Mental Health
Are There Over-the-Counter Medications for Anxiety?

Are There Over-the-Counter Medications for Anxiety?

7 min read


Caitlin Harper

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States and affects millions of people worldwide. And yet, many people wait years before seeking treatment, or never receive treatment at all. Stigma and access to mental health care both play a big role in the number of people who don’t get the care they deserve, which can include prescription medication. A logical follow-up is: are there over-the-counter medications for anxiety?

How can I tell if I have anxiety?

While anxiety is a normal and healthy response to stress, excessive anxiety or chronic anxiety that interferes with daily life might require support from a mental health professional.

Anxiety can be mild or severe and can manifest differently in different people, but it is a treatable condition and getting support, whether through therapy, medication, or both can improve your overall wellbeing.

Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren't
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind "goes blank"
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

Some of the most common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. The only way to receive a diagnosis of one of these disorders is by a healthcare professional who can determine whether you have anxiety and plan the best treatment for you.

What medications are used to treat anxiety?

Antidepressants, including medications in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) classes, are the first line and most common medication treatments. SSRIs work by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. Increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain improves communication between nerve cells, leading to improved mood and lower levels of anxiety. SNRIs affect the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine by the neurons that released them.

Antianxiety medication from a class called benzodiazepines calm the nervous system, providing short term relief of anxiety and panic disorder symptoms. However, because they can be habit-forming, these sedatives are generally used only for relieving acute anxiety on a short-term basis, and might not be a good choice if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse.

A class of medications called atypical antipsychotics are often taken in combination with an antidepressant on a daily basis for people who have symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder do not respond to antidepressant medication alone.

A blood pressure medication called a beta blocker may be used by people with social phobia or specific anxieties, such as fear of public speaking or social interaction.

Psychiatric medications can only be prescribed by a licensed medical professional such as a psychiatrist, primary care physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner (depending on the US state in which you live). If you are in therapy, it's great for this person to work in partnership with your therapist. Mention to your therapist that you're considering medication, or if your therapist is the one who brought it up, you might want to unpack and talk through what that means for you with your therapist. If you’re not working with a therapist yet but finding one has been on your to-do list, check out our ultimate guide to starting therapy.

Are there over-the-counter medications for anxiety?

Over-the-counter, or OTC, medication refers to items you can buy without a prescription. Anything over-the-counter that you would use to help alleviate anxiety symptoms would typically be designed for another purpose, but their side effects or other properties could potentially help with anxiety symptoms. It’s important to note that no over-the-counter medication has been approved by the FDA for use as an anxiety medication.

There are a number of over-the-counter medications and supplements that could be used to manage mild anxiety symptoms, depending on what those symptoms are. Remember that nothing you read here or elsewhere should be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. 

Herbal supplements

Several herbal remedies have been studied as treatments for anxiety, such as valerian root, kava, passionflower, lavender, L-theanine, lemon balm, and chamomile. Results are often mixed and in a number of studies, users have reported no benefit from their use. More research is needed to determine the possible benefits and risks of using herbal supplements to treat anxiety symptoms.

Herbal supplements aren't monitored by the FDA the same way medications are. Despite enhanced quality control regulations in place since 2010, the quality of some supplements may still be an issue. Remember, natural doesn't always mean safe.

Sleep aids

If anxiety symptoms are affecting sleep and a lack of or disrupted sleep is therefore affecting daytime anxiety symptoms, sleep aids like Melatonin (which is a hormone that regulates sleep) can be used to help people get to and stay asleep


Antihistamines like Benadryl are used for allergic reactions but a common side effect is sedation, which is why you’ll find the active ingredient, diphenhydramine, in a lot of over-the-counter sleep aids as well. Because of its ability to sedate, people have been known to use Benadryl for its calming side effects.

Vitamins and minerals

There are several vitamin and mineral preparations that are marketed as stress-busters. These products typically claim to replenish the vitamins and minerals that are likely to be diminished in times of stress. They also lean on the fact that a lack of a certain vitamin or mineral may produce anxiety as a symptom. In reality, unless you have a known deficiency, there is no medical evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements can help with your anxiety or stress. If you think you might have a deficiency, your doctor can perform blood tests to find out.

It's very important to talk to a healthcare professional before taking any over-the-counter medication to help with anxiety symptoms

They’ll be able to determine which treatment options are best suited for you and warn you of any side effects, potential complications, or whether the over-the-counter medication you’re interested in will present any problems with other medications you might be taking or conditions you might have. It’s also important to note that persistent or severe anxiety symptoms are unlikely to be influenced by over-the-counter medication, and even mild anxiety symptoms most likely won’t be helped long-term by over-the-counter options.

How do I know if prescription medication for anxiety is right for me?

The decision to take prescription medication for anxiety is a personal one, and your therapist and doctor can help you decide and explain the expected effects of the medications on your symptoms as well as any potential side effects. 

If you’re wondering right now whether medication might be right for you, here are a few things to consider:

  • How severe are your anxiety symptoms? If they interfere with your daily life, medication might help you manage them.
  • How long have you had symptoms? If you have been experiencing anxiety symptoms for a long time, medication might help you more effectively cope.
  • What else have you tried? If you’ve tried over the counter options, lifestyle changes, self care, and therapy on its own, medication could be a good next step.
  • How might the side effects impact me? Your doctor will be able to explain the potential side effects of any medication, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll experience certain ones. It’s still a good idea to try medication when you have a support system in place or the ability to cope with side effects that may arise (as in, not right before you go on vacation).
  • How much of an impact does anxiety have on your daily life? If you’re struggling to get through the day or even if you feel like you’re just tired of coping with anxiety symptoms on a day-to-day basis at all, medication could be right for you.

Please remember to never combine over-the-counter medication with your prescription medication for anxiety without the advice of your doctor, as negative interactions and side effects can occur.

The decision to take medication for anxiety is ultimately yours and should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional you trust who can help you weigh the risks and benefits and determine the best course of treatment for you.

Some anxiety symptoms can be alleviated by lifestyle changes

Again, folks with more severe symptoms, long-term feelings of anxiety, or anxiety disorders will benefit most from therapy, medication, or a combination of both, but everyone can benefit from lifestyle changes, and many of them can positively impact anxiety symptoms regardless of your treatment plan.

Here are a few lifestyle changes you can try:


While it may seem like an easy fix to go to the pharmacy and pick up an over-the-counter medication to try and manage your anxiety symptoms on your own, the downsides potentially outweigh the benefits. One of the main benefits of speaking to a mental health professional is that they will be able to work with you to unpack your anxiety in the first place.

If you're considering using over-the-counter treatments, you should still talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional, especially if you're taking other over-the-counter medications or prescription medications.

Remember that taking prescription medication for your mental health is the same as taking medication for other things that have to do with your health, such as high blood pressure. 

For some people, it's the right decision, and for others it might not be the right choice. Some people choose therapy and medication together while others find that talking to a therapist gives them the care they need. The most important thing is that you are informed and supported so that you can be well.

Download MyWellbeing's 2024 Mental Health Planner!
Thank you! Your download was sent to your email.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.
Think this could help someone?
Share it with your network!
Want more helpful content like this sent to your inbox weekly?
Click here to sign up for the MyWellbeing Newsletter!

Recommended Reading

Author's headshot

About the author

Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at

Find the right therapist or coach for you

Complete our free, confidential questionnaire to easily and quickly match with 3 personalized coaches or therapists.

Get matched