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How to Ask Your Doctor for Anxiety Medication

Anxiety disorders affect millions of Americans every year, but many don’t seek medical treatment. There are numerous reasons for this, but fear about having a conversation with your doctor should not be one of them.

Here’s how you can confidently ask your doctor for anxiety medication, how to prepare for your appointment, as well as other questions you should ask.

Anxiety Disorders 101

Before booking your appointment, it’s important to learn about the different types of anxiety and clinical definitions.

Anxiety is an emotional state that occurs when we feel threatened or out of control. In the most common form of anxiety disorder, called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), people experience excessive worry over things such as health, finances, work, and relationships. The causes are not known, but researchers believe it may be related to genetic factors, early life experiences, brain chemistry, and environmental influences.

There are two types of anxiety: acute and chronic.

Acute anxiety can last from hours to days. Chronic anxiety lasts longer than one week. Both forms of anxiety cause changes in behavior, thoughts, and emotions. For example, someone who has panic attacks might have trouble breathing, tremble, or sweating. Someone who feels constantly anxious might avoid social situations and experience social anxiety. Both forms of anxiety can range in severity.

Chronic anxiety is when you feel anxious all the time, whereas acute anxiety is when you feel nervous for only a short period of time. Acute anxiety usually occurs after something bad happens, such as getting fired from work or having a car accident. Chronic anxiety can be caused by stress, depression, or other mental health issues. Acute anxiety can lead to chronic anxiety if not managed properly.

If you think you might be experiencing chronic anxiety, you definitely want to speak to your doctor.

Related Post: Understanding the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

Psychiatrist vs Primary Care Physician: Who Should You See for Medication?

If you think you might be suffering from chronic anxiety, you should first consult a primary care doctor. They will be able to diagnose your condition and prescribe medications.

A psychiatrist, on the other hand, is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. They diagnose and treat patients for psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others. Psychiatrists also prescribe medication to help patients cope with these conditions.

Either type of doctor is fine to see for anxiety-related issues.

Many people start with their PCP and then based on their assessment, might be referred to a psychiatrist. Some insurance plans (if you are in the US) may even require a referral from your PCP before authorizing a visit to a psychiatrist.

You’ll need to check with your insurance. Generally speaking, however, it is fine, if not advisable, to start with your primary care physician.

When Should You Ask Your Doctor For Anxiety Meds?

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of anxiety, it may be time to talk to your doctor about anxiety medication:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling anxious for extended periods of time
  • Panic attacks
  • An inability to control worries

Another sign it may be time to ask your doctor for anxiety medications is when you feel like any of these symptoms prohibit you from functioning properly.

Starting treatment early can improve long-term outcomes and help get your anxiety under control.

man speaks with his doctor about anxiety medication
how to talk to your doctor about anxiety medication

AntiAnxiety Medications Your Doctor Might Prescribe

The first-line treatment for mild to moderate anxiety is usually medication. Based on your mental health history and severity of symptoms, your doctor may recommend one of these drugs:

Benzodiazepines

– Alprazolam (Xanax)

– Clonazepam (Klonopin)

– Lorazepam (Ativan)

– Triazolam (Halcion)

These medications are often prescribed for short-term use and are used to treat insomnia, agitation, and anxiety.

Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

These drugs work by increasing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate nerve impulses in the brain. They also decrease activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for processing fear responses.

These drugs can be habit-forming and it is possible to build up a tolerance which is why most doctors will prescribe them with caution.

SSRIs

– Paroxetine (Paxil) is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for treating depression and anxiety. It’s also used to treat OCD.

– Fluoxetine (Prozac) is another popular choice.

– Sertraline (Zoloft) is another option.

– Escitalopram (Lexapro) is an antidepressant that has fewer side effects than other SSRIs.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressant medications used to treat depression and other mental health conditions, including anxiety. They work by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is involved in regulating mood and behavior, and when levels are too high. It can cause symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction.

