Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/3/2021
If there’s a textbook definition of irony, it’s the fact that people who suffer from anxiety are often hindered from asking for the help they need because it makes them anxious.
Excessive fear is something many anxiety sufferers contend with on a daily basis, and if you’ve felt similar things in your daily life, it may be time to ask a professional about treatment.
Medication for anxiety is an effective and safe way to treat the condition, and it’s widely recommended for the treatment of anxiety.
But despite a growing trust in mood disorder medications, many people still worry about how to ask for help, and how to tell their doctors they want to try medication to get their anxiety under control.
We’ll walk you through who to ask, how to ask, and what to ask to get yourself the help you need.
First, though, we need to cover some basics about what anxiety is, how its common symptoms manifest, and the medications currently approved as treatment for anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), what we know as anxiety disorders are a collection of conditions that are defined by intense, negative feelings of anxiety, unease and/or panic.
There are many versions of anxiety disorder, and they can have overlapping symptoms, ranging from more severe senses of panic for anxiety sufferers — and for panic disorder sufferers, milder anxiety, too.
The anxiety symptoms you’ve heard about most tend to include restlessness, muscle tension, difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night, feeling on edge or wound-up throughout the day and night, difficulty with concentrating, frequent fatigue, regular irritability and uncontrollable worry.
Typically, a person with anxiety will feel those symptoms most days of the month, for at least six months.
These anxiety symptoms are common; more than 30 percent of American adults have experienced or will experience an anxiety disorder at some point.
Within the larger category of anxiety, one of the most common forms is generalized anxiety disorder, commonly abbreviated as GAD, is defined by extended periods of excessive anxiousness or worry — this can go on for months, years or more (but to qualify for a diagnosis, must be present most days for at least six months or more).
Anxiety is primarily caused by imbalances of the chemicals in your brain, similar to the way depression and other mood and mental disorders affect brain chemistry.
While there is no anxiety “cure” yet, we do have medically sound ways of addressing the symptoms of anxiety for anxiety patients, including anti-anxiety medications.
Generally speaking, the go-to solution for anxiety medication these days is actually medications classified as antidepressants, like SSRIs.
In many cases, these can offer anti-anxiety benefits as first-line treatments in on- or off-label uses in addition to their depression-treating potential.
There are other types of medication for anxiety on the market, but a healthcare professional will likely use these only as a last resort, in part because many of them lack sufficient research, or sedate rather than treat the patient; some take another approach altogether.
The default medication for anxiety treatment is a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
Other medications prescribed for anxiety include a group referred to as selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which will similarly regulate brain chemicals.
However, it’s important to note that these specialize in a brain chemical named norepinephrine, which functions as both a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone in the brain.
Though they have a similar effect to SSRIs (and are often effective when SSRIs fail to solve the problem) they’re considered a second line of defense.
So you think you might benefit from anti-anxiety medications. How do you initiate the conversation?
It’s normal to worry about this exchange with your doctor. Many people (especially those with anxiety) worry about advocating properly for themselves when asking for medication.
Asking your doctor about anti-anxiety medication is a simple process, though they may have questions about your symptoms and elements of your lifestyle that may need addressing.
They may, for instance, ask about other medications you’re taking or your daily caffeine intake, as those things may affect your anxiety.
Before starting you on medication, they may have you make other changes to avoid putting you on a medication that isn’t necessary.
If you’re drinking six lattes a day, cutting back on the excess caffeinated beverages may solve some of your problems.
This is a good time to ask your own questions and get an expectation for how your treatment may work.
A doctor will be able to explain different medication options and make recommendations based on your particular symptoms.
They’ll also be able to explain how long you can expect medications to take to start working, and how to take them properly.
They will also explain the effects of medications for anxiety, including what may happen as a result of long-term use, and resulting withdrawal symptoms if you discontinue use.
Good anxiety treatment isn’t about waiting until the problem is so severe that you feel helpless.
In short, you should typically ask your doctor for anxiety help when you feel the problem is affecting your life and your ability to function normally.
And that can be as simple as having symptoms that cause you trouble focusing on work or school.
Medication is a different story. You should ask for medication when you feel you’ve tried the typical home care solutions: diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes that can be addressed independently.
When you feel you’ve done everything you can to help yourself, it’s time to ask for help. A doctor may still have other suggestions, but it’s important to understand that you should feel neither shame nor, well, anxiety, about asking for anti-anxiety medication.
One of the most common questions we see about anti-anxiety medication — and anxiety treatment, in general — is whether someone should see their normal doctor or a psychiatrist for treatment. The answer is: it depends.
Most of the time, a standard healthcare professional will be able to prescribe you medication and make some treatment recommendations for your immediate anxiety symptoms.
They’re a great place to start for that reason, as well as for the general questions they can address.
Because your regular healthcare provider will typically know your medical history and other medical conditions better than a new specialist, they’ll be able to protect you from harmful potential side effects and other risks associated with anti-anxiety medication.
They’ll also be able to help you look at the big picture, and whether things like diet and exercise may play a role in the issues you’re having.
More importantly, they’ll also be able to offer you referrals to mental health providers like psychiatrists, who will then be able to help you take your treatment to the next level if necessary.
Taking your treatment to the next level is perhaps the best argument for going directly to a mental health provider.
If you’ve had anxiety issues in the past, or if your anxiety disorder shows more severe signs (like panic attacks), a specialized mental health provider will be best suited to guide you through your options for immediate treatment.
That list may include other therapeutic options like meditation or therapy, which studies have shown can be effective when combined with medication.
If therapy is a recommended option for your treatment, it’s likely the case that your mental healthcare provider will focus on one of two popular treatments that have shown the most benefits for anxiety disorder patients.
Anxiety disorders are known to generally respond well to therapy and therapeutic practices, and research shows that one of the most effective therapeutic methods is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (also known as CBT).
CBT is an effective treatment because it gives the patient a sense of control; it helps people suffering from anxiety and other mental health disorders recognize the signs of their disordered thinking patterns.
CBT can help you recognize them as well, which may give you the advantage you need to employ coping strategies to mitigate future attacks and episodes.
We’ve talked more about the benefits of CBT in our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?. It has more resources and a deeper exploration of this effective practice.
The benefit of talking to multiple professionals (your standard healthcare provider and a mental health professional) might also be that your treatment takes on a more holistic (and therefore potentially more effective approach).
A healthcare professional might ask you to explore the consequences of other factors in your mental health — things like diet, exercise (or lack thereof) and substance abuse could very well be making things worse in your head, and addressing those issues could alleviate some of the symptoms you’re struggling with.
As you’ve probably already gathered, the healthiest thing you can do for yourself today is to address your anxiety problems by talking to a healthcare professional about whether or not anxiety medication should be the route you take.
A healthcare professional may prescribe medication, but they may also offer alternatives or adjunctive treatment based on your individual needs.
If you’re just learning about anxiety, take a few minutes to explore our guide to therapy for treating anxiety, and do yourself a favor and read our mental health resources guide.
These tools are here for your help, whether you use our telepsychiatry options or not. If you’re ready to take that next step, consider scheduling yourself an evaluation today with our online therapy platform.