what is anxiety & the effects on mental health

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Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. It's our body’s way of preparing us to face and manage challenging 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, or happen in situations where you wouldn't normally expect to feel anxious. This can end up having a big impact on their daily lives.

It can be tough to cope, but the good news is there are things you can do and ways you can get support.


Download our fact sheet on anxiety

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What are the symptoms of anxiety?

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


Physical signs 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.
Anxiety 101 video

Thoughts can include:

  • worrying about things a lot of the time

  • feeling like your worries are out of control

  • having trouble concentrating and paying attention

  • worries that seem out of proportion.


Other signs can include:

  • being unable to relax

  • avoiding people or places like school or parties

  • withdrawing from family and friends

  • feeling annoyed, irritated or restless

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

Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fears and are some of the most common mental health challenges experienced by young people. They can significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with others. 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, TAFE 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.

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. You can also learn about stress and explore different ways you can manage it.

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 support you, 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 how your thoughts can influence 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 respond. Learn more about unhelpful thoughts

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. Learn more about avoidance

Try new breathing strategies

Lots of anxiety symptoms involve a cycle of physical sensations – pounding heart, shortness of breath, trembling and butterflies in the stomach. Working on slowing your breathing is a good way to try to interrupt that cycle. There are many apps that can help with this; you might want to try Breathe2Relax.

Limit your use of alcohol and other drugs

While alcohol and other drugs 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.

Getting support

For some people, using these tips will be enough to manage symptoms of anxiety. But if anxiety is impacting on your life (i.e., you’re finding it hard to cope and your social, work or studies are being affected), then it’s a good idea to get professional support.

Youth support services

For more information or support find your nearest centre or contact eheadspace, our phone and online service 

Additional youth support services 

Kids Helpline: kidshelpline.com.au or call 1800 55 1800 (5-25 years) 

ReachOut: reachout.com.au (under 25s) 

SANE Australia: sane.org or call 1800 187 263 (18+ years) 

Lifeline: A 24-hour crisis service: lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 14 (all ages) 

Talk to your local doctor/ General Practitioner (GP) or you can search for a health service and GP on Head to Health

Other useful resources 

headspace interactive activities can help you reflect on your needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. These include unhelpful thoughts, problem solving and being kind to yourself.

headspace Group Chats hosts many discussions for young people with clinicians on a range of topics. You can join the chat or view the transcripts. Log in or create a headspace website account to see what chats are coming up or happening now. 

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 23 November 2022


Get professional support

If you feel you need help there are a range of ways we can support you.