Beta-Blockers

Your doctor may suggest beta-blockers such as:

– Propranolol (Inderal)

– Metoprolol (Lopressor)

– Timolol (Betoptic)

– Nebivolol (Bystolic)

Beta-blockers are used to treat anxiety because they block adrenaline receptors. Adrenaline causes the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, and breathing to become faster. These effects cause the body to feel anxious. The beta-blocker blocks these responses, which reduces feelings of anxiety.

How to Discuss Starting Anti-Anxiety Medication With Your Doctor

Once you are ready to have this important conversation with your doctor, prepare what you want to say and ask at your appointment. Bring notes and a list of questions with you.

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous ahead of time. Mental health is a deeply personal issue and one that not everyone is comfortable discussing. However, it’s important to be direct and honest with your doctor.

This will ensure you receive the best care. Keep in mind their ultimate goal is to help you.

To help you get started, these are our tips for having a productive conversation with your doctor about anxiety medication.

woman in the middle of a crowd with hands over eyes experiencing a panic attack
getting help for your anxiety

1. Be direct and honest with your doctor about the problem.

At the beginning of the appointment, your doctor will likely ask what brings you in. Tell them the honest truth.

“I’m here to discuss possible medication for anxiety.”

From there, your doctor will ask questions about your anxiety symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating

Your doctor will want to know if, when, and how often you experience any of these symptoms. Be honest when you answer. Additionally, your doctor might ask you to fill out an anxiety questionnaire.

The purpose is to determine the duration, history, and severity of your anxiety symptoms in order to prescribe the right medication and dosage. They might also ask about any family history of mental health issues.

2. Be prepared to ask questions about the medication.

If your doctor decides that medication is the right course of action, be prepared to ask questions. When you leave your appointment, you should know the following three things:

  • The name and dosage of the medication
  • Why the doctor thinks this medication can help you
  • Any potential side effects or risks associated with this medication

Additionally, it is important to tell your doctor about any herbal supplements or medications you are currently taking, as well as any drug use (including alcohol), in order to avoid potentially harmful interactions.

Do not withhold any information from your doctor.

3. Ask when you can expect to see benefits.

Once you’ve decided on a treatment plan, ask your doctor when you can expect to see benefits and what those benefits will be. This will help you set realistic expectations for your treatment.

Some medications can make you feel a little strange the first few days. Ask your doctor if there are any immediate side effects to expect when you begin your medication and how long they will last.

Understanding the benefits timeline can help you accurately determine the efficacy of your medication.

4. Ask about potential negative side effects.

Before starting medication, it’s important to know any unpleasant side effects. Ask your doctor to go over these. Some negative side effects may be mild and temporary, while others may indicate you should discontinue the medication.

Make sure you understand all of these. Additionally, know the course of action you should take if you experience severe side effects and how to communicate these to your doctor.

If there are negative side effects that you are not comfortable risking, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask follow-up questions.

How susceptible are you to these effects? Are there alternative medications they recommend? What are the risks versus the benefits?

To be clear, most medications carry some risks. Your doctor can help you understand the scale of those risks and advise you accordingly.

5. Ask your doctor how long you will need to be on anxiety medication.

For many people, taking anxiety medication is temporary. But for others, it may not be. Ask your doctor how long he or she thinks you will need to take medication. Is it six months? One year? For the rest of your life?

Your doctor can give you his or her best guess based on your medical history and severity of anxiety symptoms.

Stay in Touch With Your Doctor

Asking your doctor for anxiety medication is just the first step. You’ll need to attend follow-up appointments and keep your doctor apprised of any changes you experience along the way.

Make sure you know how to contact your doctor in the event you experience problems with your medication or if your anxiety symptoms worsen.

What about therapy?

Talk therapy helps people understand why they feel anxious, and how to cope with these feelings.

In addition to medication, anxiety disorders can be treated effectively with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches patients to identify negative thoughts that trigger anxiety and manage them holistically using a variety of strategies. CBT also teaches patients to control their emotions through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and reframing.

Your doctor might recommend counseling in addition to medication. If they do, ask them for recommendations for a therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist who has the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

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