As a high-achieving student, I was predicted top grades across all my subjects. From February onwards I was up late every night rewriting my notes over and over again to ensure I didn’t miss the grades I needed to get onto my chosen course at uni.
As the exams drew closer, I started to experience obsessive negative thoughts about failing, along with images of me completely blanking in the exam, which made me very panicked and anxious. I started to lose weight and I stopped sleeping properly, which led to me doing worse than expected in mock exams, making me even more nervous.
Visiting my GP
I realised the negative cycle I was getting into and my mum and I went to see my GP, who prescribed me citalopram for depression and propranolol for anxiety. She prescribed me 10mg tablets of propranolol and told me I could take up to four tablets a day (so 40mg max) whenever I felt anxious. She was very helpful in explaining to me that lots of young people experience anxiety around the time of their A-Levels. She even wrote a letter that my school could send to my exam boards asking them to take my mental health condition into account.
I noticed that my body seemed much less tense and calmer within just a few days of taking the propranolol and my heart rate seemed to slow down again. I was definitely still nervous by the time my exams came around but it was a kind of anxiety that I could cope with, not one which threatened to overwhelm me. I continued taking the medication (but at a lower dosage) right up until after my A-Level results were published, as it helped keep me calm in the lead–up to results day. However, I decided to come off it before I started university.
Effects and side effects
Propranolol has the beneficial effect of de-stressing my body and making me feel less tense and wound-up. Because I am still prescribed the 10mg tablets I can take them whenever I need them, which means I can get a hold on my anxiety wherever I am.
The only side effects I experienced are that sometimes it makes me feel a bit light-headed and I feel as if my concentration can suffer because of this. Also, because I suffer from low blood pressure, I have to make sure I spread out my propranolol tablets otherwise I might faint as they also lower your blood pressure. The tablets do seem to become less effective over time, as I think your body starts to get used to them, but they have been really useful in helping me manage my anxiety and get on with my life when I need to!
Coming off propranolol
Coming off propranolol was surprisingly painless; I felt a bit tense at times, but other than that there were no nasty withdrawal effects.
I have been prescribed propranolol twice since then: once in my second year at university when I had a particularly severe episode of anxiety and depression which really affected my life, and again last October when my workplace ran into financial difficulties and stopped paying their staff before making us all redundant. Both times I took propranolol alongside antidepressants and both times it helped me cope with the physical feelings of anxiety. However, I would say it was most effective for me the first time I took it during my A-Levels.
Questions about mental health medication?
If you would like to know more about the different types of mental health medication you could be prescribed, how they help and what the side effects could be, have a look at our guide to medications.