Anxious About Anxiety: Why We Reach for Xanax

Managing anxiety can become a bigger problem than we bargained for.

We’re an anxious nation. According to data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States. (The fact that we have an association devoted to anxiety says something about us, doesn’t it?)

Treatment for anxiety disorders makes up nearly one-third of the nation’s mental health bill. Clearly, this is a widespread problem. It has even trickled down to kids, with anxiety disorders affecting about 12 percent of our nation’s young people.

What Have You Done for You Lately?

As a society, what have we really done to cope with our anxieties? A whopping number of us reach for Xanax, a benzodiazepine that is officially the number one prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the country. Over 50 million Xanax prescriptions are written each year.

Since it initially gives people the warm and fuzzies, blocking our ability to feel and process difficult emotions, Xanax is extremely addictive and often abused. In fact, by 2010, over 125,000 annual ER visits were directly related to Xanax abuse.

A Medication Nation

What’s really going on here? Why are we a nation full of anxiety-ridden, pill-popping people? Experts suggest we’ve developed a fear of fear.

In truth, fear is a healthy emotion. It helps keep us safe and provides the adrenaline rush we need to either flee dangerous situations or stay and fight.

Here’s where the issue gets sticky: We forget anxiety (fear) is a normal feeling. We convince ourselves those anxious feelings are unjustified, we get anxious about the fact that we’re feeling them. We worry we’re overreacting, then become more anxious as we try to stop the feelings we believe we shouldn’t be having. We begin to worry we’ll have an anxiety attack, which makes us more nervous…and on we go into an unhealthy spiral that creates a whirlwind of anxiety.

It all boils down to our interpretation of anxious feelings. If we accept them as justifiable – acknowledging it’s normal to feel a little anxious about things – we’re likely to experience a smaller amount of anxiety. It’s when we refuse to accept this small amount that it grows in intensity and takes over.

An Alternative Solution

Many psychologists say we would be better off learning to manage our anxiety “pill-free.” They recommend feeling our feelings, rather than relying on a crutch.

The more Xanax we use, the less we’re able to navigate tough situations without them. We start thinking we have to have them, when, in actuality, we’d be okay without the medication and be much better off learning healthy ways to cope with stress and fear.

As a nation, we keep taking more pills, yet our problems continue spreading in prevalence and intensity. Perhaps these psychologists are onto something? Maybe it really is time we all face our fears.

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