Lifestyle changes

“If you feel that your life is spiraling out of control – with too many demands from your work, home, partner, family and friends – maybe it’s time to simplify,” suggests Wendy Green, author of Anxiety – a Self-Help Guide to Feeling Better.

“If you regularly feel under pressure and stressed because of a lack of time, try reviewing how you structure your days. Keep a diary for a week to see how you spend your time and then decide which activities you can cut out or reduce to make more time for the things that are most important to you.” It won’t hurt to be a little selfish, occasionally, for the sake of your mental health.

Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is a way of noticing how our attention gets pulled in different directions, and it’s a way of practicing the gentle, persistent art of returning our attention to the present moment,” says Dennis Tirch, cognitive therapist and author of Overcoming Anxiety.

“Mindfulness training has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for a range of psychological problems, such as depressive relapse, anxiety and emotion-regulation difficulties. By developing our ability to be mindful, and by learning how to apply mindfulness to more healthy methods of coping with stress, we may become able to change our habitual and unhelpful responses to anxiety.”

Diet

“We use a number of therapies to treat anxiety, including exercise physiology, psychology, nutritional, medical and naturopathic support, gut health work and detoxification support for clients dependent on alcohol, medications, illicit drugs, sugar and caffeine, which we see a lot of in people living with anxiety,” says PettinaStanghon, founder of mental health rehabilitation centre Noosa Confidential.

Dr Malcolm Clark, Melbourne GP and author of Doctor in the House, says that stress and anxiety play a major role in irritable bowel syndrome, both in triggering and worsening symptoms, including bloating, abdominal cramps, flatulence and loose, frequent bowel motions or constipation. To combat ‘gut anxiety’, eat a low GI diet (which also helps regulate blood sugar levels), reduce fatty foods and alcohol, and increase fibre intake.

Medical support

A number of medications are available that provide effective relief – but not a cure – of anxiety. The first option, usually, are SSRI’s (or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Traditionally used to treat clinical depression, and a little slow to kick in from the outset (they can take a couple of weeks to ‘build up’ to the complete benefits) they have proven to be very successful for many people. MAOI’s (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which inhibit the breakdown of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, are a similar option that may be recommended.

“As effective as tranquillizers can be, they are less frequently prescribed today because they are addictive if taken for a long period of time and at a high enough dose,” says Nydegger “Also, increased tolerance can become an issue, which means a patient needs to continually increase the dosage for it to be effective.”

Exercise

Bret Moore, psychologist and author of Taking Control of Anxiety explains, “Numerous studies have been conducted over recent years showing that exercise alone, or in combination with psychotherapy, is effective in reducing anxiety associated with a variety of anxiety disorders.” In fact, one study found that regular exercise can be as effective as medication in people with panic disorder.

“Vigorous and sustained physical activity promotes the release of endorphins: neurotransmitters in the brain that promote a sense of euphoria and contentment,” says Moore. “This phenomenon allows joggers to overcome fatigue and pain during long-distance running.”