Thursday, 14 February 2013

10 Tips for Making Antidepressant Withdrawal Easier

This is my third in a series of articles on this site about antidepressant withdrawal. Do seek medical advice before discontinuing your antidepressant, and unless you are on a very low dose, don’t simply quit taking it. Beyond that, here are some pointers to make the withdrawal experience easier.

     1) Don’t decide to discontinue your antidepressant if you are going through a particularly stressful period in your life. Antidepressant withdrawal can be a major stressor itself, and withdrawal symptoms seem to be more extreme if you are stressed to begin with.  And don’t enter into a stressful situation if you are in the middle of withdrawal. Just don’t go there.[i]

     2) Anticipate and assume it will go well, but be prepared in case it doesn’t. Studies suggest at least 20% of people have no problem getting off their antidepressant. Most people go through several days with mild to moderate symptoms when decreasing their dose. Physically you might feel a bit achy, dizzy, have a headache, and/or feel a bit nauseous. Emotionally you’re likely to be anxious and snappy—think PMT. You are also likely to feel tired. A few folks have a much rougher time. See my last post, and Dr Glenmullen’s checklist for a more complete list of possible withdrawal symptoms.

3) Get yourself a support team. Let your spouse/parents/kids, close friends, and possibly co-workers/colleagues know that you’re altering a medication and that you might not be quite yourself during the time it takes for your body to adjust. If you’re not going to get support for coming off the meds from someone, figure out how you want to deal with that issue before you start the withdrawal. Some folks believe that having withdrawal symptoms means you need to take your antidepressant.  It doesn’t. (That’s the same logic as saying smokers who have trouble getting off cigarettes need to smoke.)

      4) Even if you feel grotty, get out and get some exercise every day. Go for a walk, or a swim, or a bike ride, or a run. Take the dog for a walk. Shoot some baskets. Throw some snowballs at a tree. Get some fresh air and work your blood cells and heart and muscles a little bit. You will feel better for it. Promise.

      5)  Eat light and healthy. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits to increase antioxidant levels. Don’t add a bunch of vitamins or supplements, though. Some folks have reported reactions to supplements during withdrawal. And listen to your body. If certain foods don’t agree with you, don’t eat them.

     6) Drink plenty of water. It not only hydrates your body, but also helps flush your system. I haven’t read anywhere about tea or coffee so can’t comment on whether they help or not. (If you have some experience with this, your feedback would be appreciated!) I’d say if you are a regular coffee drinker, going off coffee might give you coffee withdrawals (yup, they’re real) and that wouldn’t be good. Green tea provides antioxidants so that is probably a good choice. Follow your instincts here.

     7)  Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol during withdrawal. You probably won’t feel like drinking or doping during withdrawal anyway, but some people seek anything that might help calm them down if they get feeling agitated during withdrawal. If your emotions are bubbling, the last thing you need is something else to jerk your emotions around, and substances that loosen inhibitions can be seriously bad news if you’re a bit volatile or vulnerable to begin with. I know one ordinarily quiet and gentle person who, after several drinks during withdrawal, took off after his step-daughter’s boyfriend with a 2x4—the young man had enough good sense to run!

      8) Take up meditation, or at least learn the “Freezeframe” technique that comes from the Heart Math folks. Both are outstanding for keeping calm and lowering stress levels. Use them daily, more than once a day if you can.

      9) Laugh. Every day. Even if you have to pretend to laugh, laugh, and after a while it won’t be so “pretend”. Watch a funny movie or read a funny book. Take up laughter yoga. Laughter is good for your heart, your immune system, your blood flow, your blood sugar levels... Really, it has no downsides at all. And regular bouts of laughter WILL make AD withdrawal easier.

     10) Count your blessings. Be grateful, and be aware of being grateful. Do this every day, several times a day. When you appreciate the small, positive things in your life, you bring your attention to those things, and that helps your immune system, and helps your body to heal. Even if it’s hard to think of something positive, make the effort. Be grateful for a sunset. For the warmth and flavour in a cup of tea. For kind words from your spouse, a “well done” from your supervisor, a few hours of uninterrupted and peaceful sleep, for not feeling as dizzy today as you felt yesterday.  Really FEEL that gratitude. Don’t kneecap your gratitude by adding a codicil like “It’s about time!” or “I’m glad to feel better today than I did yesterday but I’m still sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Just focus on the good stuff.

If you haven’t read my other two posts on antidepressant withdrawal, check them out:

Antidepressant Withdrawal looks at what withdrawal effects may occur when you stop taking your antidepressant and why they occur.

How Long Does it Take to Get off Antidepressants gives tapering advice.

For more information on psychiatric drugs and alternative ways to understand and resolve a variety of mental health issues, see my new book Reframing Mental Illness.


[i] Frank Streicher did. He shares his story about what happened on his website: “after about 4 days off the stuff and at the height of withdrawal, I put myself in the worst possible position. I reffed a high school basketball game between two of the best teams in the city. I was partnered with the worst ref in the league, and the game went into double-OT. Packed gym, people screaming, coaches yelling. Big mistake. The things that people say that normally roll off you, hit you like daggers when you're in withdrawal. The losing coach (who I'm surprised is allowed to work with kids) wouldn't let it go and kept at us long after the final buzzer. I'm a big enough guy to have ripped this coach in two. It took every ounce of determination I had to turn and walk away from that guy. I'm not a tough guy, but had I turned on him, I'm sure I would have killed him. I was that frayed. I went home and trashed my bedroom. I laugh at it now because it was my only opportunity to act like a 70s rock star with a valid excuse. I had to go back on the drugs before I hurt someone.Frank’s website,, is a useful resource. Paxil (Seroxat, paroxetine) is one of the harder antidepressants to get off.

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