For many of us, stress is something we learn to live with and manage the best way we can. Some people’s anxiety levels, however, make it challenging to go about their everyday lives. When their stress becomes crippling, they may be prescribed a benzodiazepine (benzo for short), such as Xanax, to help them relax so that they can stay on task.
Benzodiazepines are potent prescription medications that affect the central nervous system (CNS). These tranquilizers and sedatives depress this area of the body so that users can feel calm. Benzos affect the natural brain chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces activity in the CNS. Once users feel calm, they can get to sleep faster and remain asleep, particularly if they have insomnia. Benzodiazepines are also used to treat people who have seizures and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax (generic name alprazolam) is a powerful, fast-acting sedative that is in the benzodiazepine category of drugs. It is prescribed for short-term use to people who have anxiety, various phobias, and panic disorders. As with other benzos, Xanax suppresses the brain and the central nervous system. Nerve cell activity in the brain slows down once the drug binds to its GABA receptors. Users usually feel some sense of relief within an hour of taking Xanax in either pill or liquid form. The medication’s calming effects usually last for a few hours.
Xanax Is Habit-Forming and Not Intended for Long-Term Use
Despite its therapeutic benefits, Xanax is not designed for long-term use, and it’s not a cure-all for severe anxiety and other disorders. The medication is highly addictive, which is a key reason why long-term use is discouraged. Also, the longer one takes it, the less effective it is. Prolonged use makes the GABA receptors less sensitive to stimulation.
Over the long term, the brain will stop making GABA on its own and start relying on the drug to do it. When this happens, Xanax users won’t find the drug as effective as before. This could prompt them to take more of the drug than recommended and for longer periods than recommended, which puts them at risk of developing a physical and mental addiction, drug overdose, and possibly death.
In recent years, Xanax and other popular benzodiazepines have been overprescribed, and deaths from these medications have increased. Even people who have legitimate prescriptions are at risk of developing an addiction or overdosing and dying on these medications. If you or someone you know is taking Xanax, it is highly important that you take the drug as your doctor directed.
Do not take it for longer than prescribed or in higher doses than recommended. If you are experiencing side effects and other discomforts while following doctor’s orders, then let your doctor know as soon as possible. You should also avoid abruptly stopping any drug you have been taking. Before stopping any medication, consult your health care provider.
If you find you are having trouble with stopping Xanax use, reach out to a substance treatment provider who can help you find a treatment program that can help you end your dependence on the drug.
How to Handle Long-Term Anxiety and Insomnia Without Xanax
The decision to take or not take Xanax is something you should discuss with your doctor. Medications can be beneficial, but they’re not for everyone. Whether you take medication for anxiety or an anxiety-related disorder, you will still need to know how to manage your stress without substances. Medication can be part of an integrative approach to stress management.
After weighing the pros and cons, you may decide that you want to try other strategies for managing your stress. Top alternatives to Xanax include calming activities, therapy, and natural supplements that some say help them with these challenges.
Alternative activities to managing stress without Xanax include:
Getting proper rest: Sleep is essential to restoring our bodies and maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional health. Having the right amount of sleep can help us handle our stress better. Per the Mayo Clinic, the recommended amount of sleep each night for a healthy adult is seven hours at the minimum. Setting a sleep schedule where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day can get your mind and body prepared for getting rest.
Exercising regularly: An exercise program will help you burn off calories and stress as well. Moving your body helps you to release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers that also increase pleasure and an overall feeling of well-being. Setting an exercise schedule can help you stay on track. It can help you keep your stress levels in check and allow you to release tensions in the best way for you and your body. Exercising outside can give you the space to connect with nature as you release your stress.
Eating a diet that promotes health and wellness: What we put into our bodies will help us fight off anxiety and stress. Monitoring what we eat and drink can build up our defense against stress. Mayo Clinic recommends your diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains (complex carbohydrates), low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Eating protein at breakfast, drinking water, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine are also recommended. Balanced meals that include fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, are also said to help with managing anxiety.
Practicing holistic or meditative activities. Some people find that mindfulness activities help them keep their stress low. Psychology Today cites a national survey that found more than 85% of respondents said that yoga helped them relieve stress. Yoga promotes the connection between the mind and body. It incorporates exercises that emphasize that connection as well as using one’s breath to calm the mind and lower stress. Meditation is also important in yoga, which can help people manage any distressing thoughts and emotions they encounter. Other meditation techniques can help you control your stress response. You also may find aromatherapy or acupuncture beneficial for relieving anxiety, insomnia, depression, and other conditions.
Therapy as an Alternative to Taking Xanax
If you are interested in receiving therapy and counseling to manage your anxiety, you can do so in place of or in addition to using medication. Your doctor and/or therapist can advise you on what’s best for you. Treating your mental and emotional health can help you manage stress.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a widely used psychotherapy that helps people improve their thinking and, therefore, their behavior. Sometimes, our stress comes from irrational thoughts or fears that we don’t know how to process correctly, and this can lead to behavior that doesn’t help us.
CBT guides people to look at their perception of reality and identify thoughts and feelings that do not support a healthy way of living before finding ways to replace them. We can make better decisions as we learn healthier ways to cope with unsupportive thoughts. CBT sessions can run 45 minutes each, and a person may attend up to 20 weekly sessions.
Exposure therapy (ET), a form of CBT, is also used to help patients who are dealing with anxiety disorder or phobia. During this form of therapy, a therapist will expose a patient to situations or items that evoke stress and other uncomfortable feelings. The therapist then guides the patient to learn to relax and work through their anxiety while being exposed to the upsetting thing. This relaxation exercise can include deep breathing, meditation, and guided imagery, per Verywell Mind. Once the patient lists the ways in which they feel triggered, they will then review their list and work through those fears with the relaxation methods they learned.
These are just two of the many therapies you can try. Remember, you can use these in addition to medications, such as Xanax, or you can try them instead of taking Xanax or any other benzo or medication. The best way to go is to speak with your doctor, who can advise you on how to proceed.
You Can Explore Natural Alternatives to Xanax to Lower Stress
Natural alternatives for stress and anxiety are sold in health food stores, online, and in some pharmacies. Many of them have not received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval, so if you use these supplements, you do so at your own risk. We strongly advise that you speak with your physician about any medications or supplements that are sold over the counter or are accessible to the public. No information shared in this space is intended to take the place of the advice a medical care professional who knows your situation can share.
Natural anxiety alternatives to Xanax include:
Ashwagandha, an ancient Ayurvedic Hindu herb, has been touted for its ability to reduce stress levels. Psychology Today writes, “Ashwagandha is found to be very helpful to calm anxiety, and specifically, help agoraphobia (anxiety especially in open or crowded places).”
The herb is available in the U.S. and sold as a supplement that can be used in various forms. One study concluded that participants who used it had lower stress levels than participants who didn’t. People who struggle with getting enough sleep may also find ashwagandha helpful.
The natural herb ginkgo biloba has also been helpful in treating anxiety. Some have even used it along with taking their CBT sessions, Healthline reports. There is little research available right now on how the herb stacks up against anti-anxiety medications, but some say it can improve mental acuity and cognitive functioning.
Some people use valerian root to help them get restful sleep, so it could be helpful to people with insomnia and other sleep disorders. Valerian can be consumed as a capsule, tea, tablet, or liquid extract. The natural herb has also been beneficial in lowering stress levels. It should not be used with other medications, including Xanax and other benzos, and antidepressants. Pregnant women are also advised not to use valerian.