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The Best Anti-Anxiety Medication

Kristin Hall

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Taylor Trudon

Published 11/23/2021

Updated 06/29/2023

From sweaty pre-date jitters to that drop-in-your-stomach, roller-coaster feeling leading up to a big work presentation, most people experience moments of anxiety. And while occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, some types of anxiety disorders can be much more debilitating. 

Your feelings of anxiety might be fleeting or manifest more intensely in the form of an anxiety disorder or depression. In any case, it’s hard to control when anxiety hits, even if we have a good sense of what our triggers are.

However, we can control how we deal with anxiety, which, for many, includes getting anti-anxiety medication treatment.

So you might be wondering, what’s the best anti-anxiety medication? 

That’s a totally fair question. But the truth is, there’s no “best” — the best medication out there is one that works best for you and your symptoms. And that’s a path you and your healthcare provider will walk down together.

Your mental health symptoms may differ from your siblings, friends or that wellness influencer you follow on the ’Gram. So it’s essential to skip any self-diagnoses and work with your healthcare provider to figure out a personalized treatment plan. 

Anxiety is one of many mental and psychiatric disorders out there — but it’s among the most common, affecting nearly 7 million adults per year. So, unsurprisingly, there are also many types of anxiety medication that can help.

Beyond seeking help by connecting with a healthcare provider, a great first step is getting more information. Consider this guide your primer to anti-anxiety medication. 

We’ll go over things like: 

  • The different types of anti-anxiety medication

  • How each medication works

  • Side effects you should be aware of

  • How to actually get anti-anxiety medication  

  • Additional mental health resources you can tap into for support 

Let’s get into it.

Various anti-anxiety medications are used to target specific psychiatric conditions like social anxiety disorder and panic disorder

Some people need medication temporarily to get through a rough patch (like dealing with a job loss), while others need it for the rest of their lives.

Some anti-anxiety medicines work almost instantaneously, and others take a few weeks for the body to feel the maximum effects. Further, some anti-anxiety meds have severe side effects, while others have minimal to none.

You get the idea: Different applications work differently — and they work differently on different people. Finding the right anxiety medication for you is a process that can take some time and trial and error, and that’s totally normal.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types of medications, which include: 

  • Antidepressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and MAOIs)

  • Benzodiazepines 

  • Beta blockers

  • Buspirone 

  • Bupropion 

Antidepressants

Antidepressants work by targeting certain neurotransmitters in your brain that (at least partly) impact your mood. They’re often one of the first options a healthcare provider will suggest as treatment.

Despite depression and anxiety sharing similar symptoms — kind of like siblings — they’re distinct disorders. Still, some of the same medications typically used to treat symptoms of depression have also been approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to treat symptoms of anxiety.

Namely, antidepressants used in the treatment of anxiety include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

  • Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Our full antidepressants list goes over other medications to consider, as well as details on how they work.

Below, we’ll dig into what you can expect from these medications as treatments for anxiety symptoms.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs and SNRIs are the two main types of antidepressant medications.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors help regulate your serotonin levels. Low levels of serotonin — which you may know as the “happy” hormone — have been linked to anxiety, so by working to prevent serotonin reabsorption by your brain, antidepressants like SSRIs can be effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety.  

In fact, they’re so effective that many healthcare professionals consider them a first-line treatment for anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder

The most commonly prescribed SSRIs are: 

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors also work to regulate serotonin levels. However, they step up their game by also targeting a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, stimulates the cardiovascular system and is involved in the body’s fight-or-flight response. Low levels of norepinephrine are tied to symptoms like lethargy and poor concentration.

By targeting both serotonin and norepinephrine, SNRIs can be effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, norepinephrine is involved in helping you maintain healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart rate. It creates usable energy for your body by increasing blood sugar and breaking down fat.

Two commonly prescribed SNRIs are: 

Both are available online through a prescription from a healthcare provider at Hers.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Tricyclic antidepressants are a type of antidepressant developed in the 20th century. They’re among some of the first prescription medications to be approved for use by the FDA.

Millions of people still use TCAs — prescribed either on-label or off-label. But they’ve largely been replaced with newer options like SSRIs and SNRIs because of these medications’ milder side effect profiles. 

TCAs might be recommended by a healthcare provider if you have depression and newer antidepressants simply aren’t effective. While TCAs aren’t usually considered a first-line treatment for anxiety, research suggests they can be beneficial for certain kinds of anxiety disorders, like social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

For more details on how this drug works, including common side effects, check out our tricyclic antidepressants guide.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

First introduced in the 1950s, monoamine oxidase inhibitors belong to a group of medications that target an enzyme called monoamine oxidase. Monoamine oxidase plays a key role in breaking down neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

Since low levels of these neurotransmitters are at least partly connected to mental health conditions like anxiety, MAOIs are effective in treating symptoms.

Though their use has declined over the past few decades due to a rise in newer antidepressants, MAOIs are still prescribed in some cases. For instance, your healthcare provider might recommend MAOIs if you’ve been diagnosed with depression but aren’t feeling improvements in your mood despite trying out a few SSRIs. 

Before exploring MAOIs, keep in mind that while they’re still an effective medication option, they’re more likely to cause severe side effects. 

Benzodiazepines

Antidepressants are a popular treatment for anxiety, but depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider might also bring up benzodiazepines as an alternative. 

Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety and panic disorders by providing fast-acting relief, like when you’re in the throes of a panic attack. They work by increasing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of calmness to counteract anxiety symptoms. 

