Overcoming Anxiety: Should I Take Medication?
DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to offer my perspective on the decision-making process involved with choosing a treatment plan for generalized anxiety. Since I ultimately found freedom from my anxiety after working with a functional/naturopathic doctor, many have asked if they should/could get off their medication or if I am therefore against it. This post is in response to those questions. I am not a medical professional and this should not be taken as medical advice. Please, don’t stop or start any medicine without talking to your doctor and making sure it’s safe to do so.
If you have ever had anxiety, you’ve probably received at least a few insensitive comments from people trying to “help.” It seems that everybody, especially those who have never personally dealt with the illness (or people who have both anxiety and very strong opinions), has an opinion on how to cope with and overcome the panic, fear, and dread that often, if not constantly plagues anxiety sufferers.
Let me give you a few examples that people have said to me through the years:
“You should pray more. The Bible says to cast all your anxiety on Him. Don’t you trust Him?”
“You should read your Bible; that always helps me relax.”
“You have to find a way to relax! Too much stress will lead to a heart attack. Why don’t you try yoga?”
“It’s not a sin to get on medicine, you are sick; you need a doctor and meds not more prayer.”
Those are just four of my “favorites,” but please, insert whatever comment has really irked you personally. Bonus points for those who share in the comments what has been said to them and what they would prefer instead!
Now, some of you may look at those comments and resonate with them. Others may be confused on how they are insensitive.
You may say “I feel I should pray and read Scripture more.” Why is THAT offensive?
Others may say, “I do think I’m sick and need medicine, not prayer. Why is THAT offensive?”
I would say though that each person with anxiety needs something different.
If you read my last post on how I found freedom from anxiety then you know I have a newfound love for functional medicine. Functional medicine looks at each individual person and their personal body chemistry and metabolic processes. No two persons are alike so unlike allopathic medicine which has a “cookie-cutter” approach to health, functional medicine treats each person differently, recognizing that everyone has different needs and no one treatment will work across the board. (If you haven’t read my post on my health journey and freedom from anxiety you can find it here.)
I think anxiety is the same concept in that no two people are alike. Every person with anxiety has a different trigger, health problem, trauma, etc. behind their anxiety. Therefore, no one “treatment” should be cast onto everyone. Yet, our society has come to believe that anxiety is merely just a chemical imbalance in the brain that meds can fix and that if we just take them we can get on with a merry, happy life.
While a chemical imbalance in the brain may be responsible for the anxiety, it’s also true that inflammation of the brain may be the cause. Medication may be masking an underlying problem that could possibly be healed through proper care and nutrition. Then again, maybe not—maybe some people have other underlying issues or such severe trauma in their life that lifestyle change and reducing inflammation doesn’t relieve their symptoms. That’s possible too!
The point I’m trying to make is that there are multiple causes, countless triggers, and several treatment options—yet many people often tend to lump sufferers into one category—“you need meds.” That can be devastating to hear if you are a person who doesn’t want meds or has had bad side-effects from them in the past. It can make you feel like there is no hope other than medication and that people don’t believe in your ability to overcome it without.
At the same time, other people are adamant the anxiety is a result of too little trust in God. They believe that sufferers aren’t praying enough, reading their Bible enough, or going to church enough. They think medicine is sinful and that it eliminates God from the equation because you aren’t “trusting him” to heal you. These are the people that say things like “you should pray more. Don’t you trust God?” I probably don’t even need to explain why that is offensive. That statement implies to an already insecure person that they are not a good Christian and that they are failing God. Ouch! Just Ouch!
"So what do we do? Does everyone need medicine? Can everyone heal naturally? Is it sinful to take meds? Are you against anxiety medicine, Sydney? Am I crazy if I don’t want to take medication? Should I take medicine?!"
Here’s what I think: Everyone does not need medicine; though it would be easier for the rest of society to know how to “help” if they could just prescribe a magic pill. But, that’s not how it works unfortunately. Some people don’t want to take anxiety medication and pressuring them to do so is rude and insensitive. If you are one of those people who feels they should be praying more instead of taking meds, who wants to seek counseling and use spiritual tools and other coping strategies to work through your anxiety, I say "go for it" (assuming you are dealing with generalized anxiety and nothing more serious that could cause danger to you or anyone else)! You are not crazy. I've been there! (Though others thought I was crazy—but you know what? I survived!) On the other hand, if you want medication, you cannot function without it, or you may be a danger to yourself without it, to you I also say "go for it!" It’s not a sin and it can be very useful to many. I've been there too!
So, to answer the primary question “should you take medicine?”—I don’t know, but you do. You know what your heart is leaning towards even if you don’t know for certain the route to take.
If you don’t feel peace in your heart about medicine but everyone else thinks you should be on it, (what I hear alllllllll the time) then, I personally don’t think you should take it. (Once again, I’m referring to generalized anxiety here, not psychosis or any other severe mental health issues where it might be dangerous to avoid medicinal treatment). Many would balk at my opinion here, but I am a firm believer that reduced symptoms and even healing from anxiety can be achieved in other ways. I’ve gone on medicine out of a sense of “obligation” because others pressured me and wanted me to be “normal” again. I hated it, I had bad side effects, I was bitter about how “numb” I felt, etc. While it slowed my racing heart and helped me function, it didn’t help the heartbreak or treat the root cause. I’d never wish those feelings of bitterness and regret anyone even if it did help me function. If you don’t want medicine, I would encourage you to explain your reasoning to your doctor, psychologist, or whoever is helping you and work together to create an alternative treatment plan. Or better yet, find a good functional medicine doctor who can help you heal any underlying health issues you may have contributing to your mental health!
If you want medication but others are trying to talk you out of it or are telling you “horror” stories about it, don’t listen to them. For each person who has had bad side effects or believes you can pray your way out of your misery, there’s another person who didn’t have side effects and felt they couldn’t cope any other way (several of my close friends fall into this category). I’ve wanted medication before and chose not to take it due to what a couple friends said about its side-effects and my faith in God. I then spent every day barely functioning because I couldn’t even find the strength to pray or follow-through with any other coping strategies. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone either.
My point is, only YOU can decide if you should or shouldn’t take medicine. I’m honestly not for or against anxiety medication. I’m really in the middle—I think it serves a great purpose at times, but I believe it should be used only when necessary and truly desired.
Just because I found healing naturally doesn’t mean that I am anti-medicine or that my anxiety will never come back. And just because I’ve taken meds in the past doesn’t make me pro-medication for all people. Life is a journey, with ups and downs and curves along the way. It’s important to take it one step at a time, making the best decision you can for yourself in the moment that you are in.
You can’t compare yourself to other people or listen to everything everyone says. Some people are insensitive and others just don’t understand. You are UNIQUE. You have your own mind and heart and relationship with God. You have your own struggle with anxiety with triggers different from everyone else. As you make decisions about your treatment plan, spend time in prayer seeking what God would have you to do. HE is the only one who can truly help you make the right decision and who will never be insensitive to your feelings or your struggles. He has great things in store for you and he may or may not have you use medicine along the way. But decide based on HIS opinion, not the opinions of the rest of the world.
I’ll leave you with Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Question for discussion—What would you say to someone with anxiety uncertain if they should take medicine or try to cope in other ways and approach it from a more “natural” route?