FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here
Whether it’s requesting PTO from your workaholic boss for that Palm Springs family vacay or finding the right moment to talk to your partner about their habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink, speaking up about your needs can feel daunting.
But as nerve-wracking as it may be, these conversations are important, especially when they relate to your mental health. Easier said than done, though, right?
If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume that you’re already experiencing some anxiety. A certain level of anxiety is totally normal, but if your anxiety symptoms are more severe or debilitating at times, you may have an anxiety disorder.
The first piece of good news is that you’re definitely not alone. Anxiety affects roughly 7 million adults per year in the U.S. alone. And here’s the second piece of good news: Anxiety disorders are very treatable with the help of medication.
Cool, you might be thinking, but where do I even start? What options are available? Who do I ask? And once I figure that out, what am I supposed to say?
If these questions are making your palms sweat, don’t worry — we’ve got you.
In this guide, we’ll go over how anti-anxiety medications work, who prescribes them and how to have a conversation with your healthcare provider to figure out the best treatment plan.
Before we dive in, you should know that while there are multiple ways to get anxiety medication, a prescription is required. The two main types of healthcare providers who can do this are:
Primary healthcare providers
Reaching out to your primary healthcare provider (sometimes called primary care physician or PCP) — yes, the same one who does your annual physical — is a great place to start because you already have a relationship with them. They have a record of your medical history, so it might feel less intimidating when opening up.
Psychiatrists are trained in treating mental disorders, be it generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder or social anxiety. Since they’re experts in a specific field, they can provide a more specialized treatment plan for your needs.
Psychologists, on the other hand, share similar traits with psychiatrists but are actually different. One of the biggest differences is how they approach mental health.
Psychologists tend to look at mental health through the lens of human behavior, whereas psychiatrists hone in more on the biological and chemical factors of mental health. Though psychiatrists are generally the ones known for prescribing medication, in certain states, some psychologists can as well if they have the training.
So when should you see a psychiatrist? You might want to consider it if:
You’re having trouble controlling your emotions
Your sleep patterns have shifted
You’re self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
Your work is struggling
You’re less social than usual
Your anxiety is getting increasingly worse
Keep reading for guidance on what to do next.
If you’re interested in speaking with a psychiatrist sooner rather than later, the Hers online psychiatry platform can connect you with a licensed provider — no doctor’s office waiting room required. (You can literally speak to someone while wearing your pajamas — how great is that?)
At the end of the day, whether you choose to see a psychiatrist or your PCP, there’s no “correct” answer. The choice is up to you, so do whatever makes you feel comfortable.
Regardless of who you end up speaking to, keep in mind they might suggest making lifestyle changes in addition to prescribing meditation to decrease your anxiety symptoms (i.e., cutting back on your alcohol intake or incorporating exercise into your routine).
For more information, check out our guide on who to see for anxiety.
If you feel like your anxiety is interfering with your life, anxiety medication might be the right choice. Keep in mind there are many types of anxiety, and your symptoms may look different from your sibling’s or friend’s.
So as tempting as it is to ask Dr. Google to answer your medical queries (or even your friend who got a perfect score on their AP Biology exam back in high school), the internet cannot give you an accurate evaluation. Try to resist the urge to self-diagnose your anxiety and instead, make an appointment to speak with an actual healthcare professional.
So you’ve made an appointment — phew. Now what?
Talking to your healthcare provider about your anxiety can feel, well…anxiety-inducing. To ease your worries, it’s helpful to know what to expect during your appointment.
Your provider will likely kick things off by asking you about common symptoms, which may include:
Feeling persistently sad, anxious or empty
Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Lack of energy or fatigue
Difficulty concentrating, remembering information or making decisions
Changes in appetite or weight
Physical aches and pains
They might ask you about certain lifestyle habits as well, like smoking or drinking.
It’s also worth noting that there are things you can do ahead of your appointment to make it go as smoothly as possible. This includes:
Making a list of questions ahead of time. It’s easy to forget to ask about certain things when you’re nervous, but writing your questions down ensures you don’t have to remember them.
