Why Is Anxiety Listed As A Side Effect Of Medication If It’s Caused By Behavior?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated July 26, 2022

Why is anxiety listed as a side effect on many medications when you say anxiety is only caused by behavior?

Can you explain why anxiety is listed as a side effect on many medications when you say anxiety is only caused by behavior?

It’s true that many medications list “anxiety” as a side effect. However, I (Jim Folk) believe it’s because pharmaceutical companies and many anxious people don’t understand the link between anxious behavior and its symptoms. For instance:

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing many body-wide physical, psychological, and emotional changes that prepare the body for immediate action. These changes push the body beyond its balance point (equilibrium), stressing the body.

As such, anxiety stresses the body. Therefore, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because anxious behavior is the main source of the stress that stresses the body, causing symptoms of stress.

Many anxious people who don’t understand the connection between anxiety and its symptoms combine the two, thinking that if they have anxiety-like symptoms, they must be anxious.

When it comes to medications that also stress the body and rally the immune system, which can cause anxiety-like symptoms, many anxious people attribute their medication’s side effects to anxiety since they are having anxiety-like symptoms.

Many anxious people also become concerned and anxious when they think their anxiety-like symptoms are returning or elevating, again thinking that the medication has caused “anxiety” as a side effect because their symptoms and anxious behavior are elevating.

So, it’s not that medications cause anxiety as a side effect, but how anxiety is reported as a side effect by people who don’t understand the link between anxious behavior and symptoms of stress.

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To further clarify, there is a vast difference between "feeling anxious” and "being anxious."

“Feeling anxious” means you have symptoms that feel like anxiety symptoms because you’re anxious or because your body is stressed or rallying immunity.

There are many sources of stress and immunity building, such as medication.

“Being anxious” means you are worrying, concerned, or behaving anxiously about something, causing the physical, emotional, and psychological feelings of anxiety.

For instance, if you got strong side effects from a medication but weren't anxious about anything before taking the medication, while taking the medication, or about the medication’s side effects, that's "feeling anxious” (having physical anxiety-like symptoms from the medication) but not "being anxious.”

On the other hand, if you were worried before taking the medication, about taking the medication, or about the potential for side effects from the medication, that's "being anxious." This anxiousness is caused by behavior and not by medication, even though it might seem like medication caused the anxiety and symptoms.

Moreover, if people had anxiety in the past and a medication caused some anxiety-like symptoms as a side effect, it's common to become concerned about the returning "feelings" of anxiety. Becoming concerned is caused by behavior and not by the medication.

I understand how people can combine anxiety and its symptoms into one, thinking that both are caused by “anxiety” because they can increase together. But anxiety and its symptoms are separate. Understanding the “cause” and “effect” of anxiety makes the difference.

For more information, Recovery Support members can read the article “Discerning The Difference Between Anxiety And How It Feels” in chapter 14.

Overall, anxious behavior creates stress, and stress creates symptoms. In this regard, anxious behavior is the cause, and stress and its symptoms the result. However, there are many sources of stress that can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Discerning the difference is vital to recovery and lasting success.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including "Can you explain why anxiety is listed as a side effect on many medications when you say anxiety is only caused by behavior?"