It can be difficult to talk to anyone about mental health. Speaking to your doctor might sound like the most logical and easy thing to do – they’re trained for this stuff, right? But it’s not always as simple as that. Knowing how to talk to your doctor about anxiety isn’t easy.
Personally, it took a long time and a lot of courage to get myself into the doctor’s office – I even went once and then made something up when I got there because I didn’t want to talk about my anxiety!
I wanted to share my experience of what happened once I finally did speak to a medical professional. Everyone’s experience is different but I hope sharing mine might help if you’re thinking about going to your doctor.
I’m the worst person at going to the doctor, I always put it off and never seek help – even when I know I need it.
When it comes to health worries, my anxiety always pops up with every little ache and twinge to convince me that it’s something serious – and of course I turn to Doctor Google for advice, which we all know is the worst thing you can do! But then I convince myself that it’s nothing and my anxiety has the reverse effect – somehow I manage to convince myself that I’m “faking it”, even when I really am sick.
So building up the courage to admit to myself and my doctor that I have anxiety took a while and it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sure how the doctor would react or what they would be able to do about it, and of course that made me even more anxious and reluctant to make an appointment.
I got to the point where I was struggling with my anxiety every day, having panic attacks and bursting into tears in the toilets at work. I was unable to go out with friends or do any of the things I usually enjoy. Anxiety was affecting me physically and mentally, impacting every part of my life and I finally decided something needed to change.
I had a friend at work who was also struggling and she decided to go to the doctor before me. Hearing how understanding her doctor was and seeing the positive effect it had on her inspired me to go too.
I made the appointment over the phone and managed to get one for the next day, so thankfully I didn’t have too long to wait. Sitting in the waiting room I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong there, that I was faking it and worrying that I wasn’t going to be taken seriously.
I knew I was exhibiting plenty of symptoms, and I kept going through the list in my head as I waited. Anxiety makes you over-think everything and plan out every conversation you’ve had or are going to have. I mentally rehearsed what I was going to see when I was called in.
The doctor I saw was a lady, probably in her 40s. She was very welcoming and invited me in to explain what was going on. I started by listing all the symptoms I could think of – panic attacks, can’t stop worrying, ice-pick headaches, irritability, over eating, very emotional, trouble concentrating, insomnia and then oversleeping. Those were just the ones I could remember.
Looking back, I wish I’d written down what I wanted to say. I naturally use humour as a defence mechanism when I’m feeling anxious and I definitely tried to laugh it off and downplay it. Luckily doctors are trained to deal with these situations! I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded if I’d taken a written list with me and it would have made explaining everything easier, but even so the doctor helped put me at ease and explain my situation.
She asked me questions about how long this had been happening, if I knew what was causing it and how often it was affecting me. She listened patiently to all my answers and wasn’t judgemental at all.
Once I finished explaining, we agreed that my anxiety was probably being amplified by grief and stress at work. The doctor explained that she doesn’t like to prescribe medication for anxiety because it masks the symptoms, but the root cause also needs to be addressed.
She discussed some helpful breathing techniques, making sure I get a proper break at lunchtime, going for short walks and getting down time to relax more. She also suggested looking into mindfulness and practising yoga or pilates which will help with relaxing breathing.
I’ve done yoga and meditation in the past, and been to some mindfulness classes, and it definitely helped. The only problem is when you’re feeling anxious and you can’t quieten your brain it’s hard to find the head space for meditation.
What I found most shocking was when she asked me what I do to relax, I struggled to name anything. As my anxiety has taken over I’ve found less time and space for things I usually enjoy like reading, baking and drawing. Stress has become so overwhelming it’s made me only focus on the stressful things and I’ve started to neglect my self-care.
The doctor made me feel very supported and also made it clear that I needed to invest more time and energy in looking after myself. She explained that I could come back any time for more help and support and although she didn’t specifically do anything or prescribe anything, I came away feeling positive because I’d spoken to someone about it and taken a step in the right direction.
I knew that there was no magic solution to make my anxiety go away and I wasn’t sure what outcome I wanted from my conversation with the doctor. It felt a bit strange to come away without a specific action to take – normally you come out with a prescription or a follow up appointment, but I felt positive that I’d been listened to and that my concerns were real.
When you have anxiety or you’re struggling with any mental health condition, it is hard to take the first step and tell someone. Arranging an appointment with the doctor can make you feel even more anxious – what will they say? Will they believe you?
Your doctor will listen and support you. They won’t be judgemental and they will make helpful suggestions. Everyone’s treatment plan is different. You may be prescribed some medication, referred to a mental health specialist, counsellor, therapist or other medical professional, or like me, you might be given some recommendations for things you can do yourself. Either way, speaking to a professional is a very brave first step that can really help you improve your situation.
Remember, even though it might feel uncomfortable to discuss your mental health with your doctor, it is a legitimate medical concern and you deserve to be there getting the help and support you need.
If you need support or are feeling concerned, mentalhealth.org.uk have some good advice on how to speak to your doctor about anxiety here.