what is anxiety & the effects on mental health

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Anxiety is more than feeling stressed or worried. It can be tough to cope, but with the right support, things can get better.

Download our factsheet on anxiety

Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. The experience of anxiety is our body’s way of preparing us to manage those difficult situations. Sometimes anxiety can help us perform better by helping us feel alert and motivated.

Anxiety can come and go – but for some people, it can stick around for a long time and end up having a big impact on their daily life. When this happens, it might be time to do something about it.


What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but there are some common signs and symptoms of anxiety.

Physical changes can include: 

  • a racing heart

  • faster breathing

  • feeling tense or having aches (especially neck, shoulders and back)

  • sweating or feeling dizzy

  • shaking

  • ‘butterflies’ or feeling sick in the stomach.

Changes to thoughts can include:

  • worrying about things a lot of the time

  • being unable to control the worries

  • having trouble concentrating and paying attention

  • worries that seem out of proportion.


Other changes can include:

  • being unable to relax

  • avoiding people or places like school or parties

  • withdrawing from friends and family

  • feeling annoyed, irritated or restless

  • difficulty getting to sleep at night or waking up a lot throughout during the night.

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health challenges  experienced by young people. People can experience different types of anxiety disorders, but it’s important to know that they can all be treated.

Generalised anxiety

Some people may worry about things a lot of the time, They may feel that their worries are out of control. They might feel tense and nervous most of the time, have trouble sleeping or find it hard to concentrate.

Social anxiety

Some people may experience intense anxiety in social situations because of a fear of embarrassment or judgement. This may lead a person to start avoiding situations where there are other people, like hanging out with friends or going to work, school or uni.

Separation anxiety

Some people experience intense fear about being away from loved ones, like parents or siblings, or often worry about them being hurt.


Some people feel intense anxiety about being in particular environments outside the home. This can include public spaces, public transport, enclosed spaces or crowds.

Panic disorder

Some people have recurring panic attacks and ongoing fears about experiencing more  panic attacks.

Specific phobias

Sometimes a person may experience a fear of a particular situation or object, like a small space or spider, that leads to a person avoiding a situation or object.

Lots of people avoid things they’re scared of. When it gets in the way of daily life, that’s when it’s time to get support.

Panic attacks are sudden rushes of intense anxiety or fear together with frightening thoughts and physical feelings.

Frightening thoughts might include:

  • ‘I’m going to die.’

  • ‘I can’t breathe.’

  • ‘This isn’t going to stop.’

  • ‘I’m having a heart attack.’

Physical feelings might include:

  • pounding heart

  • sweating

  • difficulty breathing

  • shaking

  • feeling dizzy

  • feeling sick.

Panic attacks can feel overwhelming but are usually short (about 10 minutes). It’s important to know, they do pass.

YouTube Video

All about anxiety

If you’re worried you have anxiety, or you think that someone you care about is struggling check out this group chat.

For all other group chat transcripts click here

What can I do to manage anxiety?

There are plenty of ways to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t get in the way of your daily life.

Care for yourself

Managing anxiety starts with good self-care. Try to eat well, get enough sleep and stay active to help your overall mental health and wellbeing.

Talk about it

It’s a good idea to talk about how you’re feeling – whether it’s with your family, friends, a teacher, coach, your mob or Elders. They can help you understand what’s going on, stick to your self-care goals and get extra help if needed.

Notice your thinking patterns

Being aware of what thoughts are influencing your anxiety is an important step towards managing it. It can help you understand what contributes to your anxiety and what your triggers are. This can help you to handle them differently and learn new ways to cope.

Be aware of avoidance

It’s normal to want to avoid situations that make you feel anxious. It might work in the short-term, but over time it can make your anxiety feel worse.

This is because you don’t get the opportunity to learn that the thing you fear may not happen or be as bad as you think.

Learn some skills to cope with anxiety, like helpful self-talk and relaxation, then gradually face the things you fear and put your skills into action. As you realise you can manage anxious situations, you’ll become more confident and motivated to keep it up.

Try new breathing strategies

Lots of anxiety symptoms involve a cycle of physical sensations. Working on controlling your breathing is a good way to try to interrupt that cycle. Reach out breathe is a good place to start.

Limit your use of alcohol and other drugs

While these things might help you to feel good in the short term, they can make you feel much worse in the longer term. There are lots of ways to limit your alcohol and other drug use.

Anxiety and depression

Many young people experiencing an anxiety disorder may also experience symptoms of depression. This can make things much more confusing. If you think this is happening to you, it’s important to reach out for support.

Online programs and apps

There are lots of websites and apps that can help you cope with anxiety 

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

 Last reviewed 9 August 2018


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