Lexapro and Anxiety: Combating Anxiety-Related Stress

Two years ago, I suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I wasn’t freaking out in front of mirrors or anything like that, but it was a slow build up of events that, as a stereotypical American male, I tried to compartmentalize until all the compartments opened up like a million Pandora’s boxes. I just got into a high-stress military job that offered me more time at home with my family, but it involved lots of multitasking and by-the-minute scheduling that left you virtually brain-dead by 5pm. On top of that, several members of my family were all getting sick for various reasons and at various times. It seemed like when one got better, another suffered something else.

Eventually I quit eating regularly. I stopped taking breaks when I needed to. I brought more work home with me and tried to do it in between tragic phone calls. Soon enough, I started taking big, deep breaths while people spoke to me because my chest was tightening. One new coworker thought I was panting and getting upset and she stayed away from me for two days! I started every morning on the toilet for 3 weeks straight. By the time I reached the pinnacle of anxiety, I had poor job performance, trouble breathing, trouble sleeping, and I lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks and not in the good way.

I sought counseling. My counselor recommended that I take some anti-anxiety pills to help me. The first time she said this, I told her I wanted no such mood fixers and band aids. Three weeks later, I had no choice because although I felt mentally I would work things out; physically things were not going well. I took her advice and my doctor prescribed Lexapro.

When my doctor prescribed Lexapro, he explained to me that your brain produces chemicals that keep your mind balanced and ever flowing with positive vibes in your nervous system. If you suffer from anxiety, the production of this chemical (called norepinephrine) can slow down. Your synapses are supposed to hold on to those chemicals but it can’t when you have high anxiety. Lexapro, when taken correctly, helps your brain produce those good chemicals and helps the synapses get ready to receive them.

Ever been through a fight-or-flight scenario where your body was pumped up? Remember the feeling you had once those “fires” were put out? That complete drop of adrenaline, the body soreness, the mental wear down? Imagine having that while STILL in fight-or-flight. It doesn’t match up. Lexapro helps to keep everything straight.

However, there are several side effects that come with the Lexapro when you first take it. For the first two weeks, my jaw tended to clench from time to time. When I took the pills first thing in the morning, I was extremely sleepy and slightly dizzy within two hours. If I moved more than 2 feet, I could feel it, but I was dead asleep at night by 10pm every night. The daytime dizziness only lasted an hour, but it was strange. I simply switched to taking the pills an hour before bedtime. There were also some sexual side effects that I won’t get into, but if you are a guy, be prepared for a few night time surprises.

There were other times during the first week of taking Lexapro that I felt like my throat was closing whenever it wanted to. It took a couple of days to get used to, but once you convince yourself it’s a side effect it doesn’t seem as threatening. Talk about anxiety!
As far as mental balance goes, Lexapro did not have a tremendous effect on my mindset. I am naturally a positive person, but during the anxiety periods I tended to hold onto negative incidents longer than I should have. I had problems letting go of my mistakes to where my preoccupation with them caused more mistakes. That wasn’t usually me. Fortunately I went on the medication just as I stopped working that horrendous schedule, so there wasn’t much room to stay with the negative thoughts. Lexapro didn’t alter my mood, make me a zombie or anything to that effect.

Be aware of the side effects and don’t try to come off the pills on your own just because you think you feel better. I made that mistake one weekend because I had too much pride to be pill dependent. I’ll have you know that the day after I completely stopped taking Lexapro, I was in my room for two hours in the dark, sitting motionless and not thinking much about anything. My doctor told me that if you suddenly stop taking pills like that, your mind isn’t ready to produce the necessary chemicals on its own. It has to do it slowly but surely.

After about the third week of taking Lexapro, I could really feel the benefits. My body was no longer stuck in stress mode. I could eat regular, sleep regular and go to the bathroom regular. I started gaining good weight back. Along with counseling and a ton of prayer I was able to get my life back in order and tackle the stresses one at a time.

So was Lexapro worth it? Yes. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology. I am an advocate of talk therapy and not relying on pills to fix everything. However, with the proper use of pills combined with talk therapy and spiritual faith, a lot of daily issues can be solved. If you have a lot of physical effects from anxiety and more-than-usual stress, Lexapro can and will help your body get out of stress mode. But it won’t solve your overall problems alone.

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