Have you just been prescribed sertraline for your anxiety or panic disorder? Are you unsure and, more likely, terrified of what this drug might do for you? Don’t be. I take sertraline for my anxiety and have no regrets.
I know exactly what you’re feeling. I’ve been experiencing panic attacks and Generalized Anxiety Disorder for 20 years. I know how scary and worrisome it is to start a new medication, having heard all these horror stories and not knowing if this is the right drug for you. I felt all those things too. Even though I’ve been on it three different times, I got worried all the same each time I restarted. Anxiety will do that to you!
So I’m here to let you know that you’ll be just fine. Those anxious thoughts make it hard to believe, but hang in there. Things WILL get better! But patience is necessary.
And read on to learn about my experiences taking sertraline. And spoiler alert, this is a success story! In fact, I’ll tell you 5 reasons why sertraline was the right choice for me.
This post may be sponsored or contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. See my full disclosure here. I am not a doctor, therapist or professional of any sort. These are only my personal opinions and experiences. Always consult your doctor.
So what is sertraline?
You’re probably more familiar with sertraline’s brand name, Zoloft. Sertraline is a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a class of antidepressants. It affects chemicals in the brain and is most often prescribed for panic, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).
There are an extensive list of precautions and side effects that you’ll want to be familiar with. I’ll leave that to the professionals – talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have concerns. Here are a couple resources that you might want to check out – RxList or WebMD.
How does sertraline work?
Sertraline is an SSRI and SSRIs work by slowing the reabsorbtion (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain, considered to be a mood stablizer. In additon, serotonin may also help with sleeping, eating and digestion.
Because serotonin is normally absorbed quickly, this slowing is allows additional messages to be transmitted between neurons, and believed to boost the mood.
Thank you Very Well Mind for providing me more information about this drug.
How long have you been taking sertraline?
Years. I’ve been on sertraline numerous times over quite a few year.
I’ll start saying that I have diagnosed Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder, first diagnosed in 1998, my senior year of high school. I’ve been on (and off, at my choice) sertraline for 13 years.
I hear you when you say that starting a prescription medication for anxiety is scary. I felt the same way each time I had to go back on. To make matters worse, it’s not a quick fix. It takes weeks, even months of use before you can see and feel the difference. But it’s worth the wait. It DOES get better.
So here it is, my circle of life, with anxiety.
Since my initial anxiety disorder diagnosis, I’ve gone through several cycles of:
1. mild anxiety that progresses
2. into full blown panic attacks
3. that i suffer with for months
4. before I finally go to the doctor
5. and get a prescription
6. which I take for a couple years
7. until I feel good and think I have this under control
8. and ween myself off the meds
9. and feel good for another year or so
10. then mild anxiety creeps back in
…And then I repeat this all over again.
Only now, 20 years later, have I (almost) fully accepted that it’s in my best interest to remain on medication Read on for a first hand, in depth experience.
What dosage of sertraline do you take?
One’s dosage will depend on the doctor’s recommendation, but the effective therapeutic dose is between 50 mg and 200 mg, and usually in 50 mg increments.
My dosage has varied with each round, why I do not know.
My first sertraline experience was at 50 mg. That’s the dosage I started at and it worked, so I never increased. I was on that dosage for approximately 4 years before I decided to ween myself off (with my doctor’s approval) when I got pregnant with my third child.
The second time I went on sertraline I started with 25 mg, with the intent to increase in a couple weeks, but I never did. I found that 25 mg was all I needed, and remained on that does for approximately 2 years before I thought I had kicked the issue.
The third (and current) time I started at 25 mg, thinking it would be enough once again, but it was not. I increased to 50 mg after 6 weeks and remained there for a few more months. I didn’t feel quite as well as I though I should have, so my doctor recommended I up the dosage to 100 mg. I did, and remained at that dosage for several more months. I didn’t feel “right” though, and dropped back down to 50 mg. That is where I remain today.
How long did it take for sertraline to work?
It’s noted that you may start to see improvement in 1-2 weeks, with most improvement occurring by 6-8 weeks.
This is a medication that TAKES TIME. Please be patient. While I did see minor improvement in the first few weeks, I would say it was more like 3 to 4 MONTHS before I felt back to “normal.”
