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Looking after yourself

When you put yourself first and look after your health, it may help to improve your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety.

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Healthy diet

A healthy, balanced diet helps your body get all the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Research shows that healthy foods can help to reduce anxiety, whereas things like sugar, coffee and alcohol can increase anxiety.

A balanced diet means eating foods from the five main food groups, including:

  • fresh fruit
  • fresh vegetables, including legumes and beans
  • wholegrain bread and cereals
  • lean meats and chicken, eggs, fish, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt).

It’s also important to eat healthy fats. Omega-3 oils found in fatty fish and nuts have been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Try to drink water instead of sugary drinks.

If you are a vegetarian, there are many non-meat sources of protein, but you might need iron supplements, especially when you have your period. If you are a vegan, you might also need to add calcium from non-dairy sources to your diet.

Learn more about mood and food

Listen to this mood and food podcast hosted by Janet Michelmore.

Healthy eating tips

  • A nutritious breakfast can give you plenty of emotional and physical energy for the day. This will also help you to avoid sugary snacks in the afternoon.
  • Eat smaller portions of healthy foods throughout the day rather than a few big meals.
  • Avoid the highs and lows of sugary and high carbohydrate foods (e.g. biscuits, cakes and lollies) which can cause mood swings.
  • Try to include protein in each meal to balance your mood throughout the day.

You can talk to a dietitian if you want more information about a healthy diet.

Exercise

Exercise can be helpful when combined with other anxiety treatments, or on its own.

Research suggests that people who exercise regularly have better physical and mental health. Exercise has many benefits. For example, it:

  • releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins and serotonin, which improve your mood
  • reduces muscle tension, which helps you feel more relaxed
  • increases blood flow to the brain which helps you think more clearly
  • acts as a distraction and helps take your mind off your worries
  • reduces negative thoughts that feed anxiety
  • improves your confidence
  • increases social interaction, which can make you feel good
  • helps you sleep better
  • increases your energy levels.

Australian guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise most days of the week. This can be done in one 30-minute session or a couple of shorter sessions.

Choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, group training or team sports. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, take it slow and build up your fitness over time.

Alcohol

Many people use alcohol to help them relax and reduce their anxiety. But health advice suggests you:

  • drink fewer than 10 standard drinks a week
  • drink fewer than four standard drinks a day
  • avoid alcohol if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding.

Higher levels of drinking can cause short and long-term health risks, both physical and emotional. Research shows that risky alcohol use leads to problems like depression and mood changes. Once the effect of alcohol wears off, it can make you feel more anxious.

You can try reducing your alcohol intake, or avoiding alcohol completely, to reduce your anxiety.

If you are worried about your alcohol consumption, talk to your doctor.

Read the Australian alcohol guidelines

Drugs

Some people use legal and illegal drugs to reduce their anxiety. But your anxiety can actually increase when you rely on things like cigarettes, cannabis or other drugs to make you feel calm – especially if you don’t have access to them.

You can try to manage your anxiety by reducing or avoiding drugs.

If you are worried about your drug use, talk to your doctor.

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is as important as healthy eating and exercise for good mental health. You should aim for 7–8 hours every night.

Sleep disturbance is common, affecting 90% of people at some point in their lives. This can be frustrating and can seriously affect your quality of life. But good sleep habits, like going to bed at the same time each night and keeping your mobile phone out of your bedroom can improve your sleep.

If you had a bad night’s sleep, try to let it go and avoid thinking that the day ahead will be worse. Remind yourself you are doing the best you can.

Regular exercise can also improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

In this podcast, psychologist Moira Junge talks about night owls, sleep disorders and why we shouldn’t panic when we can’t doze off.


For health advice about sleep visit Sleep Health Foundation

Cup of tea 799 337

Staying well as you age

This fact sheet (translated in 10 languages) provides tips on how women can stay mentally well as they get older, as well as where to get help and support.

Logo: Liptember Foundation

Thanks to Liptember Foundation for supporting Jean Hailes to produce these pages on anxiety. Each year, the Liptember Campaign raises funds and awareness for women's mental health during the month of September.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at June 2022.

Last updated: 02 August 2022 | Last reviewed: 28 June 2022

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