Side effects from antidepressants are common, but there are ways to manage their daily impact.
Choosing to start taking antidepressants can be both an overwhelming and empowering decision.
Weighing the pros and cons of medication helps when coming to a decision about whether antidepressants are right for you.
There are numerous coping strategies and changes you can discuss with your doctor to find the right antidepressant and dosage for your unique experience.
It’s common to feel side effects when you first start taking antidepressants, although the mix of effects and severity can look different for everybody.
“One brand of antidepressant could have zero side effects for one person, and five side effects for another person,” shares Cassandra Godzik, the Associate Dean within the School of Nursing at Regis College.
Because of this, it could mean trying several different options to see what medication works best for you, especially if you experience adverse side effects with the first brand.
“Antidepressants are associated with side effects most commonly during the first 3 weeks of taking the medication or at dose changes,” explains Shari Allen, a board certified psychiatric pharmacist. “Most of the side effects, though, are transient, and they will often decrease with time and with continued use.”
Common antidepressant side effects include:
- weight changes
- sexual issues
- stomach upset or nausea
- dry mouth
- suicidal thoughts
There are several types of antidepressant medications that work in different ways. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most prescribed, followed by serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Common SSRIs include:
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- vilazodone (Viibryd)
- wortioexetine (Trintellix)
Common SNRIs include:
SNRIs come with additional side effects not typically seen in SSRIs, including:
- dizziness or tremors
- increased heart rate
- heart palpitations
- increased blood pressure
If you experience antidepressant side effects, there are a number of coping strategies you can try.
Nausea and indigestion
Taking your antidepressant along with food may make the medication less harsh on your stomach. You could also try taking the medication at night.
It’s common for SSRIs and SNRIs to have a negative effect on your libido because they cause a decrease in dopamine in your brain. Difficulty having an orgasm is common too. To counter this impact on your sex life, you can try a few things.
First, consider waiting it out. “Sometimes decreased libido or difficulty with ejaculation can be worse at the beginning of treatment. Waiting for the medication to take its full effect has shown to help in some cases,” explains Dr. Beth Gabriel.
It takes approximately
Alternatively, Gabriel suggests taking breaks from the antidepressant the day before you plan to have sex or consulting with your doctor to change to a new medication with less known sexual side effects.
Some individuals experience weight gain when starting or switching to a new antidepressant. Medical experts theorize the medication impacts the body’s metabolism or appetite control center.
“Trying to exercise and eat a healthy diet may be challenging, particularly for someone who is experiencing depression,” admits Gabriel, “but doing those two things can be particularly helpful in lifting mood and preventing weight gain when on antidepressants.”
You might consider working with a therapist to accept a typically modest amount of weight gain as a step toward improving your mental health.
Trouble sleeping or fatigue
In the case of insomnia, you can add medication to help manage the symptom. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
On the flip side, if you’re experiencing daytime drowsiness, consider taking your medication at night instead of during the day.
“Everyone’s body is different,” psychiatric PA Megan Peterson points out. “Some people experience increased energy or focus while on antidepressants, some people can experience sedation, while others have no change in energy level. If you are experiencing sedation, switch the medication to nighttime dosing.”
If you’re experiencing constipation symptoms as a result of your antidepressant, drinking a lot of water and eating foods high in fiber can help keep you regular.
Headaches and dizziness
“If you are experiencing dizziness, try taking the medication at night,” Peterson suggests.
As for headaches, Peterson notes that it’s okay to take Tylenol or Ibuprofen with antidepressants.
For all of the side effects
It’s a good idea to have mindful coping skills in your toolkit. “Practices like meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, talking with family or friends, running, going on a walk, and listening to music can all help decrease your anxiety level until the side effect decreases,” adds Peterson.
Keeping track of your symptoms can be crucial to your healing. Consider using the notes app on your phone, journal, or another app that feels easy to use.
As for what to track, “I would think about the main symptoms of depression or anxiety you were having before starting an antidepressant and monitor those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors closely,” suggests Peterson.
Gabriel suggests that you speak with your psychiatrist or doctor about your medication if you have zero or minimal benefit after being on one brand for 8 to 12 weeks or if the side effects are intolerable.
Also, know that the solution may not be switching depressants, but it could be changing your dose. When consulting with your doctor, you may find that your dose is too high or you ramped up too quickly in the beginning.
As Gabriel points out, “a too high dose at initiation can lead to more side effects and less benefit.”
“Don’t try to stop taking an antidepressant cold turkey, as this can lead to discontinuation syndrome,” explains Gabriel.
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, also sometimes called antidepressant withdrawal, can often be avoided with a gradual tapering plan.
When going off of an antidepressant, you may experience symptoms such as:
- increased depression
- flu-like symptoms
- paresthesia (tingly feelings in the extremities)
- shock-like sensations
If you experience antidepressant withdrawal, it’s okay to seek help from your doctor as well as your loved ones.
“Lean on your support system and let them know if you need help,” suggests Peterson. “Know that these withdrawal effects WILL stop and are often short-lived.”
First and foremost, you deserve to heal. This could mean trying more than one antidepressant or changing your dose to help you feel better and more like yourself.
Patience can go a long way. One study of adults with acute depression who didn’t respond to an antidepressant drug at first had a 1 in 5 chance of substantial symptom reduction between 5 and 8 weeks if they continued to take it.
It’s also okay to determine your current antidepressant — or its side effects — doesn’t fit into your life. As frustrating as the process can be, continuing to work with your doctor to find the right antidepressant, and dose, for you can be worth it.
It’s natural to want to feel better instantly and question every possible reaction. But sometimes healing takes time, and you deserve to find the best possible solution.
Additional support from a therapist can be especially helpful during this trial and error process. Find more info here: