You may start by seeing your family doctor. However, you may need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist if you have severe anxiety or if you also have another mental health condition, such as depression. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. A psychologist and certain other mental health providers can diagnose mental health conditions and provide counseling (psychotherapy).
Because there's often a lot of ground to cover during an initial appointment, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and know what to expect from your doctor or mental health provider.
What you can do
To be prepared for your visit, it can be helpful to think about a few things ahead of time and write down some notes to take with you. Things to write down include:
- A list of your symptoms. Include when they occur and whether anything seems to make them better or worse. Also note how much they affect your day-to-day activities, such as work, school or relationships.
- What's causing you stress. Include any major life changes or stressful events you've dealt with recently. Also write down any traumatic experiences you've had in the past.
- Any health problems you have. Include both physical conditions and mental health issues.
- A list of all medications you're taking. Be sure to write down the doses, and include any vitamins or supplements you take.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there other possible situations, psychological issues or physical health problems that could be causing or worsening my anxiety?
- Do I need medical tests or other tests?
- Are there any restrictions or steps I need to follow?
- Should I see a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider?
- Would medication help? If so, is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will do a physical examination and ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Some questions the doctor may ask include:
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- Exactly what are your symptoms, and how severe are they?
- Have your feelings of anxiety been occasional or continuous?
- When did you first begin noticing your feelings of anxiety?
- Does anything in particular seem to trigger your feelings of anxiety or make them worse?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your feelings of anxiety?
- What, if any, physical or mental health conditions do you have?
- What traumatic experiences have you had recently or in the past?
- Do you regularly drink alcohol or use recreational drugs?
- Do you have any blood relatives with anxiety or other mental health conditions such as depression?
- Generalized anxiety disorder (includes overanxious anxiety disorder of childhood). In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. 4th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2000. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- Schneier SR. Generalized anxiety disorder: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- Blevins NC, et al. Anxiety disorders. In: Bope ET, et al. Conn's Current Therapy. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/page.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4377-0986-5..00011-9--sc9005&isbn=978-1-4377-0986-5&uniqId=257876576-3#4-u1.0-B978-1-4377-0986-5..00011-9--sc9005. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- Lee RA. Anxiety disorders. In: Rakel D. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2007. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-2/0/1494/0.html. Accessed June 10, 2011.