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What does It Mean to Take a Chill Pill?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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During moments of stress or anxiety, some people can become overwhelmed by their emotions and become extremely agitated or nervous or volatile. This irrational behavior often takes on a life of its own, causing others to become concerned about a person's ability to cope with his or her circumstances. At a time like this, a concerned bystander may suggest that he or she take a chill pill and relax. A chill pill is a generic reference to any sedative or anti-anxiety medication which has a calming or emotionally numbing effect on its recipient.

Many people are asked to take a chill pill after making irrational demands on others or delivering an emotionally charged rant not commensurate with the situation at hand. An employer who berates an employee over a minor issue may need to take a chill pill, for example. An anxious parent issuing numerous rules and regulations to a teen driver may also be asked to take a chill pill. Taking an actual sedative or a five minute sanity break could help someone regain perspective on a stressful situation.

There are a number of prescription medications which would qualify as a "chill pill," although the expression could just as easily apply to an imaginary form of sedation which promises instant results. The suggestion, or in some cases the imperative, to take a chill pill is generally intended to shock the irrational or overly emotional person back to his or her senses. Once a person becomes too emotionally charged or tightly wound during a discussion, meaningful dialogue can become problematic.

The modern concept of a chill pill may trace back to the 1950s and 1960s, when prescription sedatives and tranquilizers such as Valium become more commonplace. The Rolling Stones song "Mother's Little Helper," for example, referred to a prescription sedative a number of housewives took in order to cope with their demanding suburban lifestyles. The idea of taking powerful sedatives or anti-anxiety medications in order to "chill out" or unwind became very popular during the 1970s, and by the 1980s many people were taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications regularly to combat stress.

The expression take a chill pill has been a popular expression for several decades, and has been used as a comedic catchphrase over the years. On the sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live for example, comedian Dana Carvey's Asian pet store owner character would routinely advise his overwrought customers to take a chill pill after telling them why chickens made such lousy house pets. Modern sitcoms often include scenes where an overly anxious parent or boss is told to take a chill pill, chill out or simply chillax.

Considering the stresses and pressures that often accompany day-to-day life, the suggestion to take a chill pill may not be such a bad idea once in a while.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Buster29 — On Jan 31, 2014

@AnswerMan, I know what you mean about some of those anti-anxiety meds that came out a while back. I took Prozac for several years and I thought it helped take the edge off, but I didn't want to start relying on it to get through my day. Now I only take something when I get truly anxious or agitated, like after a fight with my boss or after a stupid argument with a family member. I'll have to try one of those herbal remedies you suggested.

By AnswerMan — On Jan 31, 2014

I was never a fan of prescription "chill pills" for anxiety. I tried a few when I was in my 20s and I thought they worked a little too well. I felt a little buzzed, like I had two or three alcoholic beverages. I didn't like feeling disconnected from the world like that.

A few years ago, I was in a health food store and the clerk was handing out free samples of different herbal remedies. She gave me a natural anti-anxiety pill that was supposed to calm a person down in twenty minutes or less. Sure enough, I felt completely relaxed in about twenty minutes. So I say if you're looking for a real "chill pill", talk to someone at a health food store about natural alternatives to those prescription drugs.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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