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How to talk to your doctor about anxiety

It can be difficult to bring up feelings of anxiety with your physician. One of the reasons this can be difficult is due to the stigma associated with anxiety and overall mental health. The most important thing is to remember that anxiety affects your health, and it can be managed.

Don’t be afraid to talk about anxiety

The first step to bringing up feelings of anxiety is by saying to your primary care physician something like, “I want to discuss what I have been feeling lately.” Many people suffer from anxiety but do not seek treatment.

Cultural stigmas can play an enormous role in how people view anxiety. Minorities in the United States are historically less likely to seek mental health treatment. There is a thought that by admitting that you have anxiety, you are showing a sign of weakness. 

It is human nature to have episodes of anxiety. Anxiety is a psychological and physiological response to threats. Our bodies can respond to these threats by increasing heart rate, sweating, feeling restless, abdominal upset and nausea. These are common symptoms of anxiety.

It is important to identify when this physiological response interrupts your everyday activities such as going to work, personal hygiene, enjoying family and friends. If it does, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

It’s confidential. When you discuss your symptoms with your doctor, this conversation is always confidential. This information will not be shared unless you request your provider do so.

Support can help. If you have a supportive family member or friend, consider bringing them to your physician appointment to help you address your anxiety. Sometimes, it can be helpful to have someone you trust to initiate the conversation. It can also be difficult to seek treatment if you do not have the support of your family, friends and coworkers.

Take your time. Schedule your appointment to discuss anxiety in an extended time slot if possible. This will help ensure you do not feel rushed.

Try telemedine. Many healthcare providers offer telemedicine visits. This will allow you to have the discussion in the comfort of your own home via video visit.

Stay in touch. Make sure you know the easiest way to contact your provider when you are feeling anxious. Common options include calling, patient portal or nurse triage.

How your doctor can help you manage anxiety

There are several approaches that can help you cope with anxiety, and you can guide your own treatment plan. One size does not fit all. It is important to remain honest with your provider about how you would like to manage your symptoms.

Medication. Many people fear that they will be advised only to start medications. This may be suggested, as medication can be helpful in some cases. But you can say that you prefer conservative or alternative measures. After all, this is your health we’re talking about. Before stopping any medication, discuss this with your provider—stopping abruptly can worsen symptoms.

Lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and eating healthy can improve your symptoms. We can also incorporate integrative medicine into your plan, which consists of meditation, yoga, emotional support animals, acupuncture and massage therapy to help manage stress.

Overall health. We’ll also evaluate your overall physical health by ruling out thyroid conditions, sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, and autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis that can cause anxiety. Managing vitamin D and iron levels can also help improve your symptoms. By just checking your vitals, we can help get to the root cause of your anxiety.

Counseling. Treatment plans can consist of just counseling. Wait times for therapy appointments can be long, but this should not deter you from making an appointment, even if it is 1-2 months away. Keep the appointment and remain proactive by calling to check for cancellations. You can also request to be on a wait list. Feel free to discuss with your doctor if you would like to speak to a therapist with special experience in your area of concern, such as substance abuse, LGBTQ, physical abuse, sexual abuse or cultural disparities.

Know that your symptoms do not have to be, nor will they probably be, resolved in one visit. And if you begin taking medication, you do not have to be on it for the rest of your life. Your treatment can continuously be adjusted.

Many people suffer from anxiety—too many. Build a positive relationship with your doctor by finding a provider you trust and feel comfortable opening up with about your feeling of anxiety. Early detection and treatment are key to preventing severe symptoms and improving your quality of life.

If you are concerned about your anxiety, reach out to your doctor for guidance. Don’t have a primary care physician? Find one near you.

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How to talk to your doctor about anxiety