Anxiety is a normal human emotion. However, some people find themselves worrying or feeling anxious so often that it interferes with their day to day life. Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting approximately 15% of the population.

Anxiety disorders range from generalised anxiety disorder through to panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although it may sometimes feel like anxiety controls us, there are things you can do and skills you can learn to overcome anxiety.

Key points

  1. Learn about anxiety and anxiety disorders to help you make sense of how you feel.
  2. Break problems into simple goals and small steps.
  3. Learn how to think constructively and positively.
  4. Engage in techniques to help you relax.
  5. Spend time with people who can support you and help you to handle negative emotions and thoughts.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion and most of us experience some degree of anxiety due to a stressful event or misfortune. However, some people find themselves worrying or feeling anxious so often, that it interferes with their day to day life and is formally recognised as one of the anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting approximately 15% of the population. The categories of anxiety disorders includes:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition.
  • Panic attack.
  • Panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia).
  • Phobia disorders:
    • specific phobias– spiders, heights, flying, confined spaces, etc
    • agoraphobia – fear of open spaces
    • social phobia– also known as social anxiety disorder.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Acute stress disorder.

You can take a test to assess your anxiety (GAD 7) (Also available in multiple languages)


Generalised anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder. This is when people are extremely worried about things or overwhelmed with anxiety and fear – even when there is little or no reason to worry about them

Generalised anxiety disorder presents with a range of psychological and physical symptoms such as:

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly "on edge" or irritable
  • difficulty concentrating
  • impatience
  • being easily distracted
  • dizziness
  • irregular heart beat (palpitations)
  • dry mouth or excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and or stomach ache
  • headache
  • poor sleep
  • painful or missed periods and many more.

Symptoms can come on gradually or build up quickly. As anxiety increases, it can lead to changes in your behaviour. You may find yourself withdrawing from social contact and not wanting to see your family and friends to avoid feelings of worry and dread.

People can also find themselves needing more 'sick' days and lacking self-esteem. With generalised anxiety disorder, it can be hard to know what the cause is or why certain things trigger you to worry.


Generalised anxiety disorder can be treated. There are a range of treatments available to you. The first step is 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. Aside from the self help therapies discussed below, you can also try a talking therapy and/or medication, which you health professional will tell you about. 

Self care

The choices we make every day of how we live, eat, work, relax and react are very important to reducing anxiety in our lives. The following are some of the things you can do to take control and reduce anxiety building. 


Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or running, is an excellent antidote to reduce stress and tension. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit most of the day and being physically active for 30 minutes a day or more is one of the best things you can do for improving mental and physical health. It improves mood, energy levels, our immune system, reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease and many more besides. It also encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood and wellbeing.

Smoking & alcohol

Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make feelings of anxiety worse. Aim to reduce your drinking to a maximum of 1 or 2 drinks per day. If you smoke, stop! Talk with your doctor/nurse or ring QuitLine for advice, support and nicotine replacement therapy.


Relaxing also helps. Find ways to learn relaxation and breathing exercises or try yoga, pilates or tai chi. 


Check what you are eating. Too much caffeine, sugar or fast food can act like dirty oil and upset your system. 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.

Self help programmes

There are many great online courses and programmes that you can do online that can help you with your anxiety:

Beating the Blues®

This programme treats depression and anxiety by using cognitive behavioural therapy.

  • 7 out of 10 people who have used Beating the Blues® have been able to overcome their depression.
  • Beating the Blues® offers you 8 weekly online treatment sessions of 50 minutes.
  • It is an evidence-based programme recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the UK.
  • To access this programme, you need to be willing to do the weekly sessions and see your GP to check it is right for you and a referral.

This Way Up

This Way Up is a programme developed by the Centre for Research in Anxiety and Depression Disorders and the University of New South Wales. There are a range of assessment tests and self-help programmes you can take online, at your own pace. They currently offer a range of self-help online or supervised courses. 

Computer assisted learning for the mind (CALM) 

This online resource was created and managed by Dr Antonio Fernando, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. The website has a range of tools, audios and resources to help people cope with stress and managing life. Scientific studies on what makes people truly and genuinely happy show the importance of four main things:

  • Mental resilience.
  • Managing stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Healthy relationships.
  • Finding meaning in life.

Build a support network

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 look up online through links below.

Understand anxiety

There are hundreds of great books, workbooks, videos, online programmes and anxiety apps to help you understand anxiety and learn practical tips and skills for taking control of your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Most are based on cognitive behavior therapy, an evidence-based approach previously limited to one-on-one therapy with a psychologist.

Discover new skills & deal with specific stresses

Learn more

Anxiety Mental Health Foundation of NZ

CALM Website 

A guide to what works for anxiety disorders beyondblue

Health Translations Directory State Govt Victoria, Australia

Generalised anxiety disorder in Adults NHS Choices, UK

Credits: Health Navigator Team. Reviewed By: Editorial team Last reviewed: 30 Jun 2016