Anxiety medication can be prescribed by a provider trained in medicine and mental health, like a physician, psychiatrist, or OBGYN. To get a prescription for anxiety medication, you must first have an evaluation with a provider, who will assess your anxiety symptoms and determine whether medication can help. If they think it will, they will recommend specific medication(s) to address your particular symptoms.
Do I Need Anxiety Meds?
Many people experience anxiety from time to time, but some people experience significant worry and fear. If your anxiety is enough to cause you distress and interfere with your life, then you may have an anxiety disorder.1There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobias. A doctor or mental health professional may diagnose you with a specific anxiety disorder after meeting with you and evaluating your symptoms.
Common anxiety symptoms include:2
- Excessive worry that is hard to control
- Fear of social situations, specific objects, or experiences
- Poor concentration
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling restless or on-edge
- Panic attacks, which can include heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, and a sense of impending doom
- Fear of future panic attacks
- Avoidance of people, places, or things that trigger anxiety or panic
Your provider may assess your symptoms by asking you questions or having you complete one or more screening tools. If they determine that you do have an anxiety disorder, they can talk to you about different treatment options. Medication and therapy are two types of clinical treatments that are recommended for anxiety disorders.1
Therapy vs Medication for Anxiety
Therapy is typically recommended for all anxiety disorders, but the type of therapy that is most helpful depends on the specific disorder.1 Anxiety that is mild, brief, and does not cause significant problems or distress may be treated with therapy alone.3 However, anxiety that is more severe and affects a person’s functioning is better treated with both medication and therapy.
The type of medication that is right for you will depend on what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. Antidepressants or buspirone are often prescribed for chronic anxiety, while benzodiazepines and beta blockers are usually prescribed for panic attacks and acute anxiety.4
How Can I Get Anxiety Medication?
In order to take anxiety medication, you need a prescription from a licensed healthcare professional. Depending on the medication, you may be able to meet with a provider through telehealth. Some medications can be safely prescribed this way.
Because benzodiazepines are a controlled substance, they must be prescribed during an in-person visit.5,6 There are some exceptions to this, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can ask your provider what meeting formats, either telehealth or in-person, are available.
How to Talk to Your Doctor About Anxiety Medication
To learn more about whether anxiety medication is right for you, you can start by talking to your doctor or provider about your concerns. Share what symptoms you are experiencing, for how long, and how these symptoms affect your life. It is helpful to be specific.
For example, you might explain how you have been dealing with fear of social situations for the past year, which has led you to avoid social gatherings. If there are any specific events that triggered your anxiety, or anything that makes your anxiety worse, then share these points as well. The more information that you give your provider, the better they will be able to help you. It also can be useful to know any details about the mental health and treatments that your biological relatives may have had.
Your provider will decide whether anxiety medication is right for you based on your symptoms. Your symptoms will also help them decide what medication is best. Certain anxiety medications target acute anxiety and panic or panic disorders, while others are more effective for chronic anxiety. Different medications have different recommended daily doses.3 Your provider will also take into account factors like your biological sex and weight when determining the right dose for you.
How to Get Prescribed Anxiety Medication
Anxiety medication can be prescribed by a qualified healthcare provider who is trained in medicine and pharmacology. These medications are often prescribed by psychiatrists, but other doctors, like family medicine doctors, internal medicine doctors, and OBGYNs, may also prescribe them. If you already have a healthcare provider, you can ask them if they are able to prescribe you anxiety medication or if they can provide you with a referral.
You can usually get a prescription for anxiety medication from the following doctors:
- Primary Care Physician (PCP) – Your primary care physician is trained in general medicine and may be able to prescribe you medication for mild anxiety. However, they will likely recommend that you see a psychiatrist if your anxiety is moderate to severe and if you are dealing with other mental health conditions in addition to anxiety, like depression. Sometimes the comfort level of the primary care provider in treating anxiety will determine if a patient is referred elsewhere.
- Psychiatrist – Psychiatrists have a medical degree and advanced training in psychiatry. They can prescribe medications and some, but not all, also offer therapy. Many people will see a psychiatrist for medication management and a therapist for therapy.
- Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) – NPs are nurses that have received advanced training in psychiatry. Though they are not medical doctors, they can prescribe medications for anxiety. Some offer therapy as well.
