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Managing anxiety

You don’t need to struggle with anxiety – there are lots of ways to manage it. One of the most important things you can do is to be kind to yourself. Try not to judge yourself (e.g. “what’s wrong with me?” or “why can’t I handle this?”) as this can make you feel worse. Instead, acknowledge your feelings and remember you’re doing the best you can.

Approaching your anxiety with curiosity instead of judgement will help you understand it and find ways to manage it.

Remember, anxiety is a very common condition and there are lots of things you can do to get help.

What works for each of us will be different. You may need to try a few different approaches before you find one that helps you. Your health professional can also help you find the best approach.

Topics on this page

Practical places to start

It’s a good idea to try a range of self-help strategies. You might find different strategies work for different situations or symptoms. There is no right or wrong formula, so don’t be afraid to try them all.

Identify your triggers

There are often things, known as triggers, that can lead to anxiety. These can be different for everyone. You can also have more than one trigger. You may not always be able to avoid your triggers, but when you recognise them, it can help you to manage your anxiety.

Common triggers include:

  • caffeine, alcohol or tobacco
  • stressful or loud environments
  • tests or interviews
  • socialising
  • financial problems
  • health concerns or medical check-ups
  • relationship problems
  • travelling
  • side effects of some medicines
  • phobias.

Understand your triggers

You can try to understand what is contributing to your anxiety by following these eight steps:

  1. Write what you are anxious about.
  2. Write some things you could do to reduce or stop your anxiety.
  3. Go through each of your ideas from the previous step. For each one, ask:
    • What do I need to do to try out this idea?
    • What obstacles might I face in trying out this idea?
    • Do I think the idea will really help?
    • Am I willing to try out this idea?
  4. Pick the idea you like most.
  5. Plan how you can try the idea.
  6. Try the idea.
  7. Ask yourself if this action helped your anxiety levels.
  8. If your first idea didn’t work, try another one.

It can also help to talk about this strategy with someone you trust. They might help you or give you other ideas.

Find words to replace anxious thoughts

When you have anxious thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “This is going to be awful”, it can be helpful to think of different words that might reduce your anxiety.

Choose words you use regularly. The words should also focus on what you want to happen. When you say the words, try to believe they are true. Be confident about your ability to cope. You can also imagine a trusted person is advising you on how to handle the situation.

Select one or two statements from the list below or make up your own. Repeat the statements at least seven times each day. You can repeat them when you remember to, or when you feel anxious.

  • I am okay.
  • I can do this.
  • I am peaceful and at ease.
  • I am calm.
  • I have the strength to deal with anxiety.
  • I let go of anxiety.
  • I am strong.
  • I am dealing with anxiety.
  • My anxieties are thoughts, not reality.
  • I am letting go of all I cannot control.
  • I accept my anxieties – they are just thoughts.
  • This will pass.
  • These are fears, not facts.
  • Anxiety won’t hurt me.
  • If I stay in the present moment, I will manage.

Talk to someone you trust

When you were growing up, you might have learnt to keep your feelings and concerns inside. If you have anxiety, keeping your feelings inside can make you feel alone. When you talk to others, you will feel better and might learn some new strategies.

You might talk to your partner, friend, a family member or work colleague.

Find someone who:

  • you can trust
  • will listen to you
  • accepts you as you are
  • won’t judge you
  • might offer suggestions but won’t tell you what to do.

Express yourself

There are lots of ways to express your thoughts and feelings to reduce your anxiety. We have listed some ideas, but you might like to express yourself in other ways.

Write a journal

You can write your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Buy a notebook or write your thoughts on your computer or an app. You might do this when you notice anxious thoughts or as part of a regular routine, for example, daily or weekly. It’s totally up to you. But make sure this activity is helpful and doesn’t make you feel stressed. It’s important be honest and non-judgemental about your feelings. Remember to keep your journal private – unless you choose to share it with someone you trust.

Be creative

You can reduce your anxiety by expressing yourself creatively. Depending on your interests, you might try things like creative writing, gardening, painting, knitting or singing. Being creative helps you let go of anxious thoughts and gives you a sense of achievement.

Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques can slow down your heart and breathing rates, reduce blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. They can also help you to focus on the present moment. There are many different relaxation classes and apps to explore. Remember, everyone is different so if one technique doesn’t work, try another one.

Progressive muscle relaxation

When your body feels relaxed, it can help lessen your anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation helps you notice the first signs of tension in your muscles so you can relax them. Try tensing a muscle group (e.g. shoulders) then slowly relaxing them.

This video shows how to do progressive muscle relaxation:

Deep breathing

You can try deep breathing as part of your daily routine or when you start to feel anxious. This technique can be done anytime, anywhere.

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Focus on your breath. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose and let it fill your tummy. Then breathe out gently through your mouth.
  2. When you breathe in, imagine you are bringing energy into your body.
  3. When you breathe out, let go of any tension in your body.

