Anxiety is a common, normal and healthy experience. However, from time to time, people of all ages may feel overwhelmed by thoughts and sensations associated with anxiety. If you’ve been experiencing overwhelming anxiety for a long time, have tried self-help strategies without success, or are finding that your anxiety is getting in the way of things that are important to you, such as relationships, work or school, your next best step is to seek professional support.
This can help if:
- anxiety is affecting your life
- you’re worried you have an anxiety disorder
- you would like more information on treatments and support services for anxiety.
When to see a doctor
Feeling anxious at times is normal; but if your anxiety is interfering with your everyday life, then you may need some support.
Signs that you could benefit from anxiety help include:
- You avoid places or situations as a way to manage your anxiety.
- You feel like your worrying is interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life.
- You have trouble concentrating, relaxing or sleeping.
- You feel that you can’t control your anxiety.
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviours. If this is the case, seek help immediately.
Types of treatment for anxiety
If you think you need professional support, there are various types of mental health professionals who can help, including psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers and youth workers.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is considered the most effective treatment for common anxiety disorders.
CBT involves working with a clinical psychologist to look at patterns of thinking (cognitions) and actions (behaviour) that make you feel anxious. Over time, CBT aims to challenge and change the unhelpful thinking patterns that may contribute to anxiety or prevent you from getting better. Once you learn to recognise those thinking patterns, your mental health professional will support you to challenge them with new thinking patterns that improve your coping skills and reduce your anxiety.
Your therapist might teach you to:
- recognise the difference between productive and unproductive thoughts
- monitor your self-talk
- challenge your fears and beliefs
- let go of worries and solve problems
- test out the reality of negative thoughts
- use relaxation and breathing techniques to control the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Your mental health professional might use behaviour therapy together with CBT. Behaviour therapy focuses on changing behaviours to improve mood and manage anxiety – for example, by challenging you to engage in activities that you usually avoid. Taking small steps in exposing yourself to these situations demonstrates that you can cope with them, rather than have to avoid them. It also helps to put your worry about the situation into perspective.
Behaviour and exposure therapy can be done in person, or with the use of online tools or virtual reality.
Other types of therapy
Health professionals can offer a variety of other therapies that focus on different aspects of recovery:
- Interpersonal therapy: focuses on relationships with others and yourself, and on ways to connect and communicate with people who are important to you.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy: encourages actions that are in line with your values. It includes mindfulness, a technique that supports being present with what’s happening in the moment, which helps with mood regulation.
- Narrative therapy: this is based on understanding the ‘stories’ that we use to describe our lives. There is an emphasis on identifying our strengths, and on examining occasions when we’ve shown resilience in the past.
Medication may be prescribed to treat severe anxiety and is known to be effective when taken in combination with psychological treatment and other self-help strategies. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and side-effects, and you will work together to find the right dosage and type for you.
Online therapy for anxiety
There are some online anxiety treatment programs available for free or a small fee. You might want to try these if you’re unable to physically get to the doctor’s, or if you can’t afford treatment even with a mental health-care plan, or if you simply want to give it a go before seeing a GP.
For people with mild to moderate anxiety, online therapies can be just as effective as face-to-face treatment. You can work through these programs on your own, as they can be used with or without a professional. Most e-therapies offer some sort of support from a psychologist via email, text or phone.
- New Access: a free, six-session program with a professional to help support you through the stress of everyday issues.
- BRAVE Self-Help: an online therapy tool that can be completed at home and at your own pace. BRAVE Self-Help is available to all young people living in Australia aged 7 to 17 years. There are also versions of the program for parents.
- E-couch: an online cognitive behavioural therapy designed for working through anxiety. It is most helpful if used alongside professional help.
- This Way Up: clinically designed courses to help improve symptoms associated with stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression. During COVID-19, all courses are being offered for free.
- Head to Health: check out this database for more examples of online therapies.
Your local area might have organisations that run support groups for anxiety. There are face-to-face or online ones, like:
- Grow (national)
- Understanding Anxiety (NSW, general anxiety and OCD)
- Anxiety Recovery Centre (VIC)
- Find more support groups listed here.
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