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Understanding feelings of worry and anxiety

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Everyone worries about things that are important to them such as money, health, family, work; it’s a normal part of life. Feeling worried or anxious is a common response to a stressful situation. 

Anxiety is your brain and body’s response to an actual or potential threat. When you feel threatened, you may start breathing faster and your heart rate may increase. Your muscles may become tense, or you may feel shaky. Your skin may get flushed or very pale, your pupils may dilate, and your mouth may go dry. You can be on high alert or agitated, and may feel like you need to leave the place you're in.

All these are your brain and body’s way of preparing you to deal with the threat by confronting the challenge, running to escape it, or freezing to hide from it — known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

On this page, you'll find services that can help you with what you're going through, plus helpful information around understanding and managing worry and anxiety

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Are you struggling to cope?

If your anxiety and worry are getting on top of you and it all feels like too much, you can reach out for support. 

Services that can help

If you need some support, or aren't sure where to start, there are a few options available:

  • Try the Head to Health quiz. It can help you understand what you're experiencing and point you to suitable services and resources.
  • Call Head to Health for free on 1800 595 212 for mental health information and referral.
  • Try one of the services listed below. There is a wide range of options, no matter the kind of support you’re looking for. You can choose which suits you best.
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What causes worry and anxiety

Feeling anxious or worried every now and then is normal. It is also common for these feelings to increase when there are other things impacting your wellbeing, including:

  • not getting enough sleep, nutrition, or exercise 
  • your life being out of balance — for example, when work or school demands are high, with less chance to do things you enjoy such as hobbies, exercise, daily routines 
  • dealing with illness that someone you care about or you are going through
  • managing uncertainty due to difficulties with finances, housing, or relationships 
  • dealing with lots of change or new situations.

How much you worry is partly related to genetics and personality, and partly to your experiences and beliefs. For example, if you believe worrying about a person or situation is helpful, you will likely spend more time worrying, which isn’t helpful.

When does worry or anxiety become a problem?

Worry can initially draw our attention to a situation we might need to address. Sometimes it can leave us feeling unsure about what to do, and this can lead to anxiety. That isn't always a bad thing; more mild levels of worry and anxiety can be helpful. For example, feeling anxious about an upcoming exam or a job interview can help motivate you to prepare more thoroughly.

But sometimes we can get stuck in cycles of worry, or the fight, flight or freeze response gets triggered when it doesn’t need to be. If this becomes a pattern, it can start to be a problem. 

A few signs that you may need to consider taking extra steps include:

  • constantly feeling restless or on edge
  • regularly experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, difficulty breathing, or nausea
  • having headaches, muscle aches, or unexplained pains
  • having sleep problems such as sleeping too much or having trouble falling asleep
  • spending lots of time worrying, which can sometimes feel like endless worries going round and round in your head, with no answers
  • going out of your way to avoid situations that you think could make you anxious or worried.

Is it anxiety, an anxiety disorder, or something else? 

There will be times in your life when worry and anxiety increase for a short time. This is a normal response, and most of the time, these feelings go away once the stressful situation is over or becomes more manageable. People with anxiety disorders have more intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

If your anxiety and worry feel constant, unpredictable, or overwhelming, and are seriously impacting your life, it may be related to an anxiety disorder or some other underlying mental health condition. Physical health issues such as chronic pain and illness can also impact your mood and mental health.

Learn more about mental health conditions and disorders.


Reaching out for help

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, or you’re finding it hard to manage, talk to your GP. If you don’t have one, you can use our Find a GP tool.

How to cope when you’re feeling anxious or worried

Taking steps to look after your wellbeing can help reduce your anxiety in the long term. If you do find yourself getting worried or anxious often, there are some steps you can take.

Worrying and feeling anxious don’t help you understand and tackle the problem you’re facing, and you can sometimes find yourself getting stuck in worry. It can be helpful to redirect that energy into problem solving.

Effective problem solving involves:

  • identifying or defining the problem
  • thinking about possible solutions
  • evaluating your possible solutions and weighing up the pros and cons of each
  • deciding on a plan to carry out your preferred solution
  • carrying out the plan
  • evaluating the outcome; if your problem was solved, that’s great. If not, you can go back through the steps to try a different solution.

Try to identify the common causes of your worry and anxiety, as well as what helps to reduce it and what tends to make it worse. This can help you manage it more effectively.

Writing in a diary can often help you identify and understand your feelings. You can note down the times or situations where you worry more or are more anxious. Do this when you’re calm as well and include strategies that help you manage. You can consider starting a gratitude journal. Focusing on the things you're grateful for can give you hope and help you reduce the impact of negative thoughts and cope with uncomfortable feelings.

When you’re worried or anxious, you may stop making space for rest and leisure activities. It may feel like you don’t have the time or energy for these things or that they’re not important. But getting enough rest and downtime, even when you’re busy, can refresh your energy and help you to manage the worry and anxiety more effectively.

How you think about something affects how you feel about it. Often, you may feel anxious about something because you think you can’t do it or the consequences of not doing it well will be huge. People can often fall into habits of unhelpful thinking. Examples of this include focusing on the worst outcomes or only focusing on negative feedback and ignoring the positive.

Try to challenge your unhelpful thinking and look for a more balanced way to look at the situation. A good strategy to try is to ask yourself what you would tell a friend in the same situation. You will often find that you’re more generous and positive in what you would say to a friend than how you talk to yourself. Try and replace your negative thoughts about yourself with a more balanced or positive view. 

If you’re comfortable doing it, talking to someone can be a great way to put things in perspective. Telling someone about what’s worrying you can help you process your feelings. It can also give you a chance to ask for help with the situation or the tasks that are adding to your anxiety. We have helpful tips on how to start the conversation.

You can’t control our feelings, and it takes practice to notice negative thinking and turn it around. You might criticise yourself for feeling the way you do, or compare yourself to others, but that usually just leads to feeling worse. Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, no matter how they may appear on the outside.

Try and be kind and compassionate with yourself and take time to look after your wellbeing. This might be something as simple as having a long nap or a hot bath, watching your favourite movie, or playing with your pet. If you feel like you need some help, reach out to friends, family, or a professional.

If your worry and anxiety are related to what’s happening in your life, there are things you can do to get through tough times. Learn more about coping with unexpected life events.

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Supporting someone else

It can be hard seeing someone you care about going through a tough time. If you're worried about them, it's important to let them know. Check in and see how they're doing. Knowing you care about them might be all they need, or they might need your support to get help. If you're not sure where to start, we have helpful tips on practical things you can do to support someone.


Looking for more information and services?

You can browse a wider range of resources on Head to Health with our search tool.