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When should you seek medical attention for anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress that everyone experiences from time to time. However, if anxiety begins interfering with your daily life or causes intense distress, it may be time to seek medical help. Here are some signs that anxiety has progressed beyond normal levels and may require professional treatment:

Panic attacks

Panic attacks involve sudden, intense physical symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, and feelings of losing control or “going crazy.” If you have recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions and get appropriate treatment.

Avoiding situations

If you find yourself avoiding certain places or activities because of anxiety, this likely indicates a phobia or other anxiety disorder. Avoidance tends to reinforce fears over time. Getting help early on can prevent anxiety from severely limiting your life.

Difficulty functioning

When anxiety makes it hard to get through your normal daily routine, interferes with job performance, disrupts sleep, or causes you to isolate yourself, it’s time to seek help. Left untreated, anxiety usually worsens over time.

Substance misuse

Many people with anxiety try to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors. If you find yourself relying on substances or unhealthy habits to cope with anxiety, it’s important to get professional care to prevent dependence and other risks.

Physical symptoms

Unexplained and persistent physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, nausea, trembling, feeling shaky, and fatigue can all be manifestations of anxiety. If lifestyle changes don’t relieve these symptoms, an anxiety disorder may be involved.

Intrusive thoughts

Anxiety often involves repetitive, persistent worries or fears. Intrusive thoughts that cause significant distress merit medical care. Getting stuck in loops of “what if” thinking is a hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder.

Family history

Having a first-degree relative with anxiety increases your risk for developing an anxiety disorder. If you have a family history of anxiety, pay close attention to any anxiety symptoms and seek help when needed.

Suicidal thoughts

Severe anxiety can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm. These thoughts should always be taken seriously. If you’re feeling suicidal or like hurting yourself, get emergency care immediately.

Duration of symptoms

Brief anxiety when faced with real danger is normal. However, if intense worry or fear lasts for months at a time, you likely need professional assessment and treatment. Don’t dismiss anxiety as something you can tough out on your own.

Impact on relationships

If anxiety causes problems in your relationships, like conflict with loved ones or isolation from friends, this indicates it’s time to seek help. Letting anxiety damage your relationships can have long-lasting effects.

Co-occurring depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. If you’re experiencing depressed mood, low energy, changes in sleep and appetite, or lack of interest along with anxiety, see your doctor. Treating both conditions together is important.

Inability to identify triggers

Sometimes it’s clear what’s causing anxiety, like a phobia of flying or test anxiety. But if you can’t pinpoint any triggers, have anxiety in many situations, or feel anxious for no reason, you may have generalized anxiety or another disorder.

Treatment difficulties

If you’ve tried self-help for anxiety like relaxation techniques, exercise, better sleep habits, and limiting caffeine without improvement, this indicates a need for professional treatment. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

Worsening worry

If feelings of worry, tension, fear, or panic have increased over time rather than resolving, anxiety is likely at problematic levels. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it tends to be.

Impact on work/school

If anxiety makes it difficult to meet expectations at work or school, causes excessive absences, or hinders your performance, seek help. Treating the anxiety can get you back on track.

Feeling hopeless

When anxiety is severe, it’s common to feel helpless or hopeless about improving your situation. This pessimism is a sign professional treatment is needed. Anxiety treatment can provide real relief.

How is anxiety diagnosed?

If you see your primary care doctor about anxiety symptoms, they will likely perform a physical exam to look for any underlying medical issues, ask you about your symptoms, and assess your mental health and daily functioning. Based on this information, they may refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation and diagnosis. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists can diagnose anxiety disorders using criteria from the DSM-5 psychiatric manual.

What are the main treatment options for anxiety?

For mild to moderate anxiety, treatment often starts with lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and medication if needed. Severe anxiety usually requires specialized treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medications. Some key treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Exercise
  • Stress management
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs)
  • Anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines)

When are anti-anxiety medications prescribed?

Doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium) and certain antidepressants for anxiety that is moderate to severe. These medications help calm the nervous system. They are often prescribed along with therapy. If anxiety is mild, doctors usually recommend trying therapy and lifestyle changes first before considering medication.

What type of mental health professional treats anxiety?

The most common mental health professionals who treat anxiety disorders are:

  • Psychiatrists: Can diagnose anxiety and prescribe medication
  • Psychologists: Diagnose and provide therapy for anxiety
  • Licensed therapists: Provide counseling and therapy for anxiety
  • Clinical social workers: Offer therapy, coping strategies, and mental health treatment

It’s also possible to work with a counselor, life coach, or other support provider. But for diagnosing anxiety disorders and providing comprehensive treatment, seeing a licensed mental health professional is recommended.