Knowing your medications. Your provider will want to know what other medications you’re taking, so make sure to have the names and dosages ready.
Finding out about your family history. This doesn’t mean you need to go make a family tree, but many mental illnesses are genetic and can be passed down from family members. To make the best recommendation, it’s helpful for your provider to have as much context as possible.
It’s normal to feel nervous when talking to your provider about anxiety or any mental health condition. But just remember: Their job is to help you, not judge you. Being honest about your symptoms of anxiety is the best thing you can do.
To answer that question, it’s crucial to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all magic pill for treating anxiety. In fact, many medications — some similar, some quite different — are highly effective. Each has its own side effects, with some being more severe than others.
These are some of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications:
Here’s what to know.
Antidepressants are frequently prescribed as first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, as they’re highly effective. How do antidepressants work? They target certain neurotransmitters in your brain, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, to help boost your mood.
The two primary kinds of antidepressants are SSRIs and SNRIs.
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, work by increasing your serotonin levels. Fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), escitalopram (Lexapro®) and sertraline (Zoloft®) are among the most commonly prescribed SSRIs.
SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, work very similarly to SSRIs, except they also target norepinephrine. Venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®) are two of the most well-known SNRIs prescribed to patients.
For more details on how these medications work, including their side effects, check out our full list of antidepressants.
While antidepressants may take a few weeks for your body to fully feel its effects, benzodiazepines provide immediate relief. Not only do they work quickly, but they also come with a higher risk of dependency, so providers usually prescribe benzodiazepines for a shorter period.
A 2004 analysis shows that while there’s still uncertainty surrounding the potential for cognitive impairment for long-time benzodiazepine users, they can show recovery of function in certain areas after withdrawal.
Some of the most common benzodiazepines you might’ve heard of include alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), lorazepam (Ativan®) and diazepam (Valium®).
Beta blockers are a cardiac medication intended to slow your heart rate down. Though they’re primarily used to treat cardiovascular health conditions like hypertension, they can also be prescribed off-label to treat anxiety symptoms associated with disorders like social anxiety disorder or performance anxiety.
Propranolol (Inderal®) and atenolol (Tenormin®) are the most common off-label beta blockers.
If antidepressants or benzodiazepines aren’t doing the job, your provider might recommend buspirone (BuSpar®). Buspirone, which is an anxiolytic drug, was originally created as an antipsychotic though it can be used to treat disorders like GAD.
It may take longer for you to feel a difference in mood, but it can be a long-term treatment option. This medication also has fewer potential side effects than other anxiolytic treatments.
Lastly, bupropion (Wellbutrin XL®) can be effective in treating specific mental health conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Bupropion can be found under an umbrella of medications called aminoketones, which work by elevating your dopamine and norepinephrine levels.
We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to talking about medications (there’s a lot to unpack), but our anti-anxiety medication guide can help answer more in-depth questions you may have.
Asking your healthcare provider about anti-anxiety medication can, no doubt, feel intimidating — but it doesn’t have to be. If you start to feel overwhelmed, remember that prioritizing your mental health is the most important thing you can do, and speaking to a mental health professional is a powerful first step in the right direction.
Of course, there are other steps you can take in the meantime to help reduce your anxiety, such as:
Opening up to others. Talking to a friend or loved one about your struggles can make you feel less alone. The people in your life support you, and by letting them know how you’re actually doing, they can show up for you in the best way possible. The more we normalize mental illness — after all, literally millions of people experience it every day — the more empowered others will be to seek help.
Signing up for therapy. Like medication, there are many different kinds of therapy, be it psychotherapy (aka talk therapy), exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can also be effective when done in a group setting. And if doing therapy in-person isn’t your thing, online therapy is a great alternative.
Practicing self-care. Self-care is more than just some buzzword wellness influencers like to use. It’s about taking care of your mental health needs, which looks different for everyone. Maybe that’s setting boundaries in your 9-to-5 so you have more time for yourself. Maybe it’s journaling every morning or doing a yoga class with a friend. The best part is, you get to decide.
Want more tools and tips for dealing with anxiety? Check out these mental health services for additional support.
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.
Start your mental wellness journey today.