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Managing Medication Changes

If you take medication or support a loved one who does, you may have had experiences adapting to medication changes.  Just as your physical health needs change over time, if you take medication for managing mental health symptoms, your treatment may change over time.  This piece will discuss some of the challenges folks may face when they are changing medications, and share some of the best self-care strategies to employ when managing medication changes - some of these tips are even helpful for adapting to changes in general!  This piece is not a substitute for medical advice, and it is imperative that you speak with your healthcare providers (such as your doctor, psychiatrist, and/or pharmacist) about your medication options.

Possible Side Effects

If you are tapering off of or stopping a medication, switching to a different medication, or starting a new medication, it’s possible that you may experience side effects such as restlessness, sleep troubles, feeling unsteady/off balance, sweating, stomach problems, irritability, flu-like symptoms (soreness, chills), “brain zaps” (a feeling that there’s a small electric shock in your head), mood swings, confusion, and changes in anxiety levels.  In serious circumstances people may experience a return of some of their mental health symptoms, or have suicidal thoughts.  Possible side effects can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  While some people have side effects, others tolerate changes with little disruption in their day-to-day life.  So what are some steps you can take to manage a potentially challenging period of time during these changes?

How To Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Yes, this one is pretty obvious, but here are some tips on how to have this conversation to best set yourself up for wellness.  Questions to ask your prescriber include:

  • What side effects are more commonly associated with this medication/change?

  • Are there any serious side effects that I should watch out for?

  • How do you recommend I deal with the possible side effects?

  • (If a doctor recommends you come off a medication or change medications over time) Can you give me a calendar/schedule for this plan that I can track at home?

  • Can I schedule a follow up appointment with you to track my progress?

  • I have upcoming events/stressors. Is this the best time for me to change medications?

Have an Action Plan

As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.  Having an action plan before undergoing a change provides you with strategies to weather any storms that come up.  Simple lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your mental health during periods of transition, such as:

  • Getting enough sleep on a regular schedule

  • Getting the right nutrition and hydration for your individual needs

  • Getting regular exercise/movement

  • Prioritizing pleasant activities

  • Having a plan of who to connect with if you are struggling

  • Having a keen focus on work/life balance

  • Prioritizing relaxation

An action plan (like this one) can be completed prior to any big changes, and should be kept somewhere where it’s easily accessible.  It can also incorporate elements of a safety plan such as a list of your trusted support people (friends, family), healthcare team, and crisis numbers to contact in the event of an emergency.  This plan can be shared with people close to you so they can support you through your changes.

Talk to a Therapist

Big feelings can come up at any time in life, and if you’re struggling with your thoughts or feelings during a transition period, talking to a therapist can be very beneficial.  A therapist can also help you put together your action plan (as discussed above) and highlight your support structures during a period of change.  We also can help you develop coping skills to self-soothe during periods of stress, and provide validation and support if you’re struggling with difficult emotions.  A therapist is also a great source of knowledge for local and/or online resources to add to your wellness toolkit.

We hope that you find this brief guide helpful if you’re going through a medication transition, or are supporting someone who is.  If you want to explore psychotherapy as an option for support, please contact a member of our team or book a free consultation here.  

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