Feeling overwhelmed by worry, panic, and tense emotions is both mentally and physically draining. While practicing relaxation techniques and making lifestyle changes can help manage anxiety, sometimes medications are needed to fully calm both the mind and body back to a balanced state. Anti-anxiety drugs, also known as anxiolytics, work by enhancing the effect of certain neurotransmitters in the brain to reduce feelings of nervousness, fear, and unease. They provide rapid relief by slowing down brain activity and nervous system reactions, helping anxiously wired individuals feel more relaxed and in control. If anxiety is significantly disrupting your life, anti-anxiety medication may be a helpful addition to therapy and self-care strategies. Here is an overview of some of the most common types of medications that have a calming effect for anxiety.
Benzodiazepines are one of the most widely prescribed classes of anti-anxiety drugs. They work by increasing the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down communication between brain cells and suppresses nervous system activity. This produces a sedating, calming effect. Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan provide rapid relief of anxiety symptoms, so they are often used for fast-acting management of panic attacks and acute anxiety. However, they have the potential for abuse and addiction since they create pleasant drowsy feelings. Therefore, they are usually only prescribed for short-term or intermittent use. Potential side effects include dizziness, nausea, headache, memory problems, and daytime drowsiness.
Buspirone is another anti-anxiety medication that increases serotonin levels in the brain to elevate mood and decrease worry. Brand names include BuSpar and Vanspar. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone is not habit-forming and does not cause sedation or impairment. It may take 2-3 weeks to start working, but the effects last long-term. It is often used for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Side effects may include headaches, nausea, nervousness, lightheadedness and excitement. Buspirone has fewer interactions with other drugs compared to some anti-anxiety medications as well. This makes it a safer option for long-term management.
Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine, used for treating allergies and itchiness, which is also FDA-approved for anxiety relief. Brand names include Atarax, Vistaril, and Rezine. Hydroxyzine works by suppressing activity in the central nervous system. This helps inhibit the physiological effects of anxiety like rapid heart rate. The drowsiness side effect that antihistamines can cause helps in calming the mind as well. Hydroxyzine starts working in as little as 30 minutes. Side effects may include dry mouth, dizziness, and headache. This medication has low risk for dependence and drug interactions.
SSRIs and SNRIs
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressants are also frequently used off-label for anxiety. Even though they are not specifically anti-anxiety drugs, they elevate mood and have calming effects by increasing serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine activity. Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). SSRIs and SNRIs can take 4-6 weeks to become fully effective and must be taken daily, but do not cause dependency. Nausea, headache, drowsiness, insomnia and sexual side effects are possible.
Gabapentin is primarily used for nerve pain and seizure control, but is increasingly prescribed off-label for anxiety management. Brand names include Neurontin, Gralise, Gabarone. It works by modifying the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and GABA that influence mood. Gabapentin may be favorable over benzodiazepines for long-term anxiety treatment because it is not addictive and does not cause withdrawal. Dizziness, fatigue, visual disturbances, and swelling of the hands and feet are potential side effects. Gabapentin should not be stopped abruptly.
Beta blockers like propranolol are a class of medication used for heart conditions and high blood pressure that have the added effect of “blocking” physical anxiety symptoms like rapid heartbeat and tremors. They are sometimes prescribed for performance anxiety or social phobia. Brand names include Inderal, Innopran XL, and Propranolol Accuneb. By blocking epinephrine receptors, beta blockers calm the body’s fight-or-flight response. Side effects may include drowsiness, insomnia, dizziness, depression and fatigue. It is important to not stop them suddenly.
If anxiety is disrupting your daily functioning, consulting a doctor or psychiatrist about medication options is wise. Anti-anxiety drugs combined with therapy and self-care can help you regain calm and stay balanced. Be patient when starting a new medication, communicate openly about side effects, and take medications only as prescribed. While a pill won’t cure anxiety alone, for many the right medication brings stability, eases debilitating symptoms, and creates space to work through underlying causes with a clear mind. Discuss all your concerns to find the calming solution that fits your needs. The relief you’ve been searching for may be just a prescription away.