Pill Anxiety: What It Is and How to Overcome It


Woman taking pill

Today, pills just seem to be a part of everyday life, be it for pain management or taking helpful supplements. It seems like once we get past childhood age, any medication or supplement that we used to take in liquid form would simply be offered as pills or capsules, and we are just supposed to accept this method. However, pill anxiety is still very common. In fact, the idea of having to swallow pills is downright scary for many people, and can hinder them from taking medication that they need or supplements that may help them. If this sounds like you, don’t worry - you’re not alone. 

The reasons why people have trouble swallowing pills can vary. For some, it is the result of a condition called Dysphagia, which is the medical term for difficulty swallowing, and not just pills. People with dysphagia can even cough and choke on food and liquids. There are many reasons why a person can have dysphagia, which can involve muscles and nerves from the mouth all the way down to the stomach. It can be caused by other health conditions, so you need to seek medical treatment for this condition.

For others, the difficulty swallowing pills can simply come from a mental block. Perhaps you had a bad experience as a child and choked on a pill. Or perhaps some pills and capsules are simply so large or bulky that getting it down seems impossible. According to the New York Times, studies conducted in the U.S. and Europe showed that 30 to 40 percent of adults report having experienced difficulty swallowing pills.

Pill anxiety from difficulty swallowing is different from pharmacophobia, which is the fear of taking medication. Pharmacophobia can be tied to concerns around the effects of the medication, such as unwanted side effects, or anything that might happen once the medication is consumed. However, both pharmacophobia and pill anxiety can lead to a person refusing to take their medication. 

If it is a mental block that is preventing you from swallowing pills, there is hope. Because this kind of pill anxiety is so common, there are a number of solutions that you can try in order to help you improve your experience around swallowing pills altogether. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Seek a professional. If a physical condition is hindering you from swallowing pills, your doctor can refer you to a specialist who can look further into the issue. If it is a mental hurdle, they may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help. 
  2. Break down your pill, or empty your capsule into food or liquids. Be sure to ask a medical professional first before you try this, because some medications are designed to be released into your system gradually instead of all at once. But if you are able to, you can try to take your medication or supplements in a smaller size.
  3. Use assistance. Try swallowing aids, such as specialized swallowing cups, or try other methods of pill taking. This article from Self features recommendations such as hiding your pill in applesauce to help it slide down your esophagus. They also suggest methods that are different from simply placing the pill in your mouth trying to gulp it down with water. 
  4. Practice! Some professionals recommend practicing with other foods like bread and candy and, starting with smaller sizes and working your way up to candies similar in size to pills. Some people only seem to have trouble swallowing pills, but not other foods or liquids. Practice and a change of mindset over time can help get you in the right direction.
  5. Find alternatives. Technology has afforded us a variety of ways to take medication and supplements. Take a walk through your local store’s over-the-counter and supplements aisles. Some are available in liquid, powder, or even gummy forms. 

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