Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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As common as anxiety disorders are, believing that you’re suffering from anxiety when you’re not is all too easy. Prescription drugs may have a variety of side effects, some of which mimic a few of the symptoms of anxiety. Sometimes what you eat or drink can make you feel anxious. Various medical conditions also produce symptoms that imitate the signs of anxiety.

Anxiety-mimicking drugs

Medicines prescribed to treat common conditions, such as asthma, inflammation, and depression, often have side effects. Sometimes those side effects can resemble the symptoms of anxiety. We list a few of the most widely prescribed types of drugs and their anxiety-mimicking side effects in the following table. These medications have many other side effects that we don’t list here.
Angst in the Medicine Cabinet
Drug Name or Category Purpose Anxiety-Like Side Effects
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors Reduce high blood pressure Nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, nausea, vomiting, weakness
Corticosteroids Treat arthritis, inflammation, and pain Fatigue, anxiety, dizziness, nervousness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, sweating, tremors, confusion, shortness of breath, irritability
Bronchodilators Treatment of asthma Trembling, nervousness, sweating, shakiness, feelings of panic
Benzodiazepines Treat anxiety Dizziness, headache, anxiety, tremors, stimulation, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, irritability
Beta blockers Reduce angina and high blood pressure, treat dysrhythmia Dizziness, nausea, palpitations, insomnia, excessive sweating, disorientation
Novocaine Still used by some dentists as a numbing agent, but newer agents are becoming more popular due to reduced side effects. Rare side effects can include anxiety, irregular heart beat, and dizziness, which are especially troubling for patients who already have dentist-related anxiety.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) Treatment of depression, anxiety, and bulimia Headache, insomnia, anxiety, tremor, dizziness, nervousness, fatigue, poor concentration, agitation, nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, sweating, hot flashes, palpitations, twitching, impotence
Stimulant medications Treatment of attention deficit disorder Nervousness, rapid heartbeat, disturbed sleep, panic feelings
Thyroid replacement medications Treatment of hypothyroidism Hives, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, nervousness, shortness of breath
Interesting, isn’t it? Even medications for the treatment of anxiety can produce anxiety-like side effects. Of course, most people don’t experience such side effects with these medications, but they do occur. And many other prescribed drugs may have anxiety-like side effects. If you’re taking one or more prescription drugs and feel anxious, check with your doctor.

In addition, various over-the-counter medications sometimes have anxiety-mimicking side effects. These include antihistamines that can cause both drowsiness and insomnia as well as restlessness and rapid heartbeat. Decongestants can also cause rapid heartbeat as well as sweating, dizziness, and blurred vision. Also, many types of aspirin contain caffeine, which can produce symptoms of anxiety if consumed excessively. These medications can cause restlessness, heart palpitations, tension, shortness of breath, and irritability.

Ingest calmness into your diet

Stress and anxiety often provoke people to binge on unhealthy foods and substances, which may lead to increased anxiety over the long run. Here, we tell you how to avoid foods or drinks that may worsen problems with anxiety.

Notice whether you have special sensitivities to certain types of food. Whenever you feel out of sorts or especially anxious for no particular reason, ask yourself what you’ve eaten in the past couple hours. Take notes for a few weeks. Although food sensitivities aren’t generally a major cause of anxiety, some people have adverse reactions to certain foods, such as nuts, wheat, dairy, shellfish, or soy. If your notes say that’s true for you, avoid these foods!

Alcohol may be very tempting to people with anxiety. Although alcohol may relax you in small quantities, too many anxious people try to self-medicate by imbibing. People with anxiety disorders easily become addicted to alcohol. Furthermore, in excess, alcohol can lead to a variety of anxiety-like symptoms. For example, after a night of heavy drinking, alcohol can leave you feeling more anxious because it clears the system quickly and the body craves more. That craving can lead to addiction over time. Even a couple of glasses of wine in the evening may help you sleep initially but disturb the quality of your sleep leading to fatigue in the morning. So, anxious people need to be cautious about their use of alcohol.

Caffeine can also spell trouble. Some people seem to thrive on triple espressos, but others find themselves up all night with the jitters. Caffeine lurks in most energy drinks as well as chocolate, so be careful if you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Speaking of energy drinks, these sometimes contain unusually large quantities of not only caffeine but also other stimulants. You’ll see herbal stimulants such as taurine, guarana (loaded with caffeine), ginseng, and ginkgo biloba, among others. Reported adverse effects include nervousness, sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythms, and seizures. If you have excessive anxiety, you don’t want to be chugging down these concoctions.

Finally, lots of people get nervous after eating too much sugar. Watch kids at birthday parties or Halloween. Adults can have the same reaction. Furthermore, sugar is bad for your body in a variety of ways, such as spiking blood glucose levels and contributing to metabolic syndrome (a condition that often leads to high blood pressure and diabetes).

Medical anxiety imposters

More than a few types of diseases and medical conditions can create anxiety-like symptoms. That’s why we strongly recommend that you visit your doctor, especially if you’re experiencing significant anxiety for the first time. Your doctor can help you sort out whether you have a physical problem, a reaction to a medication, an emotionally based anxiety problem, or some combination of these. The following table lists just some of the medical conditions that produce anxiety symptoms.

Getting sick can cause anxiety, too. For example, if you receive a serious diagnosis of heart disease, cancer, or a chronic progressive disorder, you may develop anxiety about dealing with the consequences of what you’ve been told.
Medical Imposters
Medical Condition What It Is Anxiety-Like Symptoms
Hypoglycemia Low blood sugar; sometimes associated with other disorders or can occur by itself. A common complication of diabetes. Confusion; irritability; trembling; sweating; rapid heartbeat; weakness; cold, clammy feeling
Hyperthyroidism Excess amount of thyroid hormone. Various causes. Nervousness, restlessness, sweating, fatigue, sleep disturbance, nausea, tremor, diarrhea
Other hormonal imbalances Various conditions associated with fluctuations in hormone levels, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, or postpartum. Highly variable symptoms. Tension, irritability, headaches, mood swings, compulsive behavior, fatigue, panic
Lupus An autoimmune disease in which the patient’s immune system attacks certain types of its own cells. Anxiety, poor concentration, irritability, headaches, irregular heartbeat, impaired memory
Mitral valve prolapse The mitral valve of the heart fails to close properly, allowing blood to flow back into the left atrium. Often confused with panic attacks in making the diagnosis. Palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing
Heart disease (including arrhythmias and tachycardia) Conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels, problems with muscle, valves, or rhythm Shortness of breath, noticeable changes in rhythm or skipped beats, chest tightness or pain
Chronic lung conditions (e.g., COPD, asthma) Irritation or damage to the lungs Shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, feelings of not getting enough air, panic
Ménière’s syndrome An inner ear disorder that includes vertigo, loss of hearing, and ringing or other noises in the ear. Vertigo that includes abnormal sensations associated with movement, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sweating

When you notice new signs of anxiety, ponder what changes you’ve made in your life. Have you started a new medication? Is something unusually stressful going on? How is your health? Have you made major changes to your diet or exercise routines? Answers to these questions may give you clues as to what’s causing your uptick in anxiety. But, it’s never a bad idea to check out these symptoms with your primary healthcare provider to play it safe.

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