Normal to me means not obsessing about every ache or twinge, panicking every time I turned onto the highway and getting through a meeting without worrying that I’d need to bolt in the middle of it. I could go about my day with anxiety and panic as a thing I used to deal with, not something that ruled my every waking moment.
Is my anxiety completely gone – no. But it’s mild and controllable. What I do not experience any more are panic attacks. No more fight or flight responses. I do practice controlled deep breathing as soon as I feel any anxious thoughts creep in. Works every time.
What side effects did you experience on sertraline?
Ah, the dreaded side effects. Yep, they are real. And not great.
Weight gain: At only 5’2″, I’ve gained about 30 pounds in the last 2 years. My diet isn’t horrible (though not the best) and I exercise semi-regularly (though not nearly enough). I’ve also signed up for Weight Watchers with little success. It’s been frustrating.
Sexual desire: This is the hardest side effect to deal with is the loss of sexual desire. We still do the deed, and it all goes well. But there is little spur of the moment activities these days. Let’s just say things take time. And lube, it’s a must.
Dulled emotions: I don’t get (quite) as bitchy, I rarely cry anymore and those feelings of longing and excitement (say…a vacation to the tropics!) just doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, I still get happy and sad, angry and excited, but not to the extremes that I used to. While it’s probably good to not get as crabby, I miss that giddy feeling of looking forward to something.
Lack of energy: This may or may not be attributed to sertraline in my case, but the timing coincides, so I’ll mention it. I struggle quite a bit in the mornings, whether or not I get adequate sleep. My motivation is lacking and I struggle with getting myself to the gym and everyday chores like that never-ending laundry.
In what ways did sertraline help?
#1 All but stops the obsessive thoughts:
I no longer obsess about heartburn that might be a heart attack, the headache that’s sure to be a brain tumor or the twinge in my leg that must be a blood clot. It’s simply heartburn from the spicy noodles. A sinus headache from my allergies. And my legs hurt because it was leg day at the gym. I feel something, note it, then I move on.
#2 Panic attacks are gone:
While I do experience minor anxiety (remember, some anxiety is human) I have not had, or even come close to a panic attack. I am able to control my anxious thoughts with deep breathing exercises or inhaling essential oils.
#3 Allows me to be a better wife:
I took too many of my frustrations out on my husband. He was always supportive and understanding, but I was short-tempered and emotional. All. Of. The. Time. He didn’t deserve that.
#4 And a better mother:
My poor girls. I wasn’t there for them. I was in my own anxiety filled world, too obsessed with my own thoughts to be present for them. I’m back to myself, able to have conversations with there where they are the focus.
#5 Back to living life:
I’ve stopped planning my life around my panic. I no longer rely on my husband to drive because panic sets in when I hit the highway. I can go out for a girl’s night because I’m no longer afraid to be away from home. It’s no longer important for me to be the first to a work meeting just so I can get a seat closest to the door.
What does it feel like to go off sertraline?
Please, talk to your doctor if you want to go off any anti-anxiety medication.
Just as it takes time to feel the effects, it also take time to ween off. It was a process, and one I never particularly enjoyed.
Taper slowly: I would no more than half my dosage for about 2-3 weeks. When I was on 50 mg, I dropped to 25 mg for a couple weeks. Then I took 25 mg every other day for a week or two. Then every few days. It was about that frequency that I would just forget and call it done.
Physical sensations: Brain zaps are the only symptom I felt. It’s not a painful feeling, but a very odd one. They were most noticed when I would close eyes tightly. Sometimes they were just in my head, sometimes they were felt throughout my entire body. These are something I also feel if I forget a dose and go more than 48 hours or so. It’s a good reminder, I suppose. There’s no way I’ll keep forgetting with zaps to remind me!
The final verdict?
The good outweighs the bad. I’m just a better, saner and calmer person on sertraline. Sure, I wish I could handle my anxiety without prescription medication. But I’ve tried, multiple times, and it just doesn’t work for me. Twenty years later, I’m ready to accept that this is what’s necessary to be that better person, for myself and my family. I’m not ashamed to need them, and am instead thankful that they exist.
Do you have any questions about what it’s like to take sertraline? Drop me a line, and know that you are not alone!
And remember, just breathe.