Stress is a problem that knows no boundaries of sex, color, age or class.
It can be positive when it helps enhances memory, gives us the adrenalin boost to escape death, increases immunity and improves task performance. If stress overwhelms, it becomes negative. We allow it to control us rather than being in control of “it.”
Negative stress could get you a prescription from your physician for one member in a class of medications called the benzodiazepines.
You may have heard of alprazolam (Xanax™), diazepam (Valium™) and lorazepam (Ativan™). There are over a dozen more chemicals that are part of the same family. They are mainly used to treat anxiety and insomnia but are also prescribed for phobias, muscle spasm and pre-surgical procedures.
These drugs sit in areas of the brain called GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) receptors. GABA is normally produced by the body to inhibit excessive excitement in the nerves. Benzodiazepines aid by mimicking GABA, therefore lowering the amounts of nerve transmissions throughout your head.
By significantly decreasing nerve activity, you may experience side effects like drowsiness, being “out of it”, dizziness and impaired consciousness. Since this is called a CNS (central nervous system) depressant it should never be combined with alcohol. Alcohol is also a depressant and together may lead to coma resulting in death.
If you ever played piano, there are pedals to alter the sound of the keyboard. The leftmost lever for your feet is called the soft or muting pedal. This device lowers the music volume which is exactly what these drugs do to the nervous system. They lower nerve excitability therefore softening your attitude to a stressful situation.
The problem with this entire family is the potential for addiction. You can only use these chemicals as an anxiety “solution” for a short period of time.
These drugs are used for circumstances where individual cannot overcome the stress of an acute situation. One example could be helping with the grieving process of someone who has passed.
This drug therapy inducing relaxation and increases the quality of life. It doesn’t solve the problem, but only allows one to ignore the sometimes “perceived” negative scenario at hand.
Maximum treatment duration for anxiety shouldn’t be any greater than 4 months. After that period of time, one develops tolerance, circumventing the full effects of the drug at the given dose. The higher the dose, the tougher to wean a patient off the medication. It must be done slowly over many weeks.
The good thing about this class of medications is that it will increase quality of life over the short-term. It will help protect the body against the damaging effects of excess cortisol production. Cortisol is adrenalin which makes the heart pump faster, the blood vessels constrict which significantly increases blood pressure. All these factors may accelerate disease processes leading to heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
The bad thing about anti-anxiety agents is used chronically, they will induce addiction. Patients will need increasingly higher strengths of the medication to incur the same effects. When discontinuing this treatment, one must slowly wean off the drug over weeks or maybe even months. Depression may occur during this withdraw process.
Safer alternatives in lieu of benzodiazepines are meditation, yoga, massage, working out, running and regular safe sex.
An excellent read on meditation is called, The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Renovating Your Mind recommends this book for getting more “hang loose” time into your daily life.
Photo credit: Foter / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication