Medications For Stress: Benefits And Side Effects

The medication for stress increasingly consume more, with the pace of life we lead one of the main reasons for making the symptomatology related to this disease, as can be tiredness, nervousness, anxiety or even depression.

We have to perform quite a few and very diverse functions throughout the day. This occurs in the workplace and on the personal. We are probably becoming people who demand a lot of ourselves and don’t reward ourselves enough for how well we do.


All this load that we accumulate ends up turning into stress, a physiological reaction that occurs in our bodies to cope with a situation that is perceived as threatening or with a high level of demand.

What happens in our body when we have stress?

When we perceive a situation as stressful, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and triggers its fight or flight response mechanism.

If this threat remains longer, our body, not being prepared to maintain that level of activation, sets in motion the parasympathetic nervous system that causes homeostasis. That is, it causes the body to return to its normal activation level and to regulate physiological conditions.

Stress is perceived as a negative emotion and has great repercussions on the physical and psychological level of the person who suffers it. Each one will experience stress in a different way and for a different circumstance, too.

It is very important that we know how our body responds to a stressful situation to recognize the symptoms and be able to manage it properly and on time.

The treatment used in stressful situations is very varied and must be supervised by a specialist. The intervention of the psychologist is very important to support the patient in managing their emotions.

Next, we will look at six of the medications that are most used to treat stress, what are their benefits and, if they exist, what side effects they can cause in our body.


Anxiolytics are the quintessential drugs used in the treatment of stress and anxiety. That is, the different anxiolytics control the physical symptoms associated with anxiety. The most common are trembling and sweating.

Depending on the anxiety disorder and the person, it will require a drug and certain doses of it. The functioning mechanism of these drugs is due to their depressant action on the central nervous system , acting against anxiety, but without inducing a state of sedation or sleep.

Within this group, we find barbiturates and tranquilizers


These drugs act as sedatives of the central nervous system and their effects range from a state of relaxation, such as mild sedation, to total anesthesia.

People who consume them have to be cautious since barbiturates exert a great power of addiction, both physical and psychological.

For this reason, they are less and less used and some entities advise against the use of barbiturates in the treatment of anxiety. Actually, they can be useful in the treatment of insomnia when the use of benzodiazepines, of which I speak next, have not achieved the expected effect.

-Tranquilizers or benzodiazepines

Also known as benzodiazepines. These types of drugs are substances that induce depression of the central nervous system. Its action, in low doses, reduces the levels of nervous excitability and if consumed in large doses they are capable of inducing sleep.

This type of medication contributes to the disappearance of stress for a few hours, but one of its great contraindications is that it does not teach the patient to manage their nerves and their state of anxiety by themselves.

Benzodiazepines cause a great addiction so it is important that they are not abused and that when they are taken, it is under the appropriate medical supervision.

In the event that the patient frequently consumes these drugs, tranquilizers produce a habituation effect in the body and, therefore, in order to induce a state of tranquility and end the symptoms, it will be increasingly necessary to increase the doses of these drugs.

These medications can be prescribed by medical professionals to deal with stress and other conditions such as insomnia, as I pointed out in the previous section, and muscle pain.

Normally, people who have a higher level of addiction is because they use them to calm anxiety and fall asleep.

Effects for sleep

Among the tranquilizers, we find the benzodiazepines and, par excellence, Valium. Among the effects it produces, we find the following:

-Alteration of the transmission of neurological impulses.

-Reduced sleep time.

-Increased total sleep time.

-Decrease in REM sleep phase.

-Reduction of blood pressure.

-Reduction of heart rate.

Adverse side effects

Among the side effects that we face in the use and also in the abuse of tranquilizers we find, among others, a series of adverse effects.

In relation to driving and the use of heavy machinery, it is contraindicated to consume tranquilizers due to sleep that it can cause and, consequently, the accidents that a situation like these would cause.

Women who want to become pregnant may experience more difficulties staying with them if they use tranquilizers.

With regard to the elderly, it has been proven and thus stated by the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress (SEAS) that the use of tranquilizers can reduce life expectancy by up to seven years.

Active principles

Benzodiazepines work faster than antidepressants. The best known and most widely used drugs of this type are the following:

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin) which is used to treat social phobia and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan) which is indicated for cases of panic disorders.
  • Alprazolam (Xanax) used in panic disorders and also in generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Buspirone (Buspar) is an anti-anxiety medication used in people with generalized anxiety disorder. In this case, buspirone, unlike the rest of the benzodiazepines, needs at least two weeks to start working and for its effects to be noticeable.


Although by name it seems that they should only be used in the treatment of depression, antidepressants can actually be used in the treatment of stress and anxiety.

Its mechanism of action is very simple, they contribute to increasing serotonin levels in our central nervous system. In this way, it is possible to improve the mood of the people who consume it.

As a general rule, antidepressants used to treat anxiety are started at low doses and, progressively, the dose is higher.

Depending on the type of anxiety problem, one type of antidepressant or another will be prescribed. Among the most common are the following:

Serotonin Reception Inhibitors

This type of antidepressant increases the extracellular levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates anger, aggressiveness, body temperature, etc. Thus, serotonin levels increase in the synaptic cleft (junction between two neurons) and will eventually bind to the postsynaptic receptor.

They are used in cases of depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Phobia, in Eating Behavior Disorders and, they can even be used in the treatment of premature ejaculation.

The best known, within this group, are fluoxetine and whose trade name is Prozac, sertraline, escitalopram, paroxetine and citalopram.

Between the first and fourth week of treatment, people who take serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants begin to experience the first side effects.

The most common are nausea and vomiting, drowsiness and insomnia problems, headaches (headaches), episodes of bruxism (grinding of teeth), changes in appetite, diarrhea, among others.

Tricyclic antidepressants

These drugs receive this name because, in their chemical structure, they comprise three rings. At first, they were devised as antihistamines and, later, their effect was proven in the treatment of psychotic and depressive episodes.

Tricyclic antidepressants prevent the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. In this way, they produce an increase in the levels of these in the brain .

The most common side effects of these antidepressants are anticholinergic effects, that is, they reduce or cancel the effects of acetylcholine in the central nervous system and in the peripheral nervous system .

The best known are the following: bronchodilation (dilation of the bronchi and bronchioles), cardiovascular effects, weight gain and sexual dysfunction.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors

They are known as the first antidepressants to be marketed. Its way of acting is by blocking the action of the enzyme monoamine oxidase.

People who consume these antidepressants cannot consume alcohol and other foods that contain high levels of tyramine (fermented foods such as cheese, pickles, etc.), since the interaction of these inhibitors together with tyramine can cause a cerebrovascular accident .

The side effects produced by monoamine oxidase inhibitors are similar to those of the other antidepressants mentioned above.


Known as antipsychotics. When taken in low doses, they exert anxiolytic properties. Some of them are rispedirone, olanzapine and quetiapine. They are used in generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder.

Due to the seriousness of their side effects, the use of neuroleptics should be restricted to patients who have not previously responded to another pharmacological treatment or who suffer from schizophrenia or to the elderly who begin with symptoms related to agitation. . 


They work by reducing the catecholaminergic system, thus reducing the actions of the sympathetic nervous system.

The use for which they are best known is for acting as hypertensive, but they are also indicated for the treatment of different anxiety disorders, including: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are several types of sympatholytic drugs:


They work by blocking postsynaptic B-adrenergic receptors. In this way, they control the adrenergic somatic manifestations (related to the sympathetic nervous system) such as tachycardia, palpitation, tremor, sweating, suffocation and other physical symptoms that alert us that the person suffers from anxiety.

Its action suppresses these manifestations in a secondary way, without interfering in the mechanisms of anxiety at the cerebral level. Therefore, in some anxiety conditions such as anticipatory anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, it does not show efficacy.

Beta-blockers are commonly used to treat, symptomatically, the anxiety produced by stage fright that artists or people who present themselves to an opposition may suffer.

Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists

Clonidine and guanfacine act on noradrenergic receptors, inhibiting the activation of neurons involved in panic and stress responses.

Selective GABA reuptake inhibitors

These drugs act by inhibiting the activity of the main neurotransmitter of the Central Nervous System, GABA. Within this classification, we find several types:

  • Antiepileptic drugs such as pregabalin and gabapentin are effective in treating the psychic and somatic symptoms of anxiety.
  • Neurosteriodes act as anxiolytics at low doses and when administered in high doses, they act as anxiolytics.

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