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Common Non-prescription OTC Pain Medication Reduces Anxiety

Tim Boyer's picture
Reducing Anxiety

Feelings of anxiety from the pressures of living in a world where one begins to question his or her beliefs regarding life and their role(s) in it and the decisions they make or will make, result from a condition known as existential dread or existential angst―a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of what appears to be a meaningless or absurd world.

While counseling, therapy and in some cases, medications, are prescribed to counter these feelings of existential anxiety, researchers have recently found that one of the most common non-prescription OTC drugs may offer emotional pain relief as well as physical pain relief: Tylenol.

From previously published studies that demonstrated taking a generic form of Tylenol with its active ingredient of acetaminophen can reduce emotional pain experienced by those who feel that they are being ostracized by their friends, researchers from the University of British Columbia decided to investigate whether Tylenol can also reduce feelings of anxiety in people suffering from existential dread.

According to news release from University of British Columbia about the study:

“Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death,” says lead author Daniel Randles, UBC Dept. of Psychology. “Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as ‘pain’ by the brain―but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong.”

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In an article published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Psychological Science titled “The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats,” the researchers describe the effectiveness of Tylenol on study participants who were assigned anxiety-inducing tasks. Given either a form of acetaminophen or a placebo, the participants then either wrote about death or watched a David Lynch film. Remember “Blue Velvet” from the mid-80s?! After performing their tasks, the participants were then asked to assign fines as punishment for a variety of crimes.

What the researchers found was that the study participants who took acetaminophen were significantly more lenient regarding the severity of the fines as well as were able to deal better emotionally with the anxiety-provoking tasks.

“That a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches may also numb people to the worry of thoughts of their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film―is a surprising and very interesting finding,” says Randles, a PhD candidate who authored the study with Prof. Steve Heine and Nathan Santos.

However, the authors also caution that further research is needed before acetaminophen can be safely administered as an effective non-prescription solution for treating anxiety.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death: Acetaminophen Reduces Compensatory Affirmation Following Meaning Threats” Psychological Science April 11, 2013; Daniel Randles et al.