What are the first steps to getting help for anxiety?

Some initial steps for seeking help with anxiety include:

  1. Making an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss your symptoms
  2. Getting a referral to a licensed mental health professional
  3. Finding a therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety treatment
  4. Joining a local anxiety support group
  5. Exploring self-help resources like anxiety workbooks or online tools
  6. Calling a mental health hotline if you need immediate support

Reaching out for help, even just for an initial doctor’s appointment, can be very tough when you’re anxious. Having a trusted friend or family member help with appointments or accompany you can make getting help much easier.

What happens at the first appointment for anxiety?

The first appointment with a doctor or mental health professional for anxiety will likely cover:

  • Your emotional and physical symptoms
  • Any events that worsened symptoms
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • History of mental health treatment
  • Medications and medical conditions
  • Caffeine/alcohol intake, diet, exercise, sleep habits
  • Work/relationship problems related to anxiety
  • Goals and expectations for treatment

Being open about your symptoms and mental health history will help guide your treatment. The clinician needs a full picture of what you’re experiencing to determine next steps.

How do doctors determine if anxiety needs medication?

Factors doctors consider when deciding if medication is needed for anxiety include:

  • Severity of symptoms like panic attacks and constant worrying
  • How much anxiety is interfering with work, activities, relationships
  • Duration of anxiety episodes
  • Presence of co-occurring depression
  • History of treatment, like past response to medication
  • Risk factors like substance abuse and family history
  • Presence of suicidal thoughts
  • Preference of the individual struggling with anxiety

Doctors also look at how well you’ve responded to prior non-medication treatments like CBT. Mild anxiety can often be treated without medication.

How much does anxiety treatment cost with insurance?

With health insurance coverage, anxiety treatment typically costs:

  • Therapist visit copay – $20-$60 per session
  • Psychiatrist visit copay – $25-$100 per visit
  • Prescription medication copay – $10-$50
  • Inpatient hospitalization – Deductible plus 20% coinsurance

Many insurance plans provide some coverage for mental health services. Contact your insurer to learn about your benefits. Without insurance, the costs are much higher.

What are the consequences of untreated anxiety?

Some potential consequences of leaving anxiety untreated include:

  • Worsening anxiety leading to a disability
  • Development of depression or substance abuse
  • Inability to maintain relationships
  • Missed work or school leading to job loss or failing grades
  • Financial problems due to unemployment or medical bills
  • Poor quality of life from constant worry and stress
  • Increased risk of suicide

Getting help early leads to the best treatment outcomes. Don’t wait until anxiety has significantly damaged your mental health, relationships, or education/career before seeking support.

Can natural remedies help anxiety?

Some alternative remedies may help mild anxiety, including:

  • Exercise like yoga, walking, or light jogging
  • Relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, massage
  • Aromatherapy using chamomile, lavender, and other calming scents
  • Herbal teas containing passionflower, valerian root, or lemon balm
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
  • CBD oil and medical marijuana (where legal)

However, severe anxiety usually requires professional treatment. Don’t rely solely on unproven supplements or herbs. Get an accurate diagnosis and stick to evidence-based remedies.

Can anxiety go away on its own?

It’s possible for mild situational anxiety to go away on its own once the stressful event or trigger has passed. For example, mild anxiety about an upcoming work presentation often resolves after the event is over. However, when anxiety is moderate to severe or occurs for no clear reason, it’s unlikely to disappear without treatment. Getting professional help leads to better outcomes.

What are warning signs anxiety is getting worse?

Some warning signs that anxiety is progressing and help may be needed include:

  • Panic attacks happening more often or suddenly
  • Much stronger feelings of worry or fear
  • Anxiety heavily interfering with work performance
  • Social isolation and loss of interest in activities
  • Trouble thinking clearly or making decisions
  • Feeling anxious daily or almost constantly
  • Greater reliance on drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy coping methods
  • Development of depression symptoms like low mood, fatigue, or suicidal thoughts

Pay attention to any anxiety symptoms that persist, worsen over a few weeks, or significantly disrupt your daily life. These are signs it’s time to seek medical help.


Anxiety becomes a medical concern when it is persistent, intense, and interferes with daily functioning. Warning signs that professional care may be needed include panic attacks, avoiding situations, trouble working or attending school, physical symptoms, and suicidal thoughts. Mental health providers like therapists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers can provide comprehensive treatment through a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication. Leaving moderate to severe anxiety untreated can allow it to progressively get worse.