22 February 2019
One of the most common medical conditions I treat as a family medicine doctor is anxiety. You most likely know what anxiety is, or personally know someone who suffers from anxiety. At my family medicine clinic, Beyond Primary Care, located in Ann Arbor Michigan, all appointments are a minimum 30 minutes, with opportunities to increase the appointment time. This length of time is an important for the treatment of any mental health concern.
Anxiety has many faces. Among others, it is that feeling of stress, apprehension, relentless worrying, tightness in your stomach or chest, racing thoughts, restlessness, rapid breathing, diarrhea, lack of concentration, and insomnia.
Does a person have to experience all those symptoms to have anxiety?
Does having even just one symptom mean you need medical treatment?
The best answer is that it depends on you and what the severity is.
Dr. Jeff O’Boyle (who is writing this posts) experiences anxiety, you (who is reading this post) have experienced anxiety. Everyone has experienced anxiety. I feel a bit like Oprah when I just wrote that. Regardless, the truth is we all experience anxiety from the moment we are born.
Think about your own children, or other children you knew as newborns. The frequent cycles of crying and calmness. The newborn doesn’t know why they are wet, why they are hungry, why they feel cold, why they can’t sleep. So they cry. This is in part- anxiety. Eventually, after a few weeks (or months for some parents), the newborn stops crying. Overtime when there is a dirty diaper, or it learns that it will be feed every 3 hours, or the baby starts connecting it’s sleep cycles and starts doing it’s nights- much to the relief of the parents- the crying and fits decrease. The point is, we all have anxiety as newborns. We develop coping mechanisms though, inherent within our own emotional control centers to deal with this anxiety.
Just as no two people are affected the exact same way by anxiety, there is no “one size fits all” treatment that cures this condition. What works for one person might not work for another. The best way to treat yourself is to become as informed as possible about the treatment options, and then tailor them to meet your needs.
In my professional opinion, becoming informed about anxiety does mean you have to be honest to yourself with how you feel. Extending that honesty to your family and friends you trust, and honest to your healthcare provider is crucial is knowing that your mental health is not something to deal with alone.
It also takes time to find the right treatment. It might take some trial and error to find the treatment and support that works best for you. Understand how these treatments work and that they don’t work immediately. Anxiety cannot be treated like a case of bronchitis, where you get a course of antibiotics and poof- you are better in 10 days. In today’s society, I feel we are so focused on instant gratification and grossly appreciable results that we lose focus on the long-term control and relief.
Your emotional system only knows where it is at right now based upon where it just was. This is why in this work we are constantly reassessing our intervention afterwards. Where are you now? Now we do something. Where are you now? So we know if we are being effective or not. Do you want to waste your time doing stuff if you don’t know it’s working? I don’t. I want to do more of the stuff that is working and less of it that isn’t. As a doctor I’m constantly measuring.
But measuring anxiety, or any other component of mental health is not done over minutes to days, but weeks to months. Again, patience is key to treatment.