When Pink asked, ‘how do I talk to my doctor about anxiety?’ I offered a brief response. However, I feel the question is so central to the concerns of so many people that it is worth expanding in greater detail. In so doing, I’m going to use the opportunity to explore how the relationship with your doctor can be both a help and a hindrance to your recovery.
Let me say at the outset that this is not an anti-medical profession exercise. In fact a visit to your doctor for appropriate tests and subsequent diagnosis is vitally important for a number of reasons. I’ve mentioned in previous Shareposts that anxiety is often a symptom that occurs as a result of diseases and organic disorders. So when Pink visits the doctor the first steps are likely to be some routine clinical tests in order to rule out these issues. Of course the doctor will want to know more about the nature of the anxiety symptoms and the contexts in which they occur. There are a few things Pink, or others in a similar situation, might want to think over in advance of the consultation, for example:
- What it is you want to say about your emotions, your behavior, and the implications of your anxiety for life, work, relationships, etc.
- If the doctor suggests a particular medication ask about its effects and its side effects.
- Enquire about the opportunity for psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral psychotherapy.
- If you find it difficult to articulate your symptoms don’t expect your doctor to be able to fully understand how you are feeling. It can sometimes be helpful to keep a diary where you record your moods, the things that trigger anxiety, and what you did to cope with the situation. Your family doctor won’t thank you for bringing long and detailed records, but they will appreciate the time you’ve spent trying to focus on your issue in order to provide them with succinct information.
So far I’ve covered the immediate issue of getting to see the doctor and having a way to talk about symptoms. Now let’s dig a little deeper into the relationship between doctor and patient and just some of the potential implications.
Your doctor has spent many years training to carry out medical investigations. As a result there is something of a danger that Pink, and others like her, will develop a belief that only drugs and medical interventions have the answers. At worst this can lead to a passive response where you leave everything in the hands of the doctor.
If this resonates with you it may have left you feeling a little uncomfortable or irritated. To be told that you can and should take more responsibility for your anxiety when it feels so out of your personal control is not an easy thing to listen to. But consider a few questions.
- How much have you come to rely on your doctor’s reassurances that nothing is physically wrong with you?
- To what extent have you medicalized your anxiety?
- To what extent do you monitor yourself for new or unusual variations in symptoms?
- To what extent have you really considered there may be an alternative explanation for your anxiety or ways in which you can take on more responsibility for explaining or coping with some of your symptoms?
Please don’t be put off by these forthright questions. They are important because we know the people who cope best with anxiety tend not to keep all their eggs in one basket. Ways of increasing your coping skills and taking an active responsibility for your anxiety may include:
- Seeking practical and emotional help from others.
- Using relaxation techniques or related techniques such as meditation.
- Exercising regularly.
- Improving diet and cutting out or down on things like caffeine or alcohol.
- Considering psychological therapies such as CBT.
- Embracing self-help as a lifestyle choice.
In this Sharepost I’ve moved beyond the basic boundaries of the question, but for every question there are usually one or more possible answers. Seeing your doctor for anxiety is a useful and necessary first step but it may not provide the only solution for your anxiety.
What personal methods do you use to cope with anxiety? How helpful/necessary do you find your medication in supporting your recovery? Do you have any more tips for Pink or others in her position? We’d appreciate your comments.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.