It’s an unprecedented time. There’s never been a period where we’ve had to so drastically change how we live and work, how we grocery shop, and how we socialize. The COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 5 million people across the globe with a ripple effect that has impacted thousands more — our family members, friends, and neighbors.
The mounting death toll across all age groups, socio-economic statuses, and locations, combined with the uncertainty this little virus has injected into our finances, health, and society, can rapidly lead to feelings of anxiety. Ongoing worry that impacts daily life can be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, medication may be a viable option for helping to maintain your mental health.
How to Weigh the Pros and Cons of Medication
Before beginning any treatment plan, it’s critical to understand the benefits, as well as the potential side effects or risks. No solution is a perfect solution during a pandemic. It comes down to identifying the right path for you right now, amid whatever challenge you may be facing. The important thing is feeling better and taking care of yourself.
Most anxiety medications are safe to use with minimal impact on your long-term health when prescribed correctly. With many options available, you’re likely to find one that alleviates your symptoms and helps you return to everyday life with renewed focus.
Most medications also may come with some side effects.
Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety medications, that are usually prescribed to people with anxiety disorders can cause drowsiness, confusion, sedation, and weight gain.
Antidepressants can lead to mild fatigue and weight gain, decreased emotions, and reduced libido. Some users may experience dry mouth, blurry vision, or even increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, the chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said that rarely, and even if prescribed correctly, patients may experience more side effects than benefits. If that does happen, you should work with your psychiatrist or physician to find a new medication.
“In general, the disease is far worse than the side effects,” Siegel said.
Where to Seek Treatment
When facing the unexpected through the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be confusing to know who to turn to when experiencing prolonged symptoms of anxiety. Many healthcare systems are limiting appointments to severe or time-sensitive cases. That means your annual preventative visit may be rescheduled.
Don’t be afraid to schedule a visit with a mental health professional as soon as possible, however. Mental Health America notes that psychiatrists, psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners, primary care physicians, physician’s assistants, or nurse practitioners (depending on the state) can prescribe medication.
Finding a psychiatrist
Even if you may get an appointment with a general practitioner faster, it’s often important to undergo a full evaluation by a psychiatrist.
“A psychiatrist is a doctor that specializes in mental health,” Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP, CMHIMP, told Talkspace. “As a specialist, this professional has more experience and knowledge in the subject and can better diagnose and prescribe medication.”
When treating complex mental health conditions like anxiety, it’s crucial to receive guidance from the most qualified professional possible. Talkspace now has psychiatry services available, which connect you to a licensed prescriber from the comfort of your home — no mask required.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, you want to feel reassured that you’re effectively treating your holistic mental health and not creating larger issues down the road.
The Right Time to Try
Most of us are spending more time at home than ever before. While it’s frustrating to see graduation ceremonies, weddings, and funerals cancelled or postponed, it also represents a unique opportunity to use the unintended downtime for both self-care and new treatment options for your coronavirus-related anxiety.
Depending on the prescribed anxiety medication, it may take several weeks for you to experience relief. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for example, stop nerve cells from reabsorbing serotonin, which impacts mood regulation. They usually take anywhere from two to six weeks to take effect, and they don’t always work for everyone.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) reduce the brain’s reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. They also take several weeks to take effect.
The right dosage is critical to effectively treating anxiety. With more time at home, you can consciously evaluate your mood and bodily response without fear of experiencing negative side effects at work or social events.
Davíd Y. Harari, MD, MSB, the assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont, noted that traditionally, many struggle to take off work or battle a long commute to meet with a healthcare professional.
“Shifting to a remote work setting may alleviate the oft-cited inconvenience and challenge of finding the time to seek appropriate psychiatric care,” he said. “With so many uncertainties surrounding us during this time, some may welcome the option of trialing a new medication while they can do so in the security and comfort of their home.”
Consider Additional Treatment Options
Medication is a viable treatment option as you face overwhelming fear and anxiety about COVID-19. Dr. Harari reminds us that anxiety is a normal response to the stress we’re all encountering — and we should be gentle to ourselves during this time.
“While medication may be an appropriate option for some people facing excessive anxiety, it is important that everyone managing anxiety seek out other known ways of coping with stress and anxiety,” he said.
He recommended taking good care of your body by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, regularly exercising, pursuing meaningful activities, and connecting with others.
Therapy can support this holistic effort with or without medication. Popular types of therapy include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This common course of treatment for anxiety disorders includes help in identifying, labeling, and altering thought patterns, exposure and desensitization, and engaging in healthier coping strategies to lessen the overall negative impact of anxiety.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy: Interpersonal or relationally focused therapy can be helpful for those living with anxiety disorders. Treatment may include an exploration of ways in which the person interacts with others and helpful recommendations for new ways to engage.
- Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This subset of CBT incorporates the body as a tool for intervention and an instrument for change. MBCBT strategies or its techniques may include mindful breathing, meditation, guided visualization, and more.
Treatment is personal to you. It’s an uncertain time with both long-time and new anxiety sufferers looking for treatment options that offer a path to comfort, security, and hope. So, whether it’s through medication and therapy or solely medication, the right option for treating your coronavirus-related anxiety is whatever is right for you.