Medication vs. Exercise for Stress

Last Editorial Review: 8/23/2017

Ask the experts

How does the doctor determine if someone should be on medication or whether they should just use stress-relief exercises?

Doctor's response

Drug therapy generally is not used for the management of daily life stresses such as work- or family-related stress. Stress is a part of life, and we all will experience stress throughout our lives to various degrees, just as we will experience joy, contentment, disappointment, sadness, and other emotions.

However, sudden catastrophic or tragic events and losses can precipitate a temporary severe, often unmanageably high, level of stress. Examples range from the loss of a loved one or relationship to being fired or being a victim of crime. In these cases, doctors often recommend treatment with one of the antianxiety medications or another type of drug. Medications should only be prescribed on a temporary basis for short-term relief of severe stress symptoms. Additionally, stress may worsen symptoms in many people with underlying emotional conditions (such as depression, substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other conditions). These people may need to be treated with antidepressants or other medications on a long-term basis to help them manage the effects of stress on their condition.

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Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine