How to manage anxiety: six causes and solutions

Mental Health

How to manage anxiety: six causes and solutions

Updated June 2024 | 5 min read
Expert contributors Dr Jo Mitchell, psychologist; Christine Bagley-Jones, psychologist
Words by Health Agenda Team

When anxiety hits it can be paralysing. Here are some techniques to help manage anxiety and stress so you feel more in control. 

Your heart is pounding and you can barely catch your breath. As panic or stress kicks in, your blood pressure rises and your cheeks flush. You’re in the grip of high anxiety.

Thinking your life might be in danger, your brain flicks on your fight or flight response to protect you. Hours later, you’re still wired from the adrenaline rush. So, how do you decompress? Distract yourself with social media? Reach for a drink? Collapse on the couch under a blanket for a movie marathon?

These common escape strategies from 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 (sabotaging your sleep, which won’t help your stress levels, either). 

Yet taking control of and managing anxiety isn’t always as hard as it seems. Here are some of the most common anxiety triggers and simple ways to remedy them.

1. Digital overload 

Our handy tech gadgets have many benefits, but they can interrupt our focus, stop the brain from working efficiently and expose us to stress-inducing news and time-wasting information overload. Hours spent on social media can also increase anxiety, by triggering unhelpful comparisons between real life and the rose-tinted world online. These activities can all set off anxiety responses, says psychologist Dr Jo Mitchell. 

What you can do: To reduce stress and anxiety, manage your digital exposure by setting healthy boundaries around time spent on devices, social media and screens. Put your notifications on silent and enjoy digital-free time out. Dr Mitchell also recommends becoming more aware of how often you’re glued to your phone and asking yourself, “Is this helping me feel more relaxed and focused or causing more agitation and anxiety?”

To counter digital overload, switch off your phone during dinner and spend quality time with your partner, friends, family or kids. For a quick boost to your mental health, stay off social media platforms for a week or cut back to 30 minutes per day. Try to ensure you also practise good sleep hygiene by switching your mobile phone to aeroplane mode overnight to enjoy shuteye free of any notification pings.

2. Separating work and home life

Many of us now work from home. While this can free up time you would otherwise spend commuting, it can also make it harder to switch off when you knock off. “Much 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,” Dr Mitchell says.

What you can do: Setting work ground rules can help you maintain work-life balance. Try sticking to set work hours, taking a lunch break, closing your home office door if you have one, or turning off your computer when you’re done for the day. “Avoid checking work emails before bed and on the weekend, when you might see something that stresses you but can’t be fixed until your next workday,” says Dr Mitchell.

When you’re not at work, take your mind off your job with relaxing activities like cooking, reading, meditating or listening to music or a podcast.

3. Feeling relationship strain

We often take our relationships for granted and, in times of conflict, may assume the other person is adding to our stress and anxiety. But sometimes everyday life issues like long work hours, financial pressures and juggling too much can leave us feeling tired and frustrated. To minimise the toll this takes on our home life, we may need some relationship support from a counsellor.

What you can do: 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 healthy relationships involve mutual support and respect.

4. 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 straight away,” says psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones.

What you can do: Start small and exercise with a friend or in a group to stay accountable. “Choose exercise you enjoy – that’s a head start,” says Christine. Giving yourself instant rewards can also provide incentive, like watching the sun set after your run or catching up for coffee with your friend after gym class. Once you’ve set workout goals and you’re ticking them off, consider other lifestyle goals to help reduce anxiety, like cutting back on caffeine or getting to bed an hour earlier so you don’t run late to work or school drop-off.

5. The after-effects of drinking  

Drinking too much? While it might help you to relax at the time, alcohol’s after-effects can also lower your mood and increase 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.

Having a few drinks (or a few too many) can also trigger ‘morning after’ nausea, dehydration, headache or more anxiety, or trigger hangxiety, where you ruminate over what you did or said after having enjoyed too many beers or chardonnays.

For help changing your drinking habits, try the Daybreak app*. The free app gives you access to 24/7 digital support and anonymously connects you to a like-minded community. 

What you can do: Figuring out the reason behind daily or excessive drinking can help you break the stress-alcohol cycle so you feel better able to manage your anxiety. “It helps to know that you can get help and that things are resolvable,” says Christine.

If drinking is affecting your day-to-day life, speak to your GP or a health professional for support. If you’d like to change your drinking habits, Hello Sunday Morning has resources to support you to take positive steps for your health and wellbeing.

6. 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, your anxiety often increases, and anxiety itself can cause insomnia. Sleep loss can compromise your ability to engage in objective, rational, clear thinking, then unhelpful thoughts can increase anxiety.”

What you can do: Following a routine based around good sleep habits 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 one hour before bed and having a bath or reading a book to relax.

And if sleep troubles persist, it’s important to speak to a doctor to make sure a medical issue isn't causing sleeping issues.

Getting help for anxiety

To support you with faster, easier access to qualified mental health professionals, we’re offering eligible members a free telehealth HealthyMinds Check-in with a PSYCH2U psychologist^. You can also access a range of online programs 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 programs help improve and address 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 support for your mental health:

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* 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.

^ 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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