Mental Health

How to cope with anxiety

When anxiety hits it can be paralysing. Here are some ways to cope and feel more in control.

When your blood pressure starts rising and panic or stress sets in, what’s the first thing you do? Bury yourself in social media as a distraction? Reach for a drink? Hide under the doona?

These common reactions to anxiety, stress or worry might feel good in the short term, but they can also add to your woes and keep you awake at night (and yes, a lack of sleep won’t help your stress levels, either). 

Taking control of, and coping with, your anxiety isn’t always as hard as it sounds. Experts reveal the most common anxiety triggers and some simple ways to remedy them. 

Digital overload 

Our handy little gadgets can expose us to stress inducing news, and trigger comparisons between real life and the rose-tinted world online – both of which can set off an anxiety response, says psychologist, Dr Jo Mitchell. 

THE SOLUTION: To better cope with anxiety, set healthy boundaries with your devices and screen time to reduce stress exposure. Dr Mitchell recommends becoming more aware of your phone usage and asking yourself, “Is this actually helping me to feel calm, focused, clear? Or can I feel agitation or anxiety building up?”

Bringing your work home

Working hard is one thing, but dwelling on it after hours can make you anxious, Dr Mitchell says. “A lot of the cause of our anxiety is our perception – what we’re thinking about, rather than what’s actually happening – and the body can’t tell the difference.”

THE SOLUTION: Giving yourself time for rest, leisure and fun is the best way to help you cope with anxiety, Dr Mitchell says. When you’re not at work, take your mind off it with relaxing activities like cooking, listening to music or meditating.

Feeling relationship strain

We often take our relationships for granted, and in times of conflict, we could assume the other person is the problem for rising anxiety levels. But we must take responsibility for the quality of our relationships, says Dr Mitchell.

THE SOLUTION: Dedicate time to listen to the people in your life. “Slow down, work out where the issue might be and what you might have influence over,” Dr Mitchell says, adding that you should also consider the types of relationships you need. If someone is constantly putting you down or draining your energy, is it a relationship you really want?

Struggling with motivation

Exercise is one of the best remedies for anxiety, so why can it be so hard to get moving when you need it most? “We want an immediate feeling of wellbeing that exercise may not provide straightaway,” says psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones.

THE SOLUTION: Start small and exercise with a friend or in a group to stay accountable. “Choose something you already know you enjoy – that’s a head start,” says Christine.

Drinking too much 

While it might help you to relax at the time, alcohol’s after effects will only exacerbate your mood the next day and make it harder to cope with anxious feelings. “You wake up and all of the things that made you feel negative, unhappy or anxious usually remain, except now you’re operating at a lower ebb,” says Christine. Plus, your body is also dealing with the added impact of sugar withdrawal and dehydration.

THE SOLUTION: Figuring out the reason behind your excessive drinking can help you break the stress-alcohol cycle and take control of your anxiety. “Know that you can get help and that things are resolvable,” says Christine.

Not getting enough sleep 

"Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to anxiety,” says Christine. “It’s a chicken and egg thing – when you’re not sleeping, you’re getting anxious, and often anxiety itself causes insomnia. It compromises your ability for lucid, objective, rational thought, and it’s usually the irrational thoughts that perpetuate anxious experiences.”

THE SOLUTION: Routine can help you form better sleeping patterns and improve the quality and length of your rest, leaving you better able to cope if and when anxiety does come calling. Try:

  • going to bed at the same time each night
  • avoiding all screens the hour before bed
  • having a bath or reading a book to relax.

Getting help for 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:

If you want to change your drinking habits, we have resources to support you taking positive steps for your health and wellbeing.

Words by Larissa Ham
Updated May 2021

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