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Help! My Cold Meds Make Me Anxious. What ELSE Can I Do?

Help! My Cold Meds Make Me Anxious. What ELSE Can I Do?Feeling sick? You’re probably not alone. It’s that sneez-y, cough-y, mucus-y time of year.


So, if you’re anything like me, you have an anxiety disorder and you hate being sick. In fact, maybe being sick in and of itself elevates your anxiety level.

Throw some cold meds into the equation and you might really end up feeling bonkers. Medicines for cold and flu can be very powerful, and the side effects of their active ingredients can sometimes include disconcerting side effects, like dizziness or wooziness. (Think Sudafed, for example.)

And that sucks. Because getting relief for a cold is awesome…unless the price for that “relief” is more than a tablespoon of anxiety.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how I often take smaller doses of OTC cold medication than the bottle recommends. The meds still end up working (to a degree), and save me from some of the side effect-related anxiety.

But what if you’re too scared to take any cold meds? Are you doomed to suffer?


Getting a cold — especially one with a fever — can make me very anxious. First of all, anything that screws with my normal pattern of breathing is just freaky. Second, fevers and the arthritic-esque joint aches that come along for the ride are super uncomfortable. Third — and maybe this is just me — my heart rate rises when I have a fever.

(Oh, wait. It’s not just me: Fever and Cardiac Rhythm. There. Done. It’s all of us.)

Anyway, if I want to avoid meds when treating a cold or other similar illness, here’s what I usually do for each symptom.

Fever: I usually do take a pain reliever for this (think Tylenol or Advil) because neither of those two meds do a thing to my anxiety level. But curling up with a bag of frozen peas feels pretty darn good. In particular, I wrap a soft cold pack (peas, that gel stuff, or even dish soap in a Ziploc bag) onto my forehead with a handkerchief.

Ice cold water and a childhood throwback (popsicles!) are big winners, too.

Aches: These are tough, but I find that a warm bath with Epsom salts can help. I’ve also used over-the-counter arthritis cream and Tiger Balm to sort of numb the achiest places (usually my knees and elbows).

Coughing: I am in love with Vicks Vapo-Rub. The only side effect, for me, is happiness. Honestly, the scent reminds me of being home sick as a kid, watching The Price Is Right, and eating chicken soup. A little bit on your chest (and on your back) can go a long way.

Nose crap: I say “nose crap” because there’s sniffles and dripping and mucous and all sorts of disgusting stuff going on up there during a cold. I swear by my Neti pot — yeah, that weird device used to pour salt water in one nostril and out the other. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth a try. I used it to clear out my nose after my septoplasty last year — I don’t even want to describe the mess of gunk to you, let alone use the phrase “mess of gunk”, but oops. Just did.

For the Neti-shy, a saline spray is a fair non-drug alternative, too. Even if you don’t want to put anything in your nose, there’s always those Breathe Right strips that affix to the outside of your nose and help to expand your nasal passages. They’re not just for snorers — they’re great when your nose is sick.

And, of course, the best way to relieve myself of cold symptoms (without using meds) is to sleep. An hour or two of naptime in the middle of a nasty cold is a pretty blissful break from all the blah. I like to keep my head elevated so make sure nothing drains into my gut (eew) — because for me, a gunky gut equals nausea.

And nausea equals…anxiety! Weee. Wouldn’t you know. (They say all roads lead to Gettysburg, right? I’m pretty sure the same can be said about anxiety.)


Speaking of anxiety, I also want to mention this: you’ve been sick before. You’ve had colds before — countless colds. You’ve sniffled and coughed your way through childhood.

You’ve got some experience with this type of discomfort.

And even though the common cold (and its nasty cousin, the flu) is a huge pain in the ass, you can get through it. Repeat it like a mantra. You can get through it because you’ve done it before. You know, reliably, that the aches and the endless globs of snot will end. They always have.

And they always will.

Do you use cold meds when you’re sick? Which ingredients tend to hype up your anxiety? If you try to avoid medicines, how do you handle your symptoms?

(Obviously, none of this is medical advice. I’m just sharing what works best for me. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about how you can best treat yourself while ill.)

Photo credit: Breigh Hammarlund (Flickr)

Help! My Cold Meds Make Me Anxious. What ELSE Can I Do?

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2013). Help! My Cold Meds Make Me Anxious. What ELSE Can I Do?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2013
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