Anxiety disorders affect millions of Americans yearly, but many don’t seek medical treatment. There are numerous reasons for this, but fear of having a conversation with your doctor should not be one.
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
- What Your Doctor Will Do At Your Consultation:
- Psychiatrist vs. Primary Care Physician: Who Should You See for Medication?
- When Should You Ask Your Doctor For Anxiety Meds?
- AntiAnxiety Medications Your Doctor Might Prescribe
- How to Discuss Starting Anti-Anxiety Medication With Your Doctor
- 1. Be direct and honest with your doctor about the problem.
- 2. Be prepared to ask questions about the medication.
- 3. Ask when you can expect to see benefits.
- 4. Ask about potential negative side effects.
- 5. Ask your doctor how long you will need to be on anxiety medication.
- Understanding Withdrawal and Discontinuation Syndrome
- Understanding Insurance and Costs
- Stay in Touch With Your Doctor
- What about therapy?
- FAQs about How to Ask Your Doctor for Anxiety Medication
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, 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.
It’s also more common than some realize. It’s estimated that 31% of the US population will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
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.
What Your Doctor Will Do At Your Consultation:
The first step toward managing anxiety is recognizing that you suffer from it. Your doctor will start with a medical evaluation.
A mental health professional or primary care doctor will thoroughly assess your symptoms, including asking questions about your life experiences and current circumstances.
You may receive a diagnosis based on information gathered during this process. Once you know your type of anxiety, you can begin working with a therapist to develop a personalized treatment plan.
Psychiatrist vs. Primary Care Physician: Who Should You See for Medication?
You can visit a primary care physician or psychiatrist for an anxiety diagnosis.
For most people, starting with a primary care doctor is the easiest. They will be able to diagnose your condition and prescribe medications.
A psychiatrist also treats patients for psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and others. This is their area of expertise.
Unlike other mental health specialists, psychiatrists can 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, 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.
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:
- 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 can build up a tolerance which is why most doctors will prescribe them with caution.
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.
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 my best tips for having a productive conversation with your doctor about anxiety medication.
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:
- 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 these symptoms.
Be honest when you answer. Additionally, your doctor might ask you to fill out an anxiety questionnaire.
The purpose is to determine your anxiety symptoms’ duration, history, and severity to prescribe the right medication and dosage.
They might also ask about any family history of mental health issues.
Your doctor might also explore co-occurring disorders.
It’s important to discuss any co-existing conditions you may have with your doctor. If you’re aware of any, be open with your doctor.
If you’re not, this is something they’ll likely explore with you at your appointment.
Anxiety disorders often overlap with other mental health conditions such as depression, ADHD, and PTSD.
Physical health conditions like heart disease or diabetes can also interact with anxiety and its treatments.
Make sure to fully disclose your medical history, so your doctor can prescribe the most effective and safe medication for your unique circumstances. Remember, a comprehensive approach to your health is key.
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, to avoid potentially harmful interactions, it is important to tell your doctor about any herbal supplements or medications you currently take and any drug use (including alcohol).
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.
Understanding Withdrawal and Discontinuation Syndrome
Starting anxiety medication is a significant step, but so is ending it. Some anti-anxiety medications, especially benzodiazepines, can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly.
SSRIs and SNRIs can lead to what’s known as discontinuation syndrome. Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, dizziness, and insomnia.
Always consult with your doctor before stopping or changing your medication dosage. They can provide a safe and effective plan to gradually reduce your medication, minimizing withdrawal effects.
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. As someone who went through the very challenging task of getting off SSRIs, it is not something you want to take lightly.
You’ll want to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding tapering and timelines to avoid some serious side effects.
Understanding Insurance and Costs
Navigating the landscape of insurance and healthcare costs can feel overwhelming, especially when dealing with the stress of an anxiety disorder. However, understanding your coverage and the potential costs of treatment is an essential part of managing your care.
So let’s briefly explore the logistics of getting anxiety medication.
Your health insurance policy plays a significant role in covering the costs of your anxiety treatment, including both therapy and medication. Most insurance plans in the United States, including those obtained through the Health Insurance Marketplace, are required to cover mental health services.
However, coverage can vary widely from plan to plan. Some may only cover a specific number of therapy sessions per year or might require you to see a psychiatrist within their network. Others may cover the cost of certain medications but not others.
Before scheduling your appointment, it’s recommended to reach out to your insurance provider to understand what services are covered and whether any copayments or coinsurance costs are expected from your end.
This step will help you avoid any unexpected charges and plan for the treatment costs more effectively.
When it comes to medication, you’ll also want to understand your prescription drug coverage. Most insurance plans have a formulary, or a list of covered drugs.
Check to see if your prescribed medication is on that list.
If it isn’t, your doctor and insurance company can often work together to find a solution. Sometimes, this might mean trying a different medication, and other times, it might involve a process known as a formulary exception where your doctor can petition the insurance company to cover a non-formulary drug due to medical necessity.
But what if you don’t have health insurance?
Don’t worry, there are still options. Many communities have low-cost or sliding-scale mental health clinics. Some pharmaceutical companies also offer patient assistance programs for those who can’t afford their medication.
Additionally, online therapy platforms can often offer more affordable rates for counseling.
Remember, treating your anxiety is an investment in your mental health and wellbeing. It’s okay to ask questions and seek clarity on your treatment costs – it’s an important part of your healthcare journey.
As always, talk to your healthcare provider about any financial concerns you have. They are there to help you find a solution that best suits your needs and circumstances.
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 if 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 various 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 specializing in treating anxiety disorders.
FAQs about How to Ask Your Doctor for Anxiety Medication
When should I consider anxiety medication?
The decision about whether or not to treat your anxiety with medication is serious and should be discussed with your doctor. Think about having that conversation if you experience any of the following:
– Difficulty sleeping
– Panic attacks
– An inability to manage stress without drinking alcohol or using drugs
– A constant sense of worry
– Trouble managing your everyday life due to feelings of anxiousness and worry
– Difficulty concentrating
This list is in no way exhaustive. If you think there might be a problem, that is a good enough reason to talk with your doctor.
Can you ask your doctor for a specific medication?
You can ask, but it doesn’t guarantee you will be prescribed the requested medication. Your doctor will prescribe you the best medication to treat your particular case.
While it’s normal to do some research ahead of time and have questions about certain medications, your doctor will advise you on the best course of action.
In the case of anxiety medications, some classes of medicine, like benzodiazepines, are considered controlled substances. If you ask for those, that might be considered a red flag.
What should I tell my psychiatrist about anxiety?
Tell your psychiatrist about your symptoms and how they are impacting your life. Be open and honest. They will have diagnostic questions for you, so don’t feel pressured to know the exact things to discuss in your appointment.
The most important thing is to be forthright with your doctor, even if it is uncomfortable to talk about. Remember, they are here to help and will not judge you.