- OBGYN – Your OBGYN can also prescribe you anxiety medication if you are dealing with anxiety related to pregnancy, postpartum, hormonal changes like menopause, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
- Psychologist – Generally, psychologists only provide talk therapy and conduct psychological assessments. However, there are a few states where psychologists who have received specialized training in psychiatry can also prescribe medication. These states include Iowa, Illinois, Idaho, New Mexico, and Louisiana.7
Can Online Doctors Prescribe Anxiety Medication?
Telehealth allows you to connect with your provider virtually. Some providers offer telehealth services for medication visits. These are offered over a secure HIPAA-compliant platform. Some people find telehealth more convenient and have an easier time talking more openly with their doctors about mental health concerns.
While telehealth can be a convenient way to meet, online providers cannot prescribe all medications. Because benzodiazepines are a controlled substance, they require that a provider evaluate you in-person, except in certain instances.
How to Get a Refill for Anxiety Meds
After your first medication appointment, your provider will most likely ask you to return for a follow-up in a few weeks. During your follow-up appointment, they will ask you how you are doing on the medication. If you are doing well, they will provide you with a refill and have you return again in another few weeks. If you are not feeling better on the medication, then they may talk to you about changing your dose or medication.
It is important that you attend your follow-up appointments so that your provider can give you refills on time. They will schedule your follow-ups around the time that your medication will run out. If you’re not able to attend, you should talk to your provider ahead of time to see if they can send you a refill before your medication runs out. Stopping certain medications (like benzodiazepines) cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms, which can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, dangerous.1
Do Over the Counter Anxiety Meds Exist?
There are no FDA-approved medications for anxiety that are available over-the-counter, but studies have been done on various natural remedies for anxiety that may be helpful in conjunction with medication or on their own.
Supplements like kava, passionflower, and magnesium may be helpful.8 Research has looked at the benefits of CBD for anxiety, but has found mixed results.9 Always speak to your doctor before taking any supplements, as they could negatively interact with certain medications.
Questions to Ask Your Health Team About Getting on Anxiety Medication
It is common to have questions when deciding whether or not to take anxiety medication. You may be wondering how to take the medication, how it works, what anxiety meds feel like and possible side effects. It can help to write down your questions before your appointment and bring them with you. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions that you may have. Your treatment team is there to help you make an informed decision about your care.
Questions to ask your care team about getting a prescription for anxiety include:
- What type of anxiety medications can help treat my anxiety?
- How much and how often should I take the medication?
- What are common side effects of this medication?
- Are there any dangerous side effects that I should be aware of?
- What should I do if I experience side effects?
- Are there any other medications or foods that I should avoid while taking this medication?
- How quickly can I expect to notice improvements?
- What should I do if I don’t notice benefits from the medication?
- What else can I do to help manage my anxiety?
Getting Help Immediately
Suicidal thoughts are a rare but possible side effect of anxiety medication.10 If at any point you feel suicidal or experience any urges to self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 right away.
What Can You Do in Addition to Taking Medication
There are additional steps you can take to help manage your anxiety while on medication. Meditation for anxiety is an effective tool for helping to decrease anxiety and improve your mood and overall wellbeing.11 You can practice meditation by attending a class, listening to a guided video, exploring a meditation app, or just finding a quiet place to sit and focus on your breathing. A moderate amount of regular exercise has been well-documented to both help with anxiety symptoms and to reduce their emergence.
Therapy for Anxiety
Therapy for anxiety can be helpful in conjunction with medication.1 Medication targets the biological aspect of anxiety, while therapy targets thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Together, therapy and medication can help you cope with your anxiety and reduce the negative impact of it on your life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy that is effective for treating anxiety. This therapy focuses on changing negative thoughts and beliefs that are linked to anxiety. Exposure therapy helps you confront fears or situations that you avoid because of your anxiety. An exposure therapist helps guide you toward facing your anxiety while using relaxation techniques to help you cope.
Coping with an anxiety disorder can be difficult, but treatment can help. Medication combined with therapy can help you manage your symptoms. To determine if anxiety medication is right for you, consider talking to your treatment team or setting up an appointment with a medication provider.
For Further Reading
- Best Anxiety Blogs
- Best Anxiety Podcasts
- American Psychiatric Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- How to Get an Effexor (Venlafaxine) Prescription
- How to Get a Paxil (Paroxetine Prescription: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Get a Cymbalta (Duloxetine) Prescription: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Get Prescribed Zoloft: Everything You Need to Know
- Does Zoloft Cause Weight Gain? Everything You Need to Know