How often have you heard the stories about people struggling to set up an appointment with their physician – often weeks in advance – only to arrive to the doctor’s office and realize you have limited time to talk about all of your health concerns?

In the same way you prepare for a job interview or a college exam, you also need to prepare for a visit to the doctor.

To take full advantage of your scheduled appointment, I always encourage everyone to write down their list of concerns, questions and symptoms to maximize the time available. The last thing you mind to do is risk leaving the doctor’s office with only half of your questions answered – especially when it comes to the issue of mental health.

To ensure you take full advantage of the limited time you might have with your doctor, consider this helpful tips and tricks:

First, for any mental health-related concerns, it is important to see the doctor for an examination to see if your psychological symptoms are related to a medical problem.

Next, I suggest creating a weekly schedule to monitor symptoms. My suggested approach is to document all symptoms in one place, including:

  • When do symptoms tend to occur?
  • When did you first notice the symptoms?
  • How often do they tend to occur? (e.g., Daily? How often in one day? Several times a week or per month?)
  • How intense or severe are the symptoms? (Rate the intensity on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being very intense and five is moderate.)
  • Are there any triggers/situations that led to the symptoms or caused the symptoms to change, either for better or worse?
  • How often or how much do the symptoms interfere with your day-to-day activities and functioning? (Work, school, personal life, etc.)

Other factors that might be worth monitoring include:

  • Your daily mood (e.g., feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, angry?)
  • The timing of any mood changes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in concentration, attention, and ability to focus or make decisions
  • Changes in energy/fatigue level
  • Any worries, anxious thoughts or depressing/negative thoughts
  • Have you ever had a panic attack? How often?
  • Do you avoid any situations, places or activities because of anxiety?
  • Have you given up any activities because of decreased pleasure or interest?
  • Have you had any suicidal thoughts?
  • Has anyone noticed any changes in you and said something about it?

Finally, being aware of your environment is important, so I suggest you also document:

  • Any life stressors, changes or transitions
  • Any upsetting or traumatic events in either the present or past
  • Any other mental or physical health problems
  • Family history of mental-health problems
  • Current medications and vitamins. Have you ever taken a higher dose of medication than prescribed?
  • Consumption of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and illicit drugs
  • Any other possible addictions in your life

Beyond helping with your scheduled appointment, tracking the information listed above will hopefully also help you increase your own awareness about your lifestyle, allowing you to have a better understanding of your health and your symptoms.