It depends on what type of medication you are prescribed. There are many different types of anxiety medications, and they all work differently. Generally you can think of anxiety meds in 2 categories:
- Long-term medications are helpful if you feel anxious most days for a significant part of the day. They must be taken every day for several weeks before you feel the full effect.
- Short-term medications are helpful during brief episodes of intense anxiety, such as a panic attack. These medications take effect almost immediately and usually start to wear off within a few hours. They should not be taken daily unless your doctor explicitly recommends it.
Antidepressants (like Prozac or Zoloft) are taken daily and typically take 4 to 6 weeks for people to notice a difference. There are many different types of antidepressants, and they all work a little differently.
Other medications sometimes used to treat anxiety—buspirone, atypical antipsychotics, some antihistamines, and some anticonvulsants—are also taken daily and typically take 4 to 6 weeks for people to notice a difference.
Benzodiazepines (like Xanax) are taken for anxiety and panic attacks as needed. They work rapidly (30-60 minutes) and wear off after several hours. Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming and should not be taken daily.
Some antihistamines can be taken for anxiety and panic in the short term, as needed, and work rapidly. They are typically used in the treatment of allergies. Hydroxyzine (brand name: Vistaril) is the main antihistamine used for anxiety. (Antihistamines are also sometimes taken daily for long-term anxiety.)
Beta-blockers, which treat high blood pressure and heart conditions, have been used to help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety (like sweating and heart racing). This often tricks the brain into feeling less anxious as well. These medications are taken as-needed for short-term anxiety.
Whatever medication you are prescribed, medications can take time to work, so it’s important to talk through any changes or questions with your doctor.
- (2016). Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review. The Mental Health Clinician 6(3), pp. 120-126. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007645/
- Huh et al. (2011). Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature for Psychopharmacologic Alternatives to Newer Antidepressants and Benzodiazepines. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders 13(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184575/