Your question: How do I talk to my doctor about my anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Here, I’m gonna explain to you how you can talk in an open and honest way to your doctor about your anxiety experience.

Anxiety is an unpleasant experience and at the same time, it is an inevitable part of life. Socially, we are not educated to adequately address mental health, therefore, we grow up with many stigmas associated with emotional discomfort. For this reason, many people find it difficult to tell a doctor about their depression, stress or anxiety, as these same people invalidate their feelings, think others won’t understand them or simply say they should prioritize something else. But what is more important than your health?

First, before you can explain it to anyone, you must understand what anxiety is and normalize its existence within the human experience. An estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder (1). Therefore, these problems are not uncommon.

Fear and worry before going to the doctor, regardless of the reason, is completely normal. Studies have shown that people’s concern before going to the doctor related to explaining their symptoms is related to fear of disease and health spaces in general (2).

Having anxiety does not define you as a person nor does it have to change your life experiences, it means that there are aspects you need to work on to reach your full potential and live to the fullest. And talking it over with a medical professional will help guide you on the path of healing and improvement you so desire.

What can you do before going to the doctor?

You must be honest with yourself in the whole therapeutic process to treat anxiety, this is useful for both your doctor and yourself. Before going to your doctor, one strategy is to keep a record of what anxiety means to you, as it is a unique experience for each person. Your anxiety may be many physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating and stomach pain, it may be emotional symptoms such as uncontrollable crying and paralyzing fear, or it may be both.

Making a list of your symptoms is very helpful, because it lets your doctor know specifically what areas to work on. It also helps if you indicate how long you have been dealing with anxiety. Many people manifest anxious symptoms as children and adolescents, but don’t realize the impact of these symptoms until they reach adulthood. Knowing the duration of your anxiety allows you to know what treatment is optimal.

In addition, you should indicate whether you have received therapies of any kind to treat your anxiety or whether you have sought self-medication or tried any alternative therapies. A respectful doctor knows not to judge their patients by the decisions they make in desperation to find a cure, so you must remain honest at all times so that your treatment is accurate.

What should you ask your doctor?

There may be hundreds of questions running through your mind that you want to ask your doctor, so it can be overwhelming to select the right questions. Important information you can ask your doctor that will help you better understand yourself, your anxiety and the treatment you will receive is:

  • “Do I have an anxiety disorder?” In many cases, people do not have a chronic, diagnosable anxiety disorder, they are simply going through a stressful period in their lives and require coping strategies.
  • “What type of anxiety do I have?” There are several anxiety disorders, which vary in symptomatology. The most common are social anxiety, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. You can ask the doctor in detail about the diagnosis he/she makes, you have the right to receive scientific information about your physical and mental health.
  • “What treatment will I need?” Physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists have different approaches to their patients. My approach in psychology, for example, is called cognitive behavioral. But there is also psychoanalysis, gestalt therapy and many others. Your doctor should be clear about the therapeutic approach he or she takes, as well as what it consists of and why it will work to address your symptoms.
  • “Will I have to take medication?” Not all people with anxiety need to take anxiolytics or antidepressants. Only if your doctor deems it necessary. If your doctor prescribes a medication for you, you can ask him or her anything that concerns you, from side effects, to how the medication works in your body, to what the recommended dosages are.

In my experience…

Being afraid of going to the doctor or psychologist is normal, since there are many preconceived ideas associated with health professionals that are mostly false. A trained doctor will treat you in an efficient and personalized way, giving you effective suggestions to reduce your feelings of anxiety and improve your quality of life.

Remember that we all have the ability to improve our psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression we feel that we are hopeless. We can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads us in the right direction. Apply the techniques at your own pace and I am confident that you will gradually improve. It was a pleasure to write to you.

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