Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, affecting two million Australians every year.
If you're experiencing anxiety, you're not alone. 1 in 4 people in Australia experience anxiety at some point in their life.
While anxiety symptoms can have a major impact on a person's life, there are many ways to get support, build your resilience and improve your mental health.
You can practise the coping strategies for anxiety in this article at any time – whether you're living with a mental health condition or simply feeling anxious about a particular stressor in your life.
While these coping strategies are effective at managing anxiety, they aren’t a replacement for professional mental health services. If your symptoms aren’t going away or are impacting your day to day life, it's important to reach out for help.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the body's natural response to a threat or something that’s perceived as a threat
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, and in some circumstances it can actually help keep us safe.
But for some people, the anxious feelings don't go away.
People with anxiety may see things as worse than they are, find it hard to fall asleep or have trouble concentrating at work.
Anxiety and panic attacks may make it hard to carry out everyday tasks, go to particular places or participate in certain activities.
Types of anxiety
Everyone's experience with anxiety is different.
The things that trigger anxiety, the symptoms a person experiences and the way it impacts their life all vary from person to person.
People may be diagnosed with different types of anxiety – or more than one type.
It's also common for anxiety to occur alongside other mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder.
The most common types of anxiety include:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety
- Specific phobias
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Symptoms of anxiety
People with an anxiety condition might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling nervous, helpless or overwhelmed
- A sense of panic, danger or doom
- Obsessive thinking
- Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
- Difficulty concentrating, restlessness or irritability
Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing or hyperventilation
- Muscle tension or trembling
13 coping strategies for anxiety
If you're experiencing anxiety symptoms that aren't going away, it's important to seek help.
For most people living with an anxiety condition, professional mental health support is the best way to get coping tools and strategies.
Some people also need medication to manage their condition.
There are also many lifestyle and self-coping strategies that can help.
The coping strategies for anxiety below are tools that anyone can use, whether you're living with a long term anxiety condition or find yourself feeling anxious at times.
Mental and emotional coping strategies for anxiety
1. Get to know yourself
Understanding more about your anxiety and triggers can help you find solutions and coping strategies that work for you. If you feel intense anxiety or experience a panic attack, spend time later on thinking about what happened and what might have helped ease the situation.
Keeping a diary is a good way to track your anxiety and any related factors that might be impacting your anxiety such as sleep, menstruation or workplace stress. Reflecting on your experiences like this can help you notice patterns.
You may also want to write down times when things went well or when you felt proud of yourself. Anxiety can often make us focus on the negative, so intentionally celebrating your small wins can be a helpful thing to do.
2. Practice positive thinking
Anxiety can often lead to negative thought patterns, worst case scenarios and rumination. When you find yourself experiencing anxious thoughts, try taking a step back to gain some perspective. Challenging your negative thoughts can be a good way to take back control in your mind.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What's the evidence that these thoughts are true?
- Is there a more realistic or positive way to look at the situation?
- How likely is it that the thing I'm worried about will happen?
- What would I say to my friend if they had these anxious thoughts?
Anxiety can be hard to cope with at times, but it's important to stay hopeful that things will get better. Self-acceptance is a key step towards better wellbeing and recovery.
3. Try mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness exercises help you focus on the present moment, which can be useful if you find yourself often worrying about the future or ruminating about past events. You can practice mindfulness wherever you are. It can be as simple as eating your lunch slowly and noticing the different tastes and textures – or closing your eyes and listening to music.
Meditation can also be a helpful tool for focusing your mind. There are many different types of meditation practices, depending on your needs. Simple breathing meditations get you to focus on your breath. Mantra-based meditations focus on a particular word, phrase or sound. There are also active types of meditation such as yoga, tai chi and meditative walking.
4. Write down your thoughts
There's evidence to suggest that writing down your worries can help you focus better and provide a sense of relief. When you write, don't focus on your grammar or spelling. Instead, use a free-flowing writing style, just getting your thoughts down on paper.
Writing your concerns down can help you think more logically about your problems, or see your worries from a different angle. Try rereading what you've written and challenging negative thoughts. You could even use your journal to imagine different possibilities or outcomes – or to plan how to deal with anxiety that arises in the future.
5. Set aside a time to worry
If you find that your worries are overtaking your whole day, try setting a specific time in your daily routine to 'do your worrying'. Set a timer for 10 minutes and let your worries out. This can help you feel a sense of relief while preventing yourself from ruminating on anxious thoughts.
Physical anxiety coping strategies
6. Watch what you eat
Eating a nutritious and balanced diet and drinking plenty of water is good for your overall health and can help boost your mental well being too. Your diet can have a bigger impact on your anxiety than you might realise. Some types of foods make anxiety symptoms worse while other foods have been shown to relieve anxiety symptoms.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and stay away from foods that make you feel irritable or anxious. Eat lots of vegetables, whole grains and fruit, and try not to skip meals as drops in your blood pressure could make you feel jittery.
