Anxiety: what you need to know

If you have anxiety you are not alone. It is one of the most common mental health issues in Australia. The sooner you get help, the more likely you are to get better. Find out more about anxiety and the things that can help you feel better.


What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear or unease.

Everyone will have feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. It usually happens when we feel under pressure or are in situations that are stressful. During times like these, feeling anxious can be very normal.

For some people, these worries or fears happen for no reason. Or they don’t go away. They can also affect many parts of daily life, like work, study, relationships and home life. When this type of anxiety happens a person may need help so they can feel better and have less anxiety.

What does it feel like?

Anxiety does not feel the same for all people. You might feel it in your:

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‘I have a racing heart’, 'My chest feels tight’, ‘I find it hard to sleep’, ‘I have panic attacks’, ‘I feel tired’, ‘My muscles feel tight



‘I feel very worried’, ‘I can’t focus’, ‘I feel irritable’



‘I stay away from doing things or going to places that make me feel anxious’

Anxiety that can affect your mental health doesn’t always happen all of a sudden – the feelings can come on slowly over time. The feelings don’t just go away and may last 6 months or more.

You can use these simple tests to help you measure how you’ve been feeling over the past 4 weeks:

What can help?

Speak to your doctor if you think you have anxiety. They can help you find ways to feel better.

Our factsheet Anxiety and depression: Find the path that works for you might be helpful to read.


Psychological treatment

Learn ways to change how you think about and react to things that make you feel anxious. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or an online course.


Your doctor may suggest a medicine, like an antidepressant. This is not an option for everyone.

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Self help

There are things you can do in your daily life, like getting enough sleep and trying to move about more (exercise).

Your doctor can help you decide the best things for you to try. Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What can I do?
  2. Why are these the best choices for me?
  3. When will I feel better?
  4. What if I don’t feel better?
  5. How much does it cost?

You might also like to read this factsheet Anxiety and depression: find the path that works for you.

Who can get anxiety?

It can affect people at any stage of life, from children to young people and adults.

It’s more common if you or the person you’re caring for:

  • have other people in your family with anxiety or mental health issues
  • have a certain type of personality eg, feeling very shy or wanting things to be perfect
  • are going through or have been through a major life event, such as death of a loved one
  • have other mental health issues, such as depression
  • have other health problems. This could be problems with your heart (heart disease), sugar levels (diabetes) and breathing (asthma).
  • use alcohol and other drugs.

Types of anxiety

See your doctor if feelings of anxiety are making it hard to carry out or enjoy your day-to-day life. These may be signs of an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder –Feeling anxious on most days about many things rather than one cause.
  • Social anxiety disorder – Feeling anxious about or staying away from social situations. This could be when you’re doing things in front of others, talking to people or being the centre of attention. Fear of being embarrassed or judged by others.
  • Specific phobias – Feeling anxious about or staying away from certain objects or events. Such as a fear of flying stopping someone from going on a trip.
  • Panic disorder – Having panic attacks for no clear reason and feeling anxious it will happen again. A panic attack is a sudden, brief feeling of intense fear that reaches a peak within minutes. They can last up to half an hour and leave you feeling tired and worn out.

How do I get help?

Speak to your doctor as soon as you can. They can help you find ways to feel better.

Your doctor will ask you about:

  • your mood, thoughts and actions in the last few weeks. They might ask you to fill out surveys about how you’re feeling.
  • any recent events in your life
  • changes in your body, such as whether you’ve been eating the same or having problems sleeping
  • problems at work, school, home or with friends
  • any other mental health issues for you or your family.

It may take more than one visit to work out the best treatment for you. Your GP can:

  • listen to how you are feeling
  • rule out any other health problems
  • explain the things that can help, like:
    • lifestyle changes
    • talking to a mental health professional who can help with anxiety, such as a psychologist,
    • taking medicines.

When you see your doctor, be open and honest about the way you are feeling. Ask questions to help you learn more about anxiety and the type of help you can get. Here are some questions you can ask:

Download the beyondblue booklet for more information on treatments for anxiety.

If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 or text 0477 131 114 or chat at
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or get online counselling support at
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or chat at

For immediate help or in an emergency call 000.

Psychological treatments

These can help you deal with anxiety by changing the way you think.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most tested and works for most people. CBT helps you change your patterns of thinking and the way you react to things that make you feel anxious.

You will:

  • learn how to think and behave differently in stressful times
  • slowly start to face things that make you feel anxious – the fear will get less over time
  • learn exercises to help you relax when you feel anxious.

Watch this video to learn more about CBT from MIND

You can do CBT by meeting with a psychologist or other mental health professional. You can also use online CBT courses. Some of the online courses offer phone or email contact with therapists who can support you. Many of the online CBT courses are free.

Online CBT programCostTherapist support


Free if prescribed by a GP or psychologist registered with THIS WAY UP

No (email, video or chat) (phone or chat)


Your doctor may suggest taking medicine for your anxiety. You might take it instead of a psychological treatment or use them both.

