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Doctors for Anxiety: Who to See and How to Prepare

Beth Pausic, Psy.D.

Reviewed by Beth Pausic, Psy.D

Written by Taylor Trudon

Published 09/19/2021

Updated 08/11/2023

Whether you’re starting a new job or diving back into dating apps after breaking off a long-term relationship, it’s totally normal to feel occasional anxiety — especially when you’re dealing with stressful situations.

But for some people, feelings of anxiety are much more persistent and severe. This can prevent you from doing daily tasks or engaging in certain activities, even if it’s just hanging out with friends. If this sounds like you, you may have an anxiety disorder. 

While anxiety affects roughly 7 million adults per year, anxiety disorders are very treatable. There are plenty of coping strategies and resources you can tap into for help, including healthcare professionals who specialize in anxiety.

There’s no one-size-fits-all pair of pants when it comes to anxiety disorders — they can range from panic disorders to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). These specialized experts can come up with the best treatment plan for you based on your symptoms and specific needs. Treatment can look like medication, therapy or a combination of both.

Unsure where exactly to start? You don’t have to figure this out alone.

In this guide, we’ll break down which healthcare providers can help treat anxiety, how to reach them and how you can prepare beforehand.

Let’s get started.

Doctors for Anxiety: Who to See and How to Prepare

There are a number of healthcare providers and services that offer support for treating anxiety disorders. Although some have very similar qualifications, there are a few key differences you should understand. 

The best ways to get professional help are through: 

  • Primary healthcare providers

  • Psychologists

  • Psychiatrists

  • Online psychiatry services 

We’ll go over each one in more detail below. 

Primary Healthcare Provider

Your primary healthcare provider (aka your primary care provider or PCP) is a great first stop on the train toward mental health recovery. You might know your PCP as that doctor who does your annual physical or gives you meds for the occasional sinus infection, but they can also provide mental health evaluations. 

A big benefit to seeing your PCP is that you already have a relationship with them, so it may be easier to chat about your struggles. Your primary care doctor can prescribe medication for an anxiety disorder, though they may refer you to a mental health professional with deeper expertise in treating your specific condition. 

Psychologist

A psychologist is an example of someone your PCP may refer you to if you have an anxiety disorder. Psychologists are clinically trained to help individuals with a wide variety of mental health conditions, be it anxiety disorders, depression or panic disorders.

They'll use evidence based therapies which include coping skills and strategies to address your anxiety, creating a treatment plan based on your unique needs and circumstances.

Depending on the individual, you might see a psychologist for a short period (i.e., you’re feeling overwhelmed by a challenging life transition), or you might see them for years. While most psychologists aren’t licensed to prescribe medication, some states allow it with extra training.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) who treats mental health disorders, including substance abuse.

One of the biggest differences between psychologists and psychiatrists is the way they approach mental health disorders. Psychologists tend to view these conditions through more of a human behavioral lens, whereas psychiatrists are more focused on the biological and chemical factors that come into play.

Another difference is that psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication. If you think you might benefit from seeing one, our guide to choosing a psychiatrist goes into more detail.

At the end of the day, there’s no “right” answer for which kind of mental health professional to pick. The most important thing is that you seek help so you can get pointed in the right direction.

Online Psychiatry Service

If you don’t want to speak to your primary care provider for a referral — or the idea of meeting with someone in person to discuss your anxiety makes you feel even worse — there is another option.

Thanks to telepsychiatry services, you can chat with a licensed psychiatry provider online without leaving home. Not only do you get to avoid sitting in a waiting room, but you can even stay in your pajamas. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.  

So you’re ready to speak to a professional — which, admittedly, can feel a little nerve-wracking. That said, it’s always nice to have an idea of what to expect so you can feel more prepared for the conversation.

Regardless of what kind of provider you end up speaking with, they’ll likely begin the conversation by asking you about your symptoms of anxiety, which may include

  • Feeling restless 

  • Excessive worrying

  • Irritability 

  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions 

  • Fatigue 

  • Sleeping problems 

  • Sweating 

  • Increased heart rate

  • Physical aches and pains, like headaches or stomach aches

It’s crucial to remember that your symptoms might look different from your sibling’s or friend’s, so your provider might recommend treatment that’s also different. The best thing you can do is be honest about your symptoms — there’s no shame when it comes to mental illness.

A few other tips to keep in mind ahead of your appointment: 

  • Write down your questions beforehand. It’s totally understandable if you feel nervous walking into your appointment. But writing down your questions in advance makes it so you have one less thing to worry about.

  • Know what medications you’re taking. Your provider will definitely want to know if you’re taking any other medications (including the dosage) before prescribing you a new one. It’s vital they have this info to ensure various medications don’t negatively interfere with one another.

  • Do a little family history research. Some mental illnesses are hereditary and can be passed down to family members. With this in mind, it’s always helpful to be aware of any conditions your loved ones have (or had) so you can give your provider as much context as possible.

We’re all guilty of having spent several hours (okay, maybe even days) Googling various ailments and medical symptoms, but it’s usually never as productive as we’d like to admit.

The reality is, there are many types of anxiety disorders. Yes, they’re all different, but many share similar characteristics, which can make figuring things out confusing. This is why avoiding self-diagnosis is a smart idea, and truthfully, it’ll probably save you a lot of time.

The bottom line? It’s always best to seek professional help for health concerns, especially since a mental health professional is the only person who can give you an accurate anxiety diagnosis.

When you see a provider, they’ll likely ask you about your symptoms along with other questions about your lifestyle habits, like smoking, drinking and caffeine consumption. Depending on who you see, they may also have you complete an anxiety test.

Recognizing that you need help and getting it is the most critical step you can take for your mental health. And once you do, you’ll be able to start feeling a little bit lighter.