This video shows how to do deep breathing:

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is when you pay attention to what’s happening right here, right now. Research shows that mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety. Mindfulness techniques are similar in effectiveness to cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) or psychological therapy.

Emerging evidence also shows that when mindfulness practices focus on building self-compassion they could be even more effective.

Self-compassion means being kind to yourself when you’re having a hard time or notice something you don’t like about yourself. It’s important to acknowledge these moments and think about how you can take care of yourself.

Mindfulness can be a useful starting place to help with your anxiety, or it can be used in addition to other interventions.

Try this mindfulness exercise:

Next time you go for a walk, breathe deeply and notice what’s happening around you. Focus on what you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Be interested and curious. Try to stay in the moment.

In this podcast, mindfulness expert Peter Muizulis guides you through a mindfulness meditation that you can practise right now, and return to time and again.

Remember, mindfulness takes focus and practise, so keep trying!

Meditation

Meditation is a type of mind-body relaxation therapy. There is some evidence to suggest meditation might help reduce anxiety, stress, blood pressure, chronic pain and insomnia.

Meditation involves concentrating your mind on one thing such as breathing, body movements, sounds, or even a mantra (chant). Meditation can help you to stay calm and focused in the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or future.

There are many different types of meditation, including mindfulness meditation and visualisation meditation. All can be beneficial. But it’s important to find a practice that works for you.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation involves slow breathing and letting thoughts come and go without paying too much attention to them. The aim is to reduce the number of thoughts and focus on the present moment.

Visualisation or guided imagery

This involves imagining a scene where you feel at peace and are free to let go of tension and anxiety. For example, using your five senses, imagine:

  • a beach, forest or calm place
  • the flame of a candle
  • a gentle-flowing river.

If you find it hard to quiet your mind and imagine a different scenario on your own, you can try a guided imagery meditation app.

Yoga

Yoga is a form of meditation. The gentle body movements can help you feel relaxed. Research suggests yoga can:

  • improve mood and create a sense of wellbeing
  • reduce stress
  • reduce heart rate and blood pressure
  • improve muscle relaxation.

Yoga classes might help you to:

  • feel calm by focusing on your breathing
  • build strength and flexibility and release muscle tension
  • relax your body and mind

Laughter

Laughter can reduce feelings of anxiety. Have you ever noticed how you feel after a good belly laugh?

That’s because laughter produces natural chemicals that:

  • lower blood pressure
  • lower heart rate
  • increase immune system function
  • reduce stress.

To add a bit more laughter to your life, you could:

  • watch a funny movie or clips on YouTube
  • play games with your family
  • hang out with your friends
  • read a funny book.

Pets

Pets can improve your physical and psychological wellbeing. If you cannot take on the responsibility of a pet, you could offer to mind or walk someone else’s pet.

You might be able to get an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs are trained to keep people grounded during panic attacks, reduce social anxiety and provide comfort.

Debbie, 63, Rosebud

Anxiety has been part of Debbie’s life since she was a child. “I never knew how to deal with it then.” Since first speaking to a doctor about it in her 30s, she now actively manages her anxiety with medication, funny films, singing and dancing, good friends, getting out among nature and her cuddly cat Timmy.

Watch Debbie's story of anxiety.

Online programs and apps

If you’re looking for information online, it is best to use websites, apps, and blogs from well-respected sources such as those with government backing or from an organisation with experts who understand anxiety.

Online programs
  • Heads up – Beyond Blue – information about mental health in the workplace: headsup.org.au
  • eCentreClinic (Macquarie University) – free online treatment courses for people with symptoms of anxiety and other mental health problems: ecentreclinic.org
  • E-couch – a self-help interactive program covering depression, generalised anxiety and worry, social anxiety, relationship breakdown, and loss and grief: ecouch.com.au
  • MoodGYM – help to prevent and manage anxiety and depression: moodgym.com.au
  • This Way Up – tools to help manage anxiety and depression, hosted by the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression, St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of NSW: thiswayup.org.au
Journal writing

Read tips on how to write a journal

Progressive muscle relaxation

Watch this video about progressive muscle relaxation

Deep breathing

Watch this video about deep breathing

Mindfulness

In this podcast, mindfulness expert Peter Muizulis guides you through a mindfulness exercise that you can practise at any time

Watch the video featuring Dr Craig Hassed from Monash University talking about mindfulness and how it can help you feel calm and relaxed.

Meditation apps

You can try:

Insight Timer

Headspace

Smiling Mind

Calm Meditation

Sleep Stories

Buddhify

Health – alcohol

Read the Australian alcohol guidelines

Health – smoking

For health advice about smoking visit Quit.org.au

Health – sleep

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

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: 17 August 2022 | Last reviewed: 28 June 2022

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