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Understanding anxiety

29th July 2022

Did you know that anxiety affects 1 in 7 Australians1?   
Anxiety is a common mental health condition that is characterised by feelings of excessive worry or stress. It impacts everyone differently and can range in severity and symptoms from person to person. For some people, anxiety can be triggered by particular events or stressors, but for others, anxiety can be influenced by genetics, trauma, or personality type. 
Anxiety is diagnosed by a doctor or psychologist and can be successfully treated using a range of different methods ranging from psychology and lifestyle changes to mindfulness and medication.  
What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? 
It’s important to remember that anxiety is different from stress or worry2. There are times in everyone's lives when they may feel anxious, upset, worried, or stressed. However, if that stress becomes excessive, or lasts for a prolonged period of time, you may be experiencing anxiety2.

Symptoms of anxiety 
According to Beyond Blue anxiety can manifest in a number of different ways: 


panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, shaking, dizziness, or feeling tense, wound up or edgy 


racing mind, negative self-talk, excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsessive thinking 


avoiding situations that make you feel anxious, which can impact study, work, or social life. Breaking down/strained relationships with others – snapping at people, irritability, reduced social interaction and engagement with activities/hobbies 


Types of Anxiety 
Some common types of anxiety include: 

Anxiety can also be a symptom of other mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Young man sitting at a booth at a cafe. He is looking at a laptop and has his head in his hand.

Anxiety in the workplace 
Navigating anxiety at work, or when you’re looking for work can be tough.  It can affect performance, productivity, and your relationship with co-workers.  

Feelings of anxiety can build over time, so it’s not always easy to recognise the signs in yourself or others.   

Some signs you may be experiencing anxiety at work include4:  

  • excessive worry or stress 
  • trouble concentrating or meeting tasks by their deadline 
  • fatigue 
  • irritability 
  • reduced productivity and job satisfaction 
  • feeling isolated 
  • lack of confidence in your skills 
  • impaired social skills. 

Experiencing low levels of stress at work, like when you have a looming deadline, is normal and can be beneficial to motivate you and increase your productivity. But when stress starts to affect your personal life, or you begin to experience physical symptoms such as insomnia, it may be an indicator that you have anxiety.

How to manage anxiety at work 

Talk to your Manager 
Though it is not necessary to disclose mental health conditions to your manager, it can be helpful if you are struggling to manage symptoms, or if there have been unexplained changes in your productivity. Sharing your diagnosis can be scary at first, but your manager should be able to help you put strategies in place to balance your workload and stress levels.  

If you aren’t comfortable having this conversation one on one, you can also enlist the support of a trusted co-worker, partner, family member, or HR representative. For more tips, read our blog on How to talk about your mental health at work

Take time for you 
Taking the time to practice self-care is necessary to manage your anxiety effectively.  
Remember to: 

  • stop for scheduled breaks throughout the day 
  • limit working after hours 
  • take holiday leave regularly 
  • limit screen time when possible  
  • talk to your manager about flexible working hours and/or working from home arrangements. 

Relaxation and breathing exercises 
Simple relaxation exercises can also play a part in self-care and anxiety management at work.  

Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation (or progressive muscle relaxation), and visualisation are the most common forms of exercises associated with anxiety relief.  These exercises help put your body in a relaxed state. When your body is relaxed, your brain becomes more relaxed too5

Many psychologists also recommend the Drop Anchor exercise. You can do this exercise anywhere, anytime. It is often used as a first step for people needing support with anxiety or panic attacks, or any kind of emotional storm that is causing distress. 
Try these quick and easy relaxation exercises to get started, or learn more about deep breathing techniques for anxiety

Healthy lifestyle 
A healthy lifestyle alone can’t cure anxiety, but it can help. Eating a balanced diet ensures your body (and your brain) gets all the nutrients and vitamins it needs to stay healthy. And exercise activates feel-good endorphins and aids with sleep.  
Some people find limiting caffeine, and eliminating non-prescription drugs and alcohol also makes them feel less anxious. 

Educate yourself 
Understanding your anxiety is the first step to recovery. There are a number of resources available online (including apps, podcasts, and courses) that focus on mindfulness, goal setting, productivity, relaxation, and resilience to strengthen your mental wellbeing.  
Your GP or mental health practitioner will also be able to recommend some useful resources and tools.  

Ask for help 
If your anxiety is getting too hard to manage, seek support from a health professional or support service. There’s no shame in asking for help. Like any illness or health condition, there may be times when you need to take a sick day or attend appointments to help manage your anxiety.   

Two people are sitting at a table in a cafe facing eachother. They are holding hands across the table with a concerned facial expression.

Get help for anxiety 
You’re not alone. If you or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, it’s a good idea to reach out for support.  

  • Chat to family or friends about how you’re feeling. You may even be surprised to find out that they’ve been through the same challenges and can relate to your situation. 
  • Schedule an appointment with your GP. They’ll be able to talk through your concerns and provide recommendations on how to manage and treat your anxiety. Sometimes this may involve referring you to a psychologist, counsellor, or psychiatrist.   
  • If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone in person, you can access a range of phone and online support services including: 

    Lifeline on 13 11 14 
    Griefline on 1300 845 745 
    Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 
    Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 
    Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 
    Headspace on 1800 650 890 
    ReachOut at 
    MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 
    Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774 

Many workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to help you access free mental health support. Speak to your HR department to find out what support they provide.  

If you’re in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000. 

Other services you can call: 

Resources to help with anxiety  


We're here for you
Our team of Psychologists and Employment Coaches can help you navigate your anxiety to find work, or return to the workforce. We offer a range of services including, Tailored Mental Health support, Individual Vocational Support, Career Counselling, and Tailored Post Placement Support. 

Contact HELP to find out more about our allied health services, and how we can support you on your journey to work.

  5. University of Michigan Health. Stress management: Breathing exercises for relaxation