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Anxiety is a common, normal and healthy experience. However, from time to time, people of any age 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.
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How to get help for the different levels of anxiety

Anxiety can be mild, moderate, severe or panic level. This is based on how distressing the symptoms are and whether the anxiety affects a person’s day-to-day life.

Mild anxiety can impact emotional, social and professional functioning, but it rarely gets in the way of your day-to-day activities. If left unaddressed, mild anxiety can lead to unhealthy coping strategies or more severe symptoms. Mild anxiety can usually be managed using self-care strategies.

Moderate anxiety has a greater impact on day-to-day life than mild anxiety. You might feel on edge, or like you can’t control your worrying, for a few days a week but not every day. Although the symptoms can be disruptive, moderate anxiety can be managed using self-care strategies. or with the help of a mental health professional.

Severe anxiety can be really distressing and negatively affect your quality of life. You might have physical symptoms of anxiety most of the time and feel like you can’t keep up with your work, study, hobbies and relationships. This type of anxiety is best treated with the help of a mental health professional.

Panic-level anxiety can involve extreme fear, heart palpitations and rapid breathing. You might also experience frequent panic attacks, which may be really frightening and can disrupt your life. If you experience ongoing panic attacks, you should seek professional help. Learn more about panic attacks here.

It’s important to know that everyone’s experience with anxiety is different, and the intensity of symptoms can vary from day to day, and even during a single day. For instance, someone can generally have moderate symptoms of anxiety but experience panic-level anxiety in response to something stressful happening. If you’re unsure what level your anxiety is, it’s useful to consider how much it gets in the way of living your life and doing what you want to do.

When should you seek professional help for anxiety?

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, peer workers and youth workers.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is considered the most effective treatment for common anxiety disorders.

CBT involves working with a mental health professional 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.

Behaviour therapy

Your mental health professional might use behaviour therapy either as a component of CBT or by itself. 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 have shown resilience in the past.

Learn more about different types of therapy here.

Medication

Medication may be prescribed to treat severe anxiety and is known to be effective when taken in combination with psychological treatment and 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 at a small cost. 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 7–17 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.
  • MindSpot: eight-week online CBT courses for anxiety and depression. You can choose to have contact with a therapist during the course, or to work independently. The Mood Mechanic Course is designed for people aged 18–25 years.
  • Head to Health: check out this database for more examples of online therapies.

Anxiety support groups

Your local area might have organisations that run support groups for people experiencing anxiety. Examples of face-to-face or online ones are:

Check out your local community centre or library to see what support groups they might have.

Getting help for anxiety and mental health concerns isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. It will take time to figure out what combination of treatment and strategies works for you. If you feel like you’ve tried to get better but nothing has worked, learn what you can do here.

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