Talking about anxiety – a doctor’s guide
Many people suffer from a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. But taking the step to get help can be daunting. Dr Rhianna McClymont shares her tips on talking about anxiety
We all feel anxious at some point in our lives, from worrying about an exam or job interview, to going through life-changing events like having a baby. But if you find you’re feeling anxious without knowing why, or your anxiety is starting to affect your day-to-day life, then it could be time to take the first step and speak to a GP.
According to research from the NHS, 1 in 6 of us suffer from a mental health condition like anxiety or depression each week. Although not everyone gets help, doctors are no strangers to talking about anxiety with patients.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure how to approach the conversation, here’s some expert advice on how to talk to a doctor about anxiety.
How do I know if I have anxiety?
‘Anxiety can manifest in several ways,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi. ‘It can cause psychological symptoms like feelings of panic, racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating, and it can also cause physical symptoms like sweating, a racing heart or breathing rate, feeling dizzy or trembling.
‘If your anxiety is causing such symptoms, affecting your mood, appetite or sleep, or impacting your relationships or work life, then it’s time to get advice from your doctor,’ Dr McClymont advises.
Do I need to talk about my anxiety?
It can be daunting talking to a doctor about a health concern. For many of us, we can especially struggle with talking about anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. But remember that doctors are here to help, and won’t judge.
‘Anxiety is common, but if you find that you cannot manage it well on your own, then it’s important to have a chat with a GP. There are good treatments available for anxiety, and getting help earlier can limit the impact that it has on you, your mood and the quality of your life,’ says Dr McClymont.
How to prepare for an appointment about anxiety
If you’re feeling worried about how to talk to your doctor about anxiety, or talking about anxiety makes you feel a bit overwhelmed, it may help if you take time to prepare for your appointment.
Before the appointment:
- Take a few minutes to note down some key points that you’d like to talk about. This way, if you start to struggle with talking about anxiety in your appointment, you’ll have a list to refer to
- If you’re not sure what’s making you feel anxious, keeping a journal of how you feel day-to-day might give you an insight into what could be causing or triggering your anxiety
- Have a think about when you first noticed your anxiety having an impact, were there any big stressors at the time?
- Make a list of any medications you’re taking, including any over-the-counter or herbal supplements
- When scheduling your appointment, consider the time of day. Are you calmer in the afternoon? Or are you more of a morning person?
- If it would make you feel more comfortable, you can take a friend or family member with you for support
What will happen at the appointment?
You may be asked to talk about:
- What your mood, thoughts and behaviours have been like – sometimes they might use a questionnaire
- Your lifestyle and any recent events that might be affecting your mental health
- Any changes in your sleep pattern or appetite
- Your medical history and any history of mental health problems in your family
Your doctor might also check your physical health to rule out any other possibilities by taking your blood pressure, doing some blood tests and checking your weight.
What might the doctor say?
Typically, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes, like exercising more, or offer you treatment options such as:
- Antidepressant medications
- A referral to counselling or talking therapy, and perhaps Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Recommend nearby organisations and charities that might be able to help
‘Your mental health is just as important as your physical health - sometimes, having poor mental health can even cause physical symptoms. Anxiety and depression are common, and nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. If you’re struggling with your mental health, book an appointment with a doctor so you can get the right treatment for you,’ says Dr McClymont.
Who else should I talk to about anxiety?
Once you’ve spoken to a doctor, or even before this, you might want to inform other people about your anxiety, for example, your close friends or your manager at work.
If you don’t feel like your anxiety could affect your work performance, you don’t need to bring it up. But if it does affect your ability to complete tasks, or your relationship with your colleagues or work is a trigger for your anxiety, then a conversation with your manager or HR department might be a good idea. You only need to reveal as much as you feel comfortable with.
If you have more questions about anxiety, you can find some answers to common questions around anxiety here.
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