How to manage your anxiety as a young person

Anxiety is really common when you're young. There are a lot of life challenges through your teenage and early adult years. Here you can find information, resources and services to support you to manage your anxiety.

Key points about anxiety

  1. Experiencing some anxiety is normal, but if it is so strong that it interferes with you being able to carry out your normal day-to-day life, it is considered to be an anxiety disorder.
  2. Anxiety disorders range from generalised anxiety disorder through to panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias and social anxiety disorder
  3. Anxiety disorders are very common. Approximately 1 in 4 New Zealanders will be affected by an anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives. At any one time, 15% of the population will be affected.
  4. Although it may sometimes feel like anxiety controls you, there are things you can do to manage and even overcome an anxiety disorder.
  5. The key things you can do are to take good care of yourself through a healthy lifestyle, get help and support, and learn about anxiety and techniques for managing it.

Find out more about anxiety, including what it is, what causes it and how it is diagnosed. 

What can I do to manage my anxiety?

There are lots of things that can help you to manage your anxiety. There is a range of treatments available, including talking therapy, self-care, learning anxiety management techniques and medication. The first step is to talk with your GP who will discuss these with you and together you can decide which is best for you. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist for talking therapy. 

Medication

Depending on how severe your anxiety is, your doctor may prescribe medication for anxiety. Medication is best used together with other therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Medication helps to alleviate symptoms but addressing the underlying issue (either through self-help or therapy) is usually needed to produce long-lasting change.

Antidepressants, mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found to be effective in managing panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. Examples of SSRIs include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline. In some people, venlafaxine may be used for panic disorder. 

When starting these medications, your doctor will start you on a low dose and, if needed, will increase your dose slowly. This allows your body to get used to the medicine and reduces side effects. You must keep taking your medication every day – not just when you feel anxious. 

It may take 4 to 6 weeks to notice the full benefits of the medication. These medications may initially make your symptoms appear worse before you notice an improvement. Other side effects include nausea (feeling sick), headache, sleep problems and sexual problems. Read more about SSRIs and venlafaxine.

Other antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants, may be used if SSRIs or venlafaxine are unsuitable or have not been successful. Read more about antidepressants.

Techniques for managing anxiety

You can learn some new skills that make a big difference in how well you manage your anxiety. Instead of the anxiety controlling you and what you do, you can take charge. Things you can do to break out of the cycle of anxiety include:

  • understanding anxiety
  • accepting and tolerating normal anxiety (and knowing when yours isn't)
  • taking small steps towards doing the things you are worried about coping with, instead of avoiding them
  • learning mindfulness
  • taking good care of your self each day
  • dealing with issues that need addressing 
  • getting personal and professional support.

Read about tips for managing anxiety. See also anxiety apps and e-learning programmes.

Self-care

The choices you make every day of how much you move, what you eat, how much sleep you get, whether you take time to relax and whether you smoke or drink are all important to reducing anxiety.

Exercise

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or running, is an excellent antidote to stress and tension. Bodies are designed to move, not sit most of the day. Being active for 30 minutes a day or more is one of the best things you can do to improve your mental and physical health. Exercise encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood and make you feel calmer.

Diet

Too much caffeine, sugar or fast food can upset the balance in your body and mind that helps you feel well. Caffeine and energy drinks can disrupt sleep, speed up your heartbeat and increase anxiety. Try eating regular meals, a healthy breakfast, more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods. Find out more about healthy eating basics.

Sleep

While anxiety can affect your sleep, not getting enough sleep can also contribute to making you more anxious. Make sleep a priority. Follow our sleep tips to help with this.

Relaxation

Taking time each day to relax helps to reduce anxiety. Learn relaxation and breathing exercises or try yoga, pilates or tai chi. Spend time outside in nature. Do things that you enjoy, make you feel comfortable or lift your mood. Learn more about looking after your mental health.

Smoking and alcohol

Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make feelings of anxiety worse. Aim to reduce your drinking to no more than 1 or 2 drinks per day or avoid it completely. If you smoke, stop! Talk with your doctor/nurse or ring QuitLine for advice, support and nicotine replacement therapy.

Support

Build your support network – a few people you can go to when things are tough. There are also a range of support organisations. Some offer face-to-face meetings where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many provide support and guidance over the phone or by email.

Ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety in your area or contact one of these support groups.

Learn more

Anxiety depression.org.nz
Anxiety NZ Trust
 
Anxiety The Lowdown, NZ
Anxiety Mental Health Foundation, NZ
CALM website The University of Auckland, NZ
Anxiety self-help resources Centre for Clinical Interventions, Australia
Anxiety Health Translations Directory, Australia
What is anxiety & the effects on mental health Headspace, Australia
Generalised anxiety disorder in adults NHS Choices, UK, 2018
How dogs can help with mental health – mind boosting benefits of dog ownership UK, 2018
The Big Feels Club Articles and podcasts about life + feelings
Mental Wealth NZ
Just a Thought NZ
Anxiety Fresh Mind, NZ
Togetherall UK

Reviewed by

Dr Mieke Garrett is a clinical psychologist with experience in both community mental health and private practice. She works with people experiencing a wide range of difficulties but has a particular interest in stress and anxiety, as well as mood disorders. Dr Garrett has also lectured for Massey University and supervised students in the Postgraduate Diploma in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Mieke Garrett, Clinical Psychologist Last reviewed: 25 Mar 2019