Everyone gets anxious sometimes, but if you find your anxiety is affecting your ability to live your life, then you may need professional help. There is no shame in seeking treatment for anxiety or any other mental health condition. However, the stigma can make it hard to seek treatment.
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There are two prongs to anxiety treatment: therapy and medication. You may need one or both.
Anxiety medication can be prescribed by your primary care provider, but they may refer you to a psychiatrist for a more comprehensive evaluation. In some states in the US, a psychologist can also prescribe medication.
Typically, you will also need to see a therapist. Your therapist could be any mental health professional¹ trained to provide therapy. They are typically a psychologist, but could also be a psychiatrist, social worker, or licensed professional clinical counselors.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy to treat anxiety. CBT combines cognitive and behavioral approaches to help you to identify, challenge, and deal with unhelpful thoughts. Through CBT, you will learn to identify when your thoughts are coming from the anxious part of your brain and how to better manage those thoughts.
The behavioral part of CBT involves approaches such as exposure therapy, which is typically used for anxiety about specific situations. This encourages you to confront your specific fear in a controlled environment. For example, with social anxiety, you might do exercises that slowly increase your comfort with being around other people.
Some people are fortunate enough to be able to go to their primary care provider and get a good referral on the first try. However, you may find you need to shop around to find a therapist who is the right fit for you. This is particularly the case for people of color and members of the LGBTQI+ community.
Therapy can also be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. While you may be able to reduce the cost by choosing telemedicine, although this does not work for everyone or every situation. There is more and more evidence that digital CBT², which offers online or app-based therapy, can be a helpful alternative to regular therapy.
Other than a referral from a doctor, there are several ways you can potentially find the right provider.
A number of websites that list therapists you could contact. For example, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America³ has a database of therapists. SAMSHA also has a behavioral health treatment locator⁴.
Minorities or people in certain communities can have particular issues finding the right therapist for their individualized needs. To help with this, there are websites that list therapists of color and LGBTQI+ friendly therapists. These specialist listings can help you to match with a therapist with whom you feel heard and respected.
Local hospitals and universities
If you are looking for a psychiatrist, you may be able to find one through a local hospital. In universities that have medical schools (and even some who don't), the psychiatry department may be able to recommend psychiatrists to you, while the psychology department could suggest psychologists or therapists.
Contacting your local hospital or university can help you to find a specialist in your local area unless you choose a form of therapy where face-to-face visits are not needed.
Self-help and support groups can offer valuable support for you to improve your mental health, as well as help you to find a good therapy provider. You can ask other people in the group who they have used or are currently using. However, be wary of advice provided by members of these groups. Always seek advice from a mental health professional.
If you are religious, you could ask a leader you trust within your community for advice. Although they should not be relied on to provide counseling (other than pastoral counseling), they may be able to refer you for specialist mental health counseling.
You can, of course, also talk to friends or family members who have similar conditions to get a recommendation.
Online matching services
You could also try an online service that cross-matches your location and diagnosis with professionals in your area who can help. This can be a lot faster than using one of the more open databases, where you might need to try several searches until you find the right therapist for you, which can take hours.
Anxiety attacks are unpleasant and their symptoms can sometimes mimic serious physical conditions, such as heart attacks. Acute anxiety can also turn into a panic attack⁵, which may have the following symptoms:
Faintness or dizziness
A feeling of loss of control or a sense of doom
Tingling in fingers or lips
While panic attacks are not dangerous, and they tend to subside after 5–30 minutes, their symptoms can overlap with symptoms of serious physical conditions. If you experience a panic attack, especially if you have not experienced them in the past, you may need to go to the ER⁶. If you are also having suicidal thoughts, you should go to the ER.
The ER will do blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), and other tests to make sure you do not have a heart problem or other serious medical condition. You may be given medication to help with the acute panic. If you experience repeated panic attacks, this is best treated through outpatient clinics.
Calling a mental health hotline can also help if you are having an anxiety attack and don't have anyone with you to help you calm down at the moment.
Getting proper treatment for your anxiety includes finding the right mental health professional for your individual needs. It is vital that you trust your therapist or psychologist to treat and help you manage the symptoms of your anxiety disorder. There are a variety of ways in which you can match with the right professional, whether you are seeking therapy in your local area or remotely. If you experience anxiety attacks, it is typically not necessary to go to the ER, but if you are having panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and/or are concerned about potential serious physical conditions, it is important to seek urgent medical attention.
What Is the Difference Between Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social Workers? | American Psychological Association
Digital Tools Are Revolutionizing Mental Health Care in the U.S. | Harvard Business Review
Choosing a Therapist | Anxiety & Depression Association of America
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Anxiety, fear and panic | NHS