Health Agenda

Mental Health

How to help stop anxiety

More than two million Aussies experience anxiety each year. If you’re one of them, there are ways to deal with anxiety and overcome its effects.

“I dismissed my symptoms for a long time because I was growing a business and people looked up to me,” says Amanda. “It took a breakdown to show me that what I was feeling wasn't normal and it was more than stress.”

On the outside, Amanda looked like she was content and in control. The successful small business owner was an industry leader and admired by her peers. But Amanda felt stressed and worried all the time, and was having trouble sleeping. Over 4 years, her symptoms became severe and she was eventually diagnosed with anxiety.

In an effort to put a stop to those feelings, Amanda had started withdrawing from her usual activities, avoiding situations where she thought she might be challenged or judged, and was “excessively worrying and obsessing over things”.

“I got to a point where I physically couldn't live up to expectations or put myself in front of people. A close friend rallied around me and told me I needed help.”

Amanda says her anxiety feels like constantly being challenged and out of control, and it had a substantial impact on her quality of life. “It was a feeling I couldn't shake,” she says. “It caused me to constantly question my self-worth, whether I was doing the right things and what other people were thinking about me.”

How do I know if I’m stressed or anxious?

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia and often gets confused with stress.

But while there may be crossover in symptoms, anxiety as a disorder is more than feeling stressed or anxious in response to a given trigger.

Stress is a normal part of life and usually passes once the stressor – like a deadline or public speaking event – goes away.

Anxiety is extreme worry that happens without any particular reason or cause, and, unlike stress, anxiety doesn’t just stop when things get better.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety often isn’t caused by a single factor but rather a combination of factors. This could include a family history of mental health conditions, chronic physical health issues or certain personality traits. Stress - from toxic personal relationships, traumatic events or, in Amanda’s case, work - is another risk factor.

Dr Grant Blashki, a GP and lead clinical adviser at Beyond Blue, says that while anxiety can be mild for some people, others find it seriously affects their quality of life. “People feel exhausted because their mind is racing all the time, they have trouble sleeping and it can affect their home life, relationships and their capacity to work’.”

I think I have anxiety. How do I deal with it?                                           

Different types of anxiety may call for different types of treatment.

Low levels of anxiety

For some people, discussing lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques with a GP is enough to help them overcome their anxiety, says Dr Blashki.

“Most people like to avoid heavy-duty medical treatments and a lot of people can feel better with basic changes to diet, exercise, stress management and sleep.”

Exercise relieves the effects of stress hormones and promotes relaxation, and keeping active may also increase the level of serotonin in your brain – the neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, sleep, appetite and other body functions.

Relaxation techniques like deliberate slow breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises can also help to manage anxiety symptoms.

Moderate to high levels of anxiety

If you have a higher level of anxiety, and the above approaches aren’t helping, ask your doctor or head to THIS WAY UP, a low cost online course run by the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. You can also do the course without a GP referral at your own cost if you choose. 

If you and your doctor decide you’d benefit from seeing a mental health professional, you may be able to get a Medicare Benefit for up to 10 sessions through the government’s Better Access program. This includes video conferencing if you live in a rural or remote area.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication for more severe anxiety. Speak to your GP to find the best way forwards for you. All HCF members have access to online GP consultations through GP2U for free^ until at least 31 March 2022.

How Amanda manages her anxiety

Amanda says she has learnt to identify her major stressors and ways to combat them. She now starts the day with a short walk. “If I feel myself getting overwhelmed and stressed at work, I get up and go for a walk.”

Amanda also has a playlist of calming music saved on her phone for stressful situations, and has coping strategies for better work-life balance. “Weekends are off limits for work – that was a big shift for me.”

As for public speaking engagements and networking events, Amanda says identifying what’s really important in a situation helps her to stay in control.

“If I walk into a room of people I don't know, which is one of the situations that used to put my anxiety through the roof, I think about why I'm there and what's important, like meeting new people and making new business contacts.”

Getting help: how to overcome anxiety

We're trying to make it as easy and fast as possible for you to access the mental wellbeing support you need. PSYCH2U mental wellbeing and navigation services are unique to HCF, giving eligible HCF members* access to video consultations with psychologist, psychiatrist and other allied health professionals.

You can also access a range of online courses through THIS WAY UP⁺, a not-for-profit initiative developed by experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, to help you take control of your mental wellbeing. Clinically proven, the courses understand and improve mental challenges like stress, insomnia, worry, anxiety and depression.

If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Where to find more mental health help:

Words by Angela Tufvesson
Updated May 2021

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^Some members may be eligible for Medicare benefits for a telehealth consultation with GP2U, in which case GP2U will bulk-bill those members. For mental health services, you will need a mental healthcare plan from your GP to access support. For all other services, HCF will pay the GP2U consultation fee.

*Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for 12 months. Other eligibility criteria apply

⁺This service is not affiliated or associated with HCF in any way. You should make your own enquiries to determine whether this service is suitable for you. If you decide to use this service, it'll be on the basis that HCF won't be responsible, and you won't hold HCF responsible, for any liability that may arise from that use.