A lot of us struggle with anxiety, and knowing how to get help can be embarrassing, confusing and daunting. There are so many different options available, which is great, but it can be difficult to know which option is best for you, and which options are actually effective.
Whilst I am not a medical professional, I have a lot of first hand experience with anxiety and different self help and treatment options, and I also have a degree in Psychology. Below I’m going to list the main places I have gone for help, and my experiences of them.
Obviously, this is the option that everybody recommends, and it really is the most important. For many years I shied away from going to the GP about my mental health. This is partly because it made me feel like my personal feelings were going to become “clinical”, and that I was going to be put on medication immediately. I didn’t want the way I felt to become a “medical” problem. Looking back, I was just afraid of the unknown (hence the anxiety problem) and the stigma that I had around medical professionals and mental health. I’d also had a bad experience with one particular GP when I was really young, so it massively put me off.
If you don’t rate your GP, or you don’t feel comfortable discussing your mental health with them, please find another that you do feel comfortable with! Doctors are required to take your mental health seriously and there are so many different treatment options available through them. They should also listen to your preferences (and any good doctor will!) about treatment options such as medication or psychological therapies.
Visiting your doctor is free and it is such an important step in getting support for anxiety or any other mental health problem, even if you feel like it’s “not that bad”. They can also help if your mental health is affecting your work or studies. So, if you have any concerns, the first place to go really is your doctor!
There are an enormous number of online resources out there – blogs (like this one), charity websites (like Mind), online courses and self-help websites. It can be really confusing knowing what to follow, what to spend money on, what’s accurate etc. Personally, I have to say that I’ve never spent money on an online resource when it comes to my mental health (though I have spent money on face-to-face therapy – see point 3). The main reason is because I’ve never really needed to – most of the information I’ve needed has been freely available, and I much prefer to spend money on proper in-person therapy. That’s not to say it isn’t worth spending your money on necessarily, but if you go through your doctor, the NHS do offer free online courses and sessions (though there is usually a waiting list).
When looking for help online, I’d say that the two main things you need are a) The Facts and b) Support. So go to proper, official websites like The NHS, Anxiety.org, or Mind.org – these websites have the correct information and will be so helpful if you’re worried about what your symptoms mean, whether you might have an anxiety disorder etc. Whilst these websites do offer support, it can also be nice to follow blogs written by real people about their experiences. This can be a huge comfort because it’s a reminder that there are other people out there who are actually living through this, like you are. The only thing I’d say about blogs is to be cautious about accepting what people say as “fact”! A site I’d really recommend is ‘Anxiety No More’ (anxietynomore.co.uk) – this has been a life saver for me on a few occasions.
Looking for support online can be so helpful if you aren’t sure what you’re going through, but always be careful with self-diagnosing (see your GP as well)! It can also be useful if it’s 3am and you’re in a horrible state of panic, and you can’t see a doctor or call a friend, but you just need some advice or to know you’re not alone.
There are lots of different types of therapy, and lots of different therapists. Some of them you can access through your doctor, and some of them you need to organise privately (and almost always pay for). If you’re going through your GP, your options will likely be limited to what they have available (though they will always use therapies that are proven to be effective!).
If you’re thinking of finding a therapist, there are a few things you should consider first: what type of therapy you’re looking for, what type of therapist you’d like (including their experience and reputation), and how much you’re willing to spend.
What type of therapy are you looking for?
There are so many different options – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Family Therapy, Group Therapy, Mindfulness-based Therapy, Counselling, Psychotherapy, and many, many more…
Spend some time researching different types of therapy and see what resonates with you. The therapy most commonly recommended for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and though I’ve never actually tried it myself, studies show that it is very effective for a lot of people. Think about what would suit your “wider” personality as well. I opted for psychotherapy with a therapist who’d also been trained in Buddhist (and mindfulness-based) principles, as this really resonated with me.
What type of therapist would you like?
Most established therapists will have a website, so try to get a feel for who they are and what they can offer you. Of course, make sure that they are qualified to treat conditions like anxiety, and try and get a feel for their personality and principles. It is so important that you like your therapist, otherwise it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do much for you. You might even want to see a picture of them first (I know I definitely did). You might also have preferences about their gender, their age etc – that’s all perfectly fine.
It’s also a good idea to request either a free or discounted initial consultation, so you get a chance to meet with the therapist first and decide whether you like them. Most decent therapists will offer this to their customers (at least they have done so in my experience).
How much are you willing to pay?
This is an important one as it might affect which type of therapy you pick, and which therapist you pick. Most therapists have a “scale” of prices and offer some kind of concessionary rate to those who aren’t able to pay as much – perhaps if you’re a student or are unemployed. It’s always worth checking with the therapist!
If you don’t feel you can afford 1-2-1 therapy, you might want to look into group therapy instead which is generally cheaper. There are other ways of getting therapy at a lower cost – either through your GP, through your university or workplace, or perhaps your city might have a centre that offers discounted rates to those on a low income (Google it!). It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that there is often a long waiting list for those services.
It’s really important to think about how much you are able, and willing, to pay for therapy. Personally, I’d love to have continued therapy sessions but I simply can’t afford it. That being said, the money I have spent on therapy in the past (which meant I had to sacrifice other things like nice clothes and holidays) was so worth it for the support I received. If you are in real need of help, it can definitely be worth the money.
You should only use medication for anxiety, or any other mental health illness, that has been prescribed to you by your doctor.
Many people opt to use medication to manage their anxiety, and there are a lot of different types available (have a look on the NHS website!). Your doctor can advise on whether they think medication would help you, and it’s up to you whether you’d like to give it a go. Some people feel that medication is the best option for them, some people don’t want to try it at all, and some people might try it if they find that other therapies are not helping them. It’s entirely a personal decision!
Personally, I have tried an SSRI (Sertraline) to treat anxiety, and I found it very helpful at the time (though I didn’t need to take it long-term). It took many years before I was willing to try a medication, but I’d definitely use it again if I was really, really struggling. The only thing is that medication does come with a number of side effects and risks, so you should take these into account if you’re thinking of trying them. When I took Sertraline I woke up every 2 hours in the night without fail! I also felt constantly numb (which was actually a welcome relief at the time) all over my body.
I won’t say much more about medication here as it’s such a personal choice, and something that should be discussed with your doctor. But know that it is an option and has helped a lot of people.
That brings me to the end of this post! There are many other helpful resources such as self-help books, friends and family, colleagues and teachers, but for now I’ve listed the four main places I have gone for help and would recommend that you go to.
I really hope that this was helpful if you’re struggling with anxiety, or any aspect of your mental health, and aren’t sure where to turn. There is so much support available out there!
Disclaimer: I am not a professional and all of the above is based only on my personal opinions and experiences. If you have any concerns about your mental health, you should seek professional advice from your doctor.