Antidepressant medicines can be helpful for anxiety. They work by changing the balance of chemicals in the brain which affect mood.

A ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor’ (SSRI) is a type of antidepressant. It is often the first choice for anxiety.

How do they work?

They work by boosting serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin helps regulate mood and how you react with your emotional responses. SSRIs are very helpful for anxiety and most people can use them without many problems.

How do I take them?

You will need to take them each day. Your doctor will start with the lowest amount (dose) and slowly raise it as your body gets used to it.

How long do they take to work?

SSRIs may not work straight away. It could take 4–6 weeks to start feeling better, although most people will start to feel better within 2–4 weeks. You may feel slightly worse before you start feeling better.

How long do I need to take them?

Most people take them for at least 6–12 months. If you stop taking them too early, your anxiety may come back.

How do I stop taking them?

Stopping your medicine suddenly can cause problems. Talk to your doctor about the right time to stop. When you both agree, your doctor will slowly lower the amount you take over a few weeks.

What are the risks?

Common side effects of SSRIs:

  • feeling more worried or nervous
  • throwing up or feeling like you might throw up
  • loose or runny poo (diarrhoea)
  • headache
  • problems sleeping, or feeling sleepy
  • sexual problems.

When you first start your medicine, you will need to visit your GP every few weeks to check how you’re getting on. Tell your GP if you notice side effects, but most should improve over time.

Let your GP know if you think you might be pregnant or you use alcohol or drugs regularly. It helps them know which medicines will be safer for you or if there’s anything that could affect how your medicine works.

For people under the age of 25: You may need more visits with your doctor in the first few weeks of starting an antidepressant. Young people can have a higher chance of harmful thoughts and actions when first starting these medicines. See your doctor straight away if you’re feeling worse or having thoughts of harming yourself.

Are they hard to stop taking (addictive)?

No, they are not addictive. But stopping suddenly can cause problems so talk to your doctor about how to stop them safely.

What if they don’t work?

Your doctor may need to try different medicines to find one that works for you. This could be another SSRI. Or they might suggest a different type of antidepressant. This could be a serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).

Read more about antidepressant medicines

CBT or antidepressants?

Some people have a type of anxiety that can be helped by CBT or SSRI medicines. Understanding your needs and concerns about different treatments is important. This decision aid can help you work with your doctor to talk about what might be the best treatment choice for you. 


There are many things you can do in your daily life to cope with anxiety. For some people, doing one or some of these things will be enough to help them feel better. Other people use them along with other treatments such as medicines.

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Get moving

Exercise that gets your heart pumping may help you feel better. This might be walking, swimming, dancing or riding a bike. Using weights to strengthen your muscles and bones may also be helpful. Exercise also helps improve your energy levels and sleep.

Practice relaxation

Doing things to relax may help ease anxious thoughts and actions. There are many things you can do, including breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, meditation and yoga. You can do these at home with little or no cost. Here are some ideas for relaxation exercises from beyond blue. You can practice meditation with the Smiling Mind app.

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Get enough sleep

Having anxiety may make it hard to get a good sleep. Not getting enough sleep can also make you feel worse. Have a healthy sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

Cut back on caffeine

There is caffeine in drinks like coffee, tea and some energy drinks. Drinking too much of these can make anxiety feel worse and make it hard to sleep. Cut back on these types of drinks or don’t have them at all if they make you feel worse.

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Cut back on alcohol and other drugs

Some people use alcohol and other drugs to help them cope but they only make it worse. Cutting back may help you feel better.

Find out more about any natural or herbal medicines you are thinking about using

There are many natural or herbal medicines for anxiety:

  • lavender oil
  • fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • St John’s wort
  • valerian
  • Zinc
  • passionflower
  • kava.

You might buy these at a health food shop or supermarket. Or you might see a therapist, like a naturopath or herbal medicine practitioner. So far there is not enough good evidence to whether these work or are safe to use. You can find out more by reading:

Always tell your doctor about all the medicines you take. Some medicines, including natural or herbal medicines, can cause problems if taken together.

Further support

If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 or text 0477 131 114 or chat at
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or get online counselling support at
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or chat at

For immediate help or in an emergency call 000.

Talking to others about your feelings can be hard when you have anxiety. But talking to friends, family and other health professionals can help you feel better.

Below is a list of places you can go for support. Some of these may also have support groups for people with anxiety. Support groups can help you connect with others living with anxiety.

Beyond Blue1300 22 4636
24/7 confidential phone and online chat service with a trained mental health professional and online forums for people with anxiety and depression
Lifeline13 11 14
Text 0477 131 114
24/7 phone and online support for those thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis
Headspace1800 650 890
Free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 with their mental health
Kids Helpline

1800 55 1800
24/7 phone and online support for people aged between 5 and 25, parents and carers

More information on anxiety