Some foods and have been linked with decreased anxiety, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. fish, nuts, plant oils)
- Magnesium rich foods (e.g. spinach and kale)
- Fermented foods (e.g. kimchi, sauerkraut and miso)
- Green tea
Your diet can have a significant impact on your mental well being, but it shouldn't be a substitute for other anxiety coping strategies or professional help. If you're taking medications, be sure to discuss herbal and natural remedies with your doctor to avoid any adverse reactions.
7. Stay active
Exercise is important for our overall health, but it's also a powerful coping strategy for anxiety. Even simple activities like going for a walk, attending a dance class or swimming laps at the pool can ease anxiety symptoms.
Exercise helps with anxiety on multiple levels:
- Moving releases tension in your muscles and can help your body relax.
- Focusing on your body's movements is a great way to divert your mind from what's causing you anxiety.
- Exercise causes your body to release anti-anxiety chemicals like serotonin which can help lift your mood.
- Exercising with others can be a mood booster and help you build important social connections.
8. Get enough sleep
Anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep, get enough sleep or feel rested. But it goes the other way too – poor sleep can also heighten anxiety symptoms. If you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may even feel anxious about going to bed.
Creating healthy habits around sleep can set you up to get more and better quality sleep, which can have benefits for your mental and physical health.
Here are some sleep tips that can help you better manage anxiety:
- Create a bed time routine to help you wind down.
- Try relaxation techniques before bed, such as meditation or deep breathing.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol after midday.
- Eliminate noise, light and other disturbances from your bedroom as much as possible.
- Use sleep apps, podcasts or music if you find yourself ruminating at night.
- Talk with your doctor about natural remedies and medications to help you sleep better.
9. Do breathing exercises
Anxiety and panic attacks can trigger shallow breathing and hyperventilation. Sometimes you might not even notice that your breathing is shallow or that your muscles have tensed up. By taking deep, deliberate breaths, you can help your body release tension and stimulate a calming response.
You can practice mindful breathing anytime, anywhere. It can be as simple as taking two or three deep breaths whenever you're feeling anxious. Or you can make it a daily routine to sit down for 10 minutes, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Here are some breathing exercises that can help with managing anxiety:
- Deep breathing – breathe in deeply, hold your breath for five seconds, and then release slowly.
- Alternate nostril breathing – alternate between breathing through one nostril and then the other.
- Count your breaths – breathe in on one, breathe out on two etc.
- Three-part breathing – breathe into your belly, then your ribs, then your chest. Exhale out your chest, your ribs, your belly.
Anxiety coping strategies that involve others
10. Stay connected
Social connection is one of the core pillars of mental health. Anxiety can be isolating at times, especially if you are living with social anxiety. It's important to make time in your routine to see others and stay connected. Investing in your friendships and relationships can relieve stress, help you feel more supported and build your long term resilience.
11. Perform acts of kindness
Giving back to your community, looking after others or working on a team project can help you focus your mind on something other than your worries. Consider volunteering in your local community or writing notes of gratitude to people in your life. Acts of kindness and compassion can actually boost your mental health, and reduce anxiety, depression and stress.
12. Talk to someone
Talking about your feelings and experiences with a trusted person can help you feel more understood and connected. If you're not comfortable talking to a friend, colleague or family member, you can call a mental health helpline such as Beyond Blue, MindSpot or Lifeline.
If you're finding it hard to cope, talking to your GP is a good place to start. They can recommend you to a psychologist or other mental health services to get you the support you need.
Peer support groups in your local area can connect you with other people who have similar experiences to you. Having support from others can help you feel less alone, and you may discover further anxiety coping strategies that have worked for them.
13. Make changes to your environment
If you know particular environments or situations are triggering for you, look for ways to avoid your triggers or reduce their impact. For example, if deadlines and a busy schedule is a source of stress, try using organisational tools or reducing your workload.
At work, you can ask for accommodations to help reduce stress and anxiety in your job. Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to create a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. They may even be eligible for funding through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) to redesign the workspace, purchase special equipment or make other accommodations to help you do your job.
If you're struggling to cope at work or find a job because of anxiety symptoms, you may be eligible for support through Disability Employment Services. Providers like APM can help you prepare for work, find suitable job opportunities and access workplace modifications that are right for you.
When should you get help for anxiety?
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, and many of the coping strategies for anxiety in this article can help ease symptoms. However, if your anxious feelings aren't going away, are causing panic attacks or are affecting your day to day life, it's important to ask for help.
Speaking to your GP is a good place to start. Or you can call a mental health helpline.
For more tips on how to cope with anxiety, check out our other guides:
- Living with anxiety: symptoms, treatments, coping strategies, employment and supports
- The ultimate guide on how to get a job with anxiety
- Fulfilling and rewarding jobs for people with anxiety