Whether or not mood stabilizers are for anxiety is a common question, but it can be complex. Medications for anxiety disorders alone don’t often include mood stabilizers. When there’s a co-occurring mental illness along with anxiety, the treatment protocol can include mood stabilizers. But, are mood stabilizers used for anxiety?
What is Anxiety? And Are Mood Stabilizers Used for Anxiety?
Anxiety is something that many people with depression also experience to some degree. These mixed states of mental illnesses are more than the everyday stress we might experience if facing a challenging time. If you have an anxiety disorder, there’s overwhelming fear and worry. You might also have physical symptoms like insomnia, heart palpitations, and cold or sweaty hands.
There are different types of disorders related to anxiety, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: With GAD, you might have excessive worry or anxiety most days for at least six months. Symptoms include feeling edgy or restless, being easily fatigued, and having problems with concentration. GAD symptoms can also include muscle tension and an inability to control your worrying feelings.
- Panic disorder: Characterized by recurrent panic attacks, if you have this disorder, these intense feelings of fear can come on unexpectedly and peak within a few minutes. Certain things can also trigger them. If you’re experiencing a panic attack, your symptoms might include sweating, trembling, feelings of choking or shortness of breath, and a feeling of impending doom.
- Phobias: A phobia is an aversion or intense fear to a particular situation or object. If you have a phobia, you may be irrationally afraid of something and work very hard to avoid it as a result.
Effective treatments for anxiety typically include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Psychotherapy or talk therapy is beneficial if you have an anxiety disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT especially helps anxiety disorders, as can family therapy. When you participate in CBT, you learn how to think, behave and react differently to situations that create anxiety.
Medication won’t cure your anxiety, but it can help with your symptoms, especially when therapy. Most frequently, anti-anxiety drugs include antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs are less often used types of antidepressants.
Beta-blockers are treatments for high blood pressure, but they can also help with physical anxiety symptoms. Benzodiazepines like Xanax may be prescribed as a short-term anxiety reliever. Still, they have side effects, including an addiction potential, so they aren’t usually for long-term anxiety treatment or maintenance treatment.
Adjunctive therapy might be used in addition to antidepressant therapy and talk therapy for mental health disorders in patients. For example, exercise, eating a healthy diet with omega-3 fatty acids, and social support can all be used alongside psychotherapy and medication. You’ll also learn what not to do. For example, recreational drugs make other mental health disorders worse.
What Are Mood Stabilizers?
A psychiatric medicine, mood stabilizers primarily help control mood swings alternating between episodes of mania and a major depressive episode. These medications can restore the proper balance of brain chemicals and decrease brain activity. This group of medicines is most often for people with a bipolar mood disorder to help with bipolar disorder symptoms, such as manic symptoms.
Sometimes, doctors may give these mood-stabilizing medications for another psychiatric disorder like schizoaffective disorder or borderline personality disorder.
Stabilizers may also be used supplementally with other medicines, like antidepressants, for the treatment of depression. Stabilizing medications can take weeks to reach their full effects. Sometimes, more potent medications might need to be given during an acute period of mania to manage the symptoms until stabilizers begin working.
In general, mood-stabilizing medicines may work differently depending on the type, but they are thought to calm areas of the brain that are overactive or too stimulated.
Mood stabilizers are a relatively broad category of medicines, including three main subtypes: mineral, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics.
Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral, and it was approved in 1970 by the FDA as a mood stabilizer. Lithium is for the treatment of bipolar mania. Lithium treatment also has approval as a maintenance bipolar disorder treatment. This mineral medication may be used with other medicines to treat bipolar.
Commercial brand names of lithium including Lithonate, Lithobid, and Eskalith. Improving lithium levels may help reduce self-harming or aggressive behaviors, and it can help reduce the risk of suicide.
There are two types of this medication—lithium carbonate and lithium citrate. Adverse effects may include nausea, fatigue, and weight gain. Confusion, diarrhea, and tremors may occur too.
Anticonvulsant medication is also known as an antiepileptic. Anticonvulsant mood stabilizers were initially used to help with seizures, but they are sometimes used as bipolar medications. Current medications used off-label for mood disorders include gabapentin, topiramate, and oxcarbazepine. Carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and valproic acid are also sometimes given to stabilize mood.
Anticonvulsant adverse effects can include headache, fatigue, nausea, decreased sexual desire, and weight gain.
The third category of mood-stabilizing medications is antipsychotic medications. An antipsychotic drug may be given along with other stabilizing drugs or on their own to treat bipolar. There are quite a few antipsychotics available for bipolar depression, including brand names like Abilify, Latuda, and Seroquel.
Bothersome side effects of antipsychotics include rapid heartbeat, tremors, blurred vision, dizziness, and weight gain.
Also available are atypical antipsychotics, which may have a reduced risk of side effects.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
As mentioned above, the most often prescribing reason for stabilizers is to treat mania, treat bipolar disorder, and treat the manic depressive disorder.
For bipolar patients, you may have extreme moods, which are mania and depressive episodes. Typically if you have bipolar, you experience these extremes at different times, but for some people, they occur together. When mania and depression occur together, it’s a mixed episode or state. You may have periods where your mood is balanced also.
If you have bipolar, mood stabilizers can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. While bipolar is a chronic condition, it’s also manageable with medication and often therapy and lifestyle changes.
With the treatment of the bipolar disorder, people can have a productive and fulfilling life, and clinical trials are going on to find even better options for this disorder in adults.
What is the Best Mood Stabilizer for Anxiety?
As we’ve gone over, a patient wouldn’t think are mood stabilizers used for anxiety?
If you have co-occurring anxiety and mood episodes, then you might take a mood stabilizer. Most doctors will address bipolar disorder first, and they’ll work to get you on the appropriate mood stabilizer dose for you.
If you were to begin taking an anti-anxiety medication first when you have bipolar and comorbid anxiety disorders, then your symptoms of bipolar might get worse.
There’s a balancing act when treating co-occurring bipolar and anxiety disorders because even when you’re on a mood stabilizer, the medication’s antidepressant effects can trigger a manic episode, even though it might reduce depressive symptoms.
If you have anxiety disorder comorbidities, your doctor might try to find an alternative to antidepressant medication, or they will give it at a low dose and carefully monitor you. Benzodiazepines may be used instead of an antidepressant in someone with co-occurring anxiety and bipolar disorder.
It can take some time to get your treatment plan right and find the combination of medications that are most effective for you. You may initially experience some common side effects, but with consistent long-term treatment, those tend to diminish, and you may experience a positive response to treatment.
If you’re suffering from a mental health disorder, as hard as it can be, stay patient. We encourage you to call (858) 258-9883 to speak with a professional at The Mental Health Center of San Diego to help yourself or a loved one. Remember, with bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, or both; it’s possible to live a thriving life. You do need proper treatment, as is the case with any mental disorders or mental health conditions.