Do Over-the-Counter Anxiety Medications and Supplements Work?

Those who suffer from anxiety know how intolerable it can be. There may be a few options but in general, popping over-the-counter anxiety medication is not recommended.

over-the-counter anxiety medication

Don't be too quick to use over-the-counter meds to try and relieve stress and anxiety.

Denisismagilov |

If you’ve been stressed out and searching for an over-the-counter anxiety medication, you should know that there aren’t any. You might consider taking a detour in search of natural solutions. Specifically, check out the alternative and natural remedy section of any pharmacy or health food store and you’re bound to find a pile of options for stress and anxiety.

Some herbs do have mildly calming effects. These include chamomile, passionflower, kava, valerian, lavender, lemon balm, and skullcap. They are available in many formats, including teas, oils, pills, tinctures, and sprays.

There is some evidence that these herbs can have calming effects, but the evidence is not conclusive, and the effects may be pretty mild. Certainly they’re not strong enough to, say, stop a panic attack in its tracks or treat an anxiety disorder. Such herbs are most useful when taken before bed to help you calm down and fall asleep. If you take them during the day, you may find they make you drowsy.

Herbal Remedy Regulation Issues

If you decide to try herbal remedies for anxiety, be aware that they’re not as well regulated as drugs. This means that what’s on the bottle’s label may not match what’s inside.

chamomile tea

Now that looks relaxing—chamomile tea. It may not have the same effect on all of us, but it’s nevertheless a popular home remedy for leveling off stress.

In most cases, long-term studies demonstrating efficacy and safety are lacking. Remaining questions about the safety of kava (also written as “kava kava” or kavakava”) are particularly concerning, and some countries have banned it because of the risk of liver damage. Kava may also cause headache, nausea, and dizziness. Some people may experience allergic reactions to herbal remedies. Don’t combine or replace prescribed medication for anxiety with an herbal remedy without first speaking with your health care provider.

Vitamins and Minerals for Anxiety and Stress

There are several vitamin and mineral preparations that are marketed as stress-busters. Typically, the rationale behind this claim is that these products replenish the vitamins and minerals that are likely to be diminished in times of stress. Alternatively, they rely on the fact that a lack of a certain vitamin or mineral may produce anxiety as a symptom, so vitamin and mineral manufacturers claim supplementation can help with this.

The truth is, unless you have a known deficiency, there is no evidence vitamin and mineral supplements will help with your anxiety or stress. If you think you might have a deficiency, your doctor can perform blood tests to find out for sure.

Using Over-the-Counter Medications to Treat Anxiety

Even though there are currently no approved over-the-counter anxiety medications. That doesn’t stop some people from relying on the side effects of OTC medications meant for other purposes to calm their anxiety.

Many over-the-counter drugs produce sedation or drowsiness. These include antihistamines, cough syrups, cold medicines, muscle relaxants, painkillers, and sleep medications. It can be tempting to try to alleviate anxiety with one of these medications, but it’s not safe. None of these drugs are meant to be taken long-term, and it’s more than likely you’ll need to keep increasing the dose in order to maintain the same level of sedation. You can quickly overdose yourself without even realizing it. In addition, once you stop taking these medications, the rebound effect can make you feel even worse.

If your stress or anxiety is severe enough for you to be scanning pharmacy shelves looking for relief, it’s likely you need some professional help. Talk to your health care professional about effective therapies such as psychotherapy, biofeedback, meditation, and prescription medication.


Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

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Alison Palkhivala

Alison Palkhivala is an award-winning writer and journalist specializing in lifestyle, nutrition, health, and medicine. She has authored the Belvoir special report Overcoming Depression and the University Health News book … Read More

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