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Cut Down on Xanax and Learn to Cope with Anxiety

Many people with anxiety disorders request benzodiazepine medication. Examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam). While these medications, in small-doses and for short duration, can be tremendously helpful, many individuals find themselves taking them at stronger doses and frequencies than prescribed. When this happens, medications lose efficacy and can cause withdrawal in between doses. Symptoms of withdrawal include increased anxiety and agitation, prompting people to take even more medication, thus perpetuating a miserable cycle of anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. It's important to have a "tool box" of coping strategies, coping skills that can be used BEFORE reaching for the Xanax.

Here are some ideas worth trying:

1) Use the "5 senses" or "5,4,3,2,1" technique. Anxiety often stems from fears about hypotheticals, fears about the future. We let our minds snowball into worst-case scenarios and have difficulty reeling in those thoughts. Try this grounding technique, which helps bring you back to the present.

2) Try "Four Square Breathing." Exhale for 4 seconds, hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds, inhale for 4 seconds, and hold air in your lungs for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat.

3) Accept anxiety and the uncomfortable feelings that accompany it. So your heart is racing. So you're feeling sweaty and have knots in your stomach. Rather than forcing these feelings to go away, try something novel - Accept it for what it is and even embrace it as a normal and healthy reaction to stress. Anxiety may seem like something that can hurt you. It won't. Oftentimes the worst part of anxiety is not the anxiety itself, it's your body's response to it; it's the fear that anxiety is bad, toxic, harmful. Try reframing these thoughts, e.g., perhaps anxiety gives you energy and motivation, so focus on that instead. Do your best to avoid assigning a negative connotation to your anxious feelings. Be at peace with these uncomfortable feelings. The remarkable thing is they will go away much faster if you accept them, rather than tell yourself these feelings will hurt you.

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