Knowing how to diagnose anxiety can be challenging, largely because generalized anxiety disorder can manifest differently in each person. It’s not something that can be easily identified as an infection or a broken arm. Instead, anxiety can cause a variety of co-occurring physiological, psychological, and physical symptoms. Thus, great care must be taken to get an accurate diagnosis, so you can get treatment and find therapy for anxiety symptoms.
Unfortunately, anxiety often goes undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated. If you think you may be dealing with chronic anxiety, it’s important that you don’t attempt to self-diagnose. You can, however, take notes about what causes anxiety as well as your symptoms. Once you compile a list you can connect with a mental health professional or your doctor. They can help you get a diagnosis and then come up with a plan on how to treat anxiety. The right treatment can teach you coping skills so you can proactively improve your mental health and learn to effectively manage your anxiety.
“A doctor is trained to identify the different types of anxiety. The more details you share, the easier it is to complete the diagnosis. Before your appointment, write down a list or a paragraph or two about how you feel, what situations make you feel a specific way, and if you have any family members diagnosed with anxiety.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
Get a Psych Evaluation
Assuming that your doctor rules out other possible causes for your symptoms, you might move on to the next steps of scheduling a psychological evaluation. On the day of your appointment, you’ll probably be asked questions about the type, frequency, and severity of your symptoms.
A doctor or therapist will then consider criteria outlined in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to figure out if you’re suffering from severe anxiety or a related condition — like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
DSM criteria for anxiety disorder can include:
- Experiencing excessive worry and anxiety most days, for at least 6 months
- Symptoms not caused by an underlying mental health condition
- Symptoms not caused by an underlying medical condition
- Symptoms that are significantly disrupting the quality of life
If you’ve wondered, how do I get diagnosed with anxiety, you’ll need to exhibit three of the following six anxiety symptoms:
- Disturbed sleep
- Difficulty focusing
- Muscular tension
- Chronic fatigue
“If you think that your doctor did not diagnose you correctly or you want a second opinion, look for a specialist. It’s recommended to get a second opinion from a therapist or psychiatrist to ensure you receive the best treatment after your diagnosis.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Anxiety?
There are various criteria that a doctor considers when determining a diagnosis for anxiety.
First, you’ll go through a physical examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions or illnesses that may either be causing your symptoms or masking them.
Personal history & lifestyle
You’ll want to provide accurate information about your personal history and lifestyle habits. It’s important to be completely honest so your doctor can gain better insight into your overall health. You’ll likely be asked about your:
- History of illnesses
- Any alcohol or drug use
- Caffeine consumption
- Use of lab-made hormones
- Use of prescription medications
You’ll be asked about the symptoms you experience that may be related to you having an anxiety disorder. Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety are:
- Dry mouth
- Trouble focusing
- Angina (chest pain)
- Increased heart rate
- Shaking and trembling
- Fast, quick breathing
- Hot flashes and sweating
- Upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting
Physical & mental health conditions
One thing that can make diagnosing anxiety somewhat difficult is that it shares symptoms with several other physical and mental health conditions. To be sure that your symptoms are caused by anxiety and not something else, a health care professional will first rule out other possibilities, including:
- Chronic angina
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
Some anxiety symptoms are caused by side effects of substance abuse used to treat diabetes, thyroid disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), and more. This is one reason why it’s so important to have a complete checkup before an anxiety diagnosis can be made.
“Your doctor will be interested in hearing about your physical and emotional symptoms and also how you act in specific situations. Sometimes a stomach ache or chest pressure are not physical ailments, but signs of anxiety.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
What to Do if You Get Diagnosed with Anxiety
If you’re diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you have a lot of options and support available. You can learn new coping skills and strategies that will help you anticipate, recognize, and deal with your symptoms as they arise.
It can be smart to focus on learning about managing your excessive worry and anxiety, rather than looking for a “cure” or instant solution. Just know upfront that there’s no easy fix. It’s going to take time, patience, and effort. Consider the following and talk with your therapist about which might be the most effective technique for you. In many cases, a combination of methods will be the most successful in managing your anxiety symptoms.
Regular sessions with a professional therapist can allow you to openly express yourself and stay in touch with your goals in a safe, stable environment with unbiased assistance.
Your therapist can help you discover what triggers your anxiety and teach you helpful skills to reduce the frequency and intensity of your symptoms. Many therapists offer online sessions, and group therapy can also be very effective.
It’s true that the choices we make can define us. Through this lens, we can choose to change many of our habits in an effort to live a healthier, less stressed, more productive life. This can be especially true when dealing with anxiety.
Consider the following options. Implementing some or all of them in your daily life could be incredibly beneficial in treating anxiety.
- Involve yourself in social situations
- Drink plenty of fresh water every day
- Keep routine schedules to optimize your time and minimize downtime
- Get at least some exercise, every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes
- Write down your thoughts and feelings daily
- Make time to participate in the activities and hobbies you enjoy
- Watch what you eat — focus on low-carb, unprocessed foods
“Remind yourself that you’re not alone. Many people are diagnosed with anxiety and it’s one of the most common emotional problems therapists see. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat it and you can live a happy life if you learn how to manage it.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
Various natural remedies for anxiety have been found, including diffusing certain essential oils, practicing mindfulness meditation, learning pranayama (deep breathing exercises), doing Yoga, taking mineral salt baths, and sun gazing.
Avoid using substances to cope
It might be challenging, but avoiding alcohol and drug use when you suffer from chronic anxiety can be a good idea. For many people, substances are taken in an attempt to numb the pain or to try and feel “normal.” However, more often than not, alcohol and drugs do more harm than good, and can lead to substance abuse. They do nothing to address the underlying psychological issues that are causing the anxiety.
Research suggests it’s important to have a circle of trusted people you can communicate with openly and freely about your anxiety without fear of judgment. It can be common for people with severe anxiety to self-isolate or have social anxiety disorder, even from the people they’re closest to. Remember that we all need someone to talk to now and then, and that’s OK.
Several types of prescription medications can be used to treat anxiety. Medication is typically only used to treat short-term symptoms though, and it’s important to understand that while pharmaceuticals may help to manage some symptoms, they can also cause serious side effects with long-term or excessive use.
“Secure the services of an evidence-based team. That includes professionals such as therapists, psychiatrists, and group facilitators that have experience working with the types of therapy that have shown good results when dealing with anxiety. You can even ask them to communicate amongst themselves to ensure you receive the best treatment from them, your wellness team.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
Your doctor or therapist are experts at knowing how to diagnose anxiety. Leave the diagnosis to them, and then focus on coming up with a treatment plan. You can learn new coping skills and start establishing new habits that’ll enhance your life.
Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting help for your anxiety easier than ever. In just a few minutes, you can set up appointments that are convenient, affordable, and effective. If you’re ready to learn how to diagnose anxiety and start working towards healing, reach out to Talkspace today.