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify triggers for your anxiety and substance use, and teaches you new ways of responding to your environment and negative emotions. It can also teach you strategies for keeping in touch with your mental and emotional state so that you can notice and attend to issues before they have the chance to build to a crisis point.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, regular exercise, grounding techniques, and any other method you use to cope with your anxiety after quitting Xanax will not only help you moment to moment, day by day, but will gradually build up your sense of self-efficacy, which is your belief in your power to handle challenges. A large contributing factor to anxiety disorders and one of the main reasons you may be nervous about quitting Xanax is the fear of anxiety itself. Basically, being frequently anxious can make you scared of becoming anxious, which can make you more likely to become anxious and make any anxiety you experience worse. The stronger your sense of self-efficacy, the less often you will be bothered by anxious thoughts, and the less reactive your nervous system will be, because you will know that you can manage any feelings you may encounter.
Getting Help for Xanax Dependence
Whether you are addicted to Xanax or merely physically dependent on the medication, you should seek medical assistance for Xanax withdrawal. If your body is dependent on a benzodiazepine, you should not suddenly stop taking it, as this could result in severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like seizures. Instead, you should slowly taper off Xanax at a rate determined by your treatment provider.
If you are quitting Xanax due to dependence but not an addiction, you may be able to handle the tapering process at home with the help of a doctor, although counseling is a very good idea to keep you on track and to help increase your self-efficacy. However, if you have been addicted to Xanax for more than a few months or at particularly high doses, you should seek inpatient treatment that provides 24/7 medical monitoring and a medically supervised Xanax detox. Inpatient treatment will provide you with a structured environment that can give the tools you’ll need to manage your anxiety naturally when you transition back into the community.
To find the best Xanax addiction treatment facility for you, consult our facility guide, chat with a treatment advisor online, or call to speak to us directly at 800-483-2193. Start your Xanax recovery today.