How to cope with anxiety

Self-help tips that can make a difference

Everyone gets anxious from time to time - when you're worried about how to pay an unexpected bill or waiting for medical test results, for example - but some people find that their anxiety is constant.

See also: Could you have an anxiety disorder?

Around 3 million people in the UK suffer with an anxiety disorder (and a further 3 million have depression) according to Anxiety UK. If anxiety is a problem for you, there are things you can do to help:

1. Get regular exercise
Exercise is a powerful stress reducer and may improve your mood. Research shows that regular cardio exercise (such as going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes) can lower overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise your mood and help you sleep. In fact, just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can be enough to help reduce your anxiety levels. According to one study, people who got regular vigorous exercise were 25% less likely to develop depression or anxiety over the next five years.

2. Stop smoking and cut back on caffeine
If you smoke and suffer with anxiety, ask your GP about help to quit. Smokers think that nicotine helps them to relax - but it's the nicotine that causes anxiety in the first place. If you can break the addiction, you should see your anxiety levels improve as well as your general health. Nicotine patches, lozenges and gums are available for free on the NHS - these will help control any feelings of anxiety and combat other withdrawal symptoms while you quit.

Caffeine is another stimulant that can make your anxiety worse. Cut back on cups of coffee and tea, or switch to de-caff, and avoid energy drinks that contain caffeine.

3. Learn relaxation techniques
Whether you chose visualisation, mindfulness meditation or yoga, practising a relaxation technique can help you cope when you feel a surge of anxiety. Even something as simple as putting a hand on your stomach and taking four slow, deep breaths in and four out again can help. Reading self-help books is a good way to understand anxiety and pick up some useful techniques. Making Friends with Anxiety: A warm, supportive little book to ease worry and panic, (£3.74 from Amazon)has good reviews.

4. Consider joining an anxiety group
Sometimes, you may find it difficult to talk to a partner, friend or relative about how you're feeling. Joining an anxiety support group (and meeting up face-to-face or talking online) can help. Compassion, understanding and advice from those who know what you're going through can make all the difference. See your GP, who may be able to refer you for counselling, psychotherapy or help through an online mental health service, such as FearFighter. You can also find groups through and

When it's time to see your GP
If worry is affecting your daily life, it's worth speaking to your doctor. Anxiety is the main symptoms of several conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder and a proper diagnosis is important in order to get the help and treatment you need.

Generalised anxiety disorder
One of the most common anxiety conditions is called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). This long-term condition affects around 1 in 20 adults in Britain, with women slightly more at risk than men. It causes you to feel anxious about a variety of things and situations, rather than being triggered by one specific event. You may find that your worry jumps from one thing to the next - your finances, to your health, to your children, for example. Those with GAD feel anxious most days and often find it hard to remember the last time they felt relaxed.

Whatever form your anxiety takes, don't suffer in silence. See your GP or contact a support group for help and advice.