Where to start?
Anxiety disorder is a medical condition that a variety of professionals can treat. The sooner you start treatment, the better the outcome you can expect.
Effective treatment of an anxiety disorder requires that you be completely open and honest with your doctor. It’s important that you trust the doctor who is treating your condition and feel comfortable with them. Don’t feel that you are “stuck” with the first doctor you see. If you’re not comfortable with them, you should see someone else.
You and your doctor must be able to work together as a team to treat your disorder. A variety of doctors and specialists may be able to help manage your anxiety. A good place to start is with your primary care physician.
Primary care physician
Your primary doctor will conduct a complete physical examination to determine if your symptoms are being caused by another condition. Symptoms of anxiety may be due to:
- hormone imbalance
- side effects of medications
- certain illnesses
- various other conditions
If your doctor rules out other conditions, your diagnosis may be an anxiety disorder. At that point, they may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. A referral is especially likely if your anxiety is severe or is accompanied by another mental health condition, such as depression.
A psychologist can offer psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling. A psychologist can help get you to the root of your anxiety and make behavioral changes. This type of therapy may be especially helpful if you’ve experienced trauma or abuse. Depending on the state where you live, your psychologist may prescribe medications for your depression. Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico are the only states that allow psychologists to prescribe medicine.
Your treatment by a psychologist will likely be in conjunction with ongoing treatment by your primary doctor. Psychotherapy and medication are often used together to treat anxiety disorder.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. A psychiatrist can provide both psychotherapy and medication to treat your anxiety disorder.
Psychiatric nurse practitioner
Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide primary mental health care to people seeking treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are able to diagnose and treat people with mental illnesses, including prescribe medications. As fewer medical students go into psychiatry, more and more psychiatric care is being assumed by psychiatric nurse practitioners.
To make the most of your visit to the doctor, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Take a few minutes ahead of time to think about what you need to tell your doctor and what questions you want to ask. The best way to make sure you don’t forget anything is to write it all down.
This information will help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis of your condition.
- Make a list of your symptoms and when they began. Note when your symptoms occur, how they affect your life, and when they’re better or worse.
- Write down any major stresses in your life, as well as any traumas you’ve experienced, both past and present.
- Write down all of your health conditions: mental and physical.
- Make a list of all medications and supplements you’re taking. Include how much you take and how often.
List any other substances you use or consume, such as:
- sugar, especially if you eat large amounts
You’ve probably thought of a million questions you want to ask your doctor. But when you’re in the office, they’re easy to forget. Writing them down will help both you and your doctor, and save time. It’s a good idea to put the most important questions at the top of the list in case there isn’t time for all of them. Here are some questions you may want to ask. Add any others you think are important for your doctor to know.
- Do I have an anxiety disorder?
- Is there something else that might be causing my symptoms?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist?
- Is there a medication that I can take? Does it have side effects? What can I do to prevent or relieve the side effects?
- Is there a generic medication I can take? How long will I need to take it?
- When will I feel better?
- What else can I do to relieve my symptoms?
The list of questions you make will help you be prepared to answer your doctor’s questions. Here are some questions your doctor will probably ask you:
- What are your symptoms and how severe are they?
- When did your symptoms start?
- When do you experience symptoms? All of the time? Sometimes? At specific times?
- What makes your symptoms worse?
- What makes your symptoms better?
- What physical and mental medical conditions do you have?
- What medications are you taking?
- Do you smoke, consume caffeinated beverages, drink alcohol, or use drugs? How often and in what quantity?
- How stressful is work or school?
- What is your living situation? Do you live alone? With family?
- Are you in a committed relationship?
- Are your relationships with friends and family good, or difficult and stressful?
- How much do your symptoms affect your work, school, and relationships with friends and family?
- Have you ever experienced any trauma?
- Does anyone in your family have a mental health condition?
In addition to your prescribed treatment, you may want to join a support group. It can be very helpful to talk with other people who are experiencing symptoms similar to yours. It’s good to know that you are not alone. Someone else with similar symptoms can understand what you’re going through and offer support and encouragement. Being part of a group can also help you develop new social skills.
Your community will likely have several support groups, either for your specific disorder or for anxiety in general. Check with your medical professionals to learn what resources are available in your area. You might ask your:
- mental health provider
- primary doctor
- county mental health services agency
You can also participate in support groups online. This may be a good way to start if you have social anxiety disorder or feel uncomfortable in a face-to-face group setting.
Treatment of diagnosed anxiety is often multi-disciplinary. This means you may see one or all of the following medical practitioners:
- primary care physician
- psychiatric nurse practitioner
- support group
Contact your general practitioner first, and be ready to describe:
- your symptoms
- when they occur
- what seems to trigger them
Your doctor may refer you to other medical practitioners. The sooner you start treatment, the better the outcome you can expect.