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As noted, anxiety disorders are very treatable. Your healthcare provider might recommend anxiety medication, therapy, lifestyle changes or perhaps all three.

We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how these treatments work in terms of improving your mental health.

Anxiety Medications

There’s a smorgasbord of medication options proven to be effective for treating anxiety. The most commonly prescribed ones are: 

  • Antidepressants. Antidepressants are often prescribed as a first-line treatment for anxiety. They work by targeting the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for regulating your moods, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. There are two main categories of antidepressants: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). SSRIs work by boosting your serotonin levels. Fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), escitalopram (Lexapro®) and sertraline (Zoloft®) are some of the most popularly used SSRIs. SNRIs function similarly to SSRIs, but they also boost your norepinephrine levels. Two of the most commonly prescribed SNRIs include venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®). If you’re curious about other antidepressants (like TCAs and MAOIs), our full list dives into greater detail.

  • Buspirone. Buspirone, sold under the name BuSpar®, is an anxiolytic drug usually prescribed when antidepressants aren’t effective. It was initially developed as an antipsychotic, but nowadays, it’s mainly used to treat chronic anxiety disorders like GAD.

  • Beta blockers. Beta blockers, like propranolol (Inderal®) and atenolol (Tenormin®), are a heart medication most often used for treating cardiovascular problems like hypertension (aka high blood pressure). However, your provider might recommend them off-label to reduce anxiety symptoms, as beta blockers can slow down your heart rate. They can also be prescribed off-label for treating social anxiety disorder and performance anxiety.

  • Benzodiazepines. Unlike antidepressants which can take several weeks to truly feel the medication’s full effects, benzodiazepines kick in quickly to provide immediate relief. However, there’s a higher risk of dependency associated with benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax®), so providers tend to not prescribe them for the long term. 

The above is just a sampling of different medication options. Our anti-anxiety medication guide goes into more detail, including how these meds work and their unique side effects.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is another effective strategy for treating anxiety disorders. Your healthcare provider might suggest therapy by itself or in conjunction with anti-anxiety medication.

Like medication, there are many different kinds of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. 

CBT is a type of psychological treatment that focuses on changing thinking or behavioral patterns. Patients are taught to be their own therapists by doing exercises outside their therapy sessions that help them identify and course-correct the emotions or behaviors they wish to change.

Exposure therapy works by having patients confront situations they’re scared of while in a safe environment. For example, if driving your car across bridges causes you to have panic attacks, your therapist might suggest taking gradual steps to confront this fear until you’re able to overcome it. 

Our guide to therapy for anxiety goes over additional options (like online therapy), along with other techniques for improving your mental health.  

Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety

Beyond medication and therapy, there’s a handful of lifestyle changes you can implement to help reduce anxiety on your own and improve your all-around wellness. (This doesn’t mean you need to sign up for a marathon tomorrow, we promise.) 

Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Move your body. Yes, exercise has its physical health benefits, but it can also have a major effect on your mental state. Even a 30-minute walk has the power to significantly boost your mood. Grab a friend or your four-legged pal, and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Try a free yoga class on YouTube. Do some stretches in the morning when you wake up. Everything counts.

  • Try journaling. Writing down your thoughts can feel extremely therapeutic. Whether it’s working with journal prompts or just letting yourself word-dump onto the page, experiment with different journaling styles to see what feels right. 

  • Cut back on social media. If you find yourself doomscrolling on Twitter at 1 a.m. when you should be asleep, it might be a sign to curb your social media habits. Not only can it affect your sleep, but there’s also a strong connection between social media and depression

  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about finding a state of mind where you’re focused on the present moment. While it’s certainly easier said than done (especially if you have anxious thoughts swirling in your brain), practicing mindfulness can feel grounding and help decrease those negative feelings.

For more tips on keeping your anxiety at bay, check out our guide to calming your anxiety.

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Dealing with anxiety on your own can feel overwhelming, but the getting-help part doesn’t have to be.

If you feel like anxiety is dominating your life and impacting your overall well-being, remember there are many ways to access support, such as: 

  • Connecting with a healthcare provider. The first step in getting a proper diagnosis and the right treatment starts with an expert. This could be your PCP, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Each of these mental health professionals has different qualifications, but they can all guide you in the right direction to get the treatment you deserve. Take a look at our guide to getting anxiety medication if you feel like you’re ready.

  • Taking medication. Your healthcare provider might recommend taking medication for your anxiety, like antidepressants, which can be incredibly effective. Based on your symptoms and factors like other medical conditions you might have, they’ll prescribe the best medication for you.

  • Making a therapy appointment. Opening up about your mental health struggles can make you feel 20 pounds lighter. But if you’re not quite comfortable seeing a therapist in-person or you’d like more privacy, anonymous support groups can be a great alternative.

Still feeling stuck on where to begin? Hers online mental health services can help get you started.

7 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Any Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
  2. Anxiety Disorders. (2018, July). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  3. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood sugar). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia
  4. Longo, L.P. & Johnson, B. (2000, April 1). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives. American Family Physician. 61 (7), 2121-2128. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
  5. Wilson, T.K. & Tripp, J. (2021, August 12). Buspirone. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531477/
  6. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  7. What Is Exposure Therapy? (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Beth Pausic, Psy.D

Dr. Beth Pausic is a clinical psychologist and oversees the therapy platform at Hims & Hers. 

Prior to Hims & Hers, Beth worked in senior roles at several behavioral healthcare startups focused on the digital delivery of emotional support and treatment through both conventional and innovative approaches. 

Her experience prior to working in telebehavioral health includes over 15 years as a Clinical Administrator and provider in diverse clinical settings. In her clinical work, she primarily focused on anxiety, depression and relationships. 

Dr. Pausic received her doctorate from George Washington University. You can find Beth on Linkedin for more information.


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