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Treatments for anxiety

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder that can affect ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks.

If you suffer from anxiety disorder, it's important to remember you are not on your own. There are services, health care professionals and online support tools available to assist people with anxiety disorders. The first step is to get a firm diagnosis. Consulting a doctor can help you in taking this first step.

The treatments for anxiety that work for you depend both on you and the type and severity of anxiety disorder you have. Mild anxiety may be helped by making lifestyle changes, whereas more severe cases may require medication.

Recovery is possible with the right care. Common treatments and ways to manage anxiety include the following.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) involves working towards changing any problematic thinking patterns that are causing anxiety.

Behaviour therapy is a component of CBT and includes 'desensitisation', a method of slowly and safely exposing you to feared situations to reduce the anxiety that comes with them.

Breathing and relaxation techniques

Breathing and relaxation techniques are especially important for physical symptoms, and deep breathing exercises can stop panic attacks effectively. Mindfulness and other types of meditation are also helpful for anxiety management.

Moderate exercise

Exercising - even a 10-minute short walk - can help to improve how you feel and may make you feel less tired. Exercise helps boost your levels of serotonin - these are 'feel good' hormones. If you have not exercised in a long time, check with your doctor that you have no underlying health problems that might cause you to hurt yourself.

Try a brisk walk every day if you do not feel ready to undertake a rigorous exercise regime. Try to get involved in activities and pastimes you previously enjoyed - even if you don't feel like it.

There may be small tasks in the house or garden that you can do. Tackling small tasks that you may have been avoiding may help you to feel better about yourself.

Cutting down on caffeine

Caffeine can increase anxiety in some people. It can alter your sleep patterns so you are not fully rested. It also speeds up your heartbeat, which can make anxiety worse.

Try to reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet. Cutting back on tea and coffee and replacing them with water or fruit juices can help.

Avoiding caffeine products, like chocolate, cola or energy drinks after 6pm may help you feel more relaxed when you want to go to sleep.

Alcohol in moderation

If you are feeling anxious, you may feel like drinking more alcohol than usual, but this will make the anxiety worse, so you should try to drink alcohol in moderation.

The government recommends that healthy adults drink no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion. A standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. For example, 285mL of full strength beer contains 1.1 standard drinks and a small glass of wine (100mL) is one standard drink.

Quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to improve your overall health and wellbeing. It can also help reduce anxiety. If you need help with quitting you should visit your doctor for advice or visit the Quitnow website.

Medication

Medication such as antidepressants may be necessary if the above approaches are not enough. Medication is usually recommended in combination with the measures described above.

Treatment for anxiety can take time, and a good support network makes the process easier. But letting go of and recovering from anxiety is achievable.

Online support tools

Online tools may be suitable if you have mild to moderate anxiety. There is a range of different programs, most of which are backed up by phone, email, text or web chat support from a mental health specialist. These online therapies can be particularly helpful if you are living in a rural and remote area where access to health professionals may be more difficult.

At any time, if you feel that you may harm yourself or have thoughts of suicide, talk to family or friends and inform your doctor as a matter of urgency. You can ring a phone service such as Lifeline 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day. If you are the loved one or carer, dial triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: November 2016

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