The major pros of benzodiazepines are that they work quickly and are super effective. The cons are that they come with a serious risk of dependence. 

You can develop a tolerance for benzodiazepines quicker than with other medications, meaning you’ll ultimately need a higher dose for the drug to remain effective. This is why healthcare providers tend to prescribe them for short periods. 

The most common benzodiazepines include

  • Alprazolam (Xanax®) 

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin®)

  • Lorazepam (Ativan®) 

  • Diazepam (Valium®)

Since these are controlled substances, they may not be available through an online prescription.

Beta Blockers

If you find yourself in a highly stressful or high-stakes situation (i.e., your dog escapes from the yard or someone makes an illegal left turn directly in front of you), your body’s fight-or-flight response can help you spring into action. 

Beta blockers are a kind of medication that prevents those stress hormones activated by your fight-or-flight response from impacting your heart.  

Beta blockers are very popular for treating heart conditions like high blood pressure or irregular heart rate. They’ve also proven effective in treating anxiety disorders like social anxiety disorder or performance anxiety.

Beta blockers won’t affect your brain the way benzodiazepines (like Xanax®) or SSRIs (like Prozac®) do. Instead, drugs like propranolol (Inderal®) and atenolol (Tenormin®) help your body deal with the physical effects of anxiety by decreasing the amount of stress on the heart muscle and slowing your heart rate down.

A recent study suggests that those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may especially benefit from using a beta blocker like propranolol.

Buspirone

If antidepressants and benzodiazepines aren’t the right fit for you, buspirone (BuSpar®) can be an alternative. Buspirone is an anxiolytic drug. Though it was originally developed as an antipsychotic, it was ineffective for psychosis and was instead found to have effective anxiolytic features.

In addition to being FDA-approved to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), buspirone is prescribed to treat other anxiety disorders, as it provides short-term relief of anxiety symptoms.

While it doesn’t work for everyone and may take a few weeks to start working effectively, it can also be used as a long-term treatment — a huge benefit.

BuSpar is similar to Xanax in that both provide anxiety relief — but a major difference is their side effects. 

For instance, in a study on people who use Xanax, 77 percent reported side effects of drowsiness, whereas one of the most common adverse side effects of BuSpar is dizziness. Another key difference is that those who use Xanax have a higher risk of developing dependence and abuse.

This is also a great time for us to say: If you think you might have a substance abuse problem of any kind, reach out to a professional for help. 

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Bupropion (Wellbutrin XL®)

Bupropion is another antidepressant used for the treatment of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s sold under the following brand names: 

  • Wellbutrin®

  • Wellbutrin SR®

  • Wellbutrin XL® 

  • Aplenzin®

  • Forfivo® XL (for major depressive disorder)

Bupropion belongs to a group of medications known as aminoketones. It impacts the way your body makes neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which help regulate your mood. 

Since people with anxiety tend to have lower dopamine and norepinephrine levels, aminoketones like bupropion get to work by boosting them. 

Bupropion is also sometimes used as a smoking cessation medication. Research shows it can help minimize tobacco cravings and withdrawal symptoms after quitting cigarettes. So if someone says they’re taking Wellbutrin® to kick their smoking habit, don’t be too shocked.

Seeing as medication is so dependent on your symptoms, diagnosis and other factors like lifestyle and health conditions, there’s no one “best” anti-anxiety medication on the market for mental illness.

If you want to explore getting anti-anxiety medication, you’ll first need to make an appointment with a healthcare provider to get a prescription. A healthcare provider is the only person who can prescribe medication, but it’s not as complicated as it may sound.

In fact, there are several ways you can do this: 

  • Your primary care provider (PCP) can prescribe anti-anxiety medication. They can be an excellent place to start since you have an existing relationship with them, and they already know your medical history. 

  • A psychiatry professional can also prescribe anti-anxiety medications. You can get a referral to see one from your healthcare provider or find one on your own.

  • If the thought of bringing your issues to the attention of your primary healthcare provider makes you uneasy, you can also connect with a psychiatric provider online through our telehealth primary care platform. If you have a qualifying diagnosis, they can help you get anxiety medication online from the comfort of your couch.

There’s a good chance your provider might suggest additional forms of treatment like 

psychotherapy, group therapy (there are even anonymous support groups if you’d prefer to be more private) or follow-up appointments to evaluate how your medication is working.

And if you’re stumped on what to say during your initial appointment, our guide on how to ask your doctor for anxiety medication can give you some thought-starters. 

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psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Thinking about getting anti-anxiety medication is a big step toward recovery in your mental health journey. As you’re navigating this new terrain, there are other steps you can take to help reduce the symptoms of your anxiety.

This includes:

  • Talking to a healthcare provider. In addition to making sure you get the best anti-anxiety medication for your unique needs, be it for the short term or the long haul, they may also guide you to different treatment options or types of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Another option is online therapy, which you can literally do from the comfort of your bed.

  • Moving your body. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), just 30 minutes of walking a day can offer a significant mental health boost. So load up your playlist with your favorite songs, grab a friend and walk for any amount of time that feels right.

  • Practicing mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is finding a mental state where you’re focused on the present moment, allowing feelings and thoughts to pass through without judgment. Studies show mindfulness meditation is a powerful exercise that can reduce negative thoughts, decrease anxiety and produce an overall more peaceful state of mind. Even a few minutes a day can make a significant impact in the long run. 

And of course, if you start to feel overwhelmed, our mental health services are always available.

Related Articles

17 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kristin Hall, FNP

Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership. 

She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH

Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare. 

Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.

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