Self-help treatments for generalised anxiety disorder 

If you have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), there are many ways to help ease the symptoms of anxiety yourself.

Try a book or online course

When you're diagnosed with GAD, your GP may recommend trying self-help treatments before having more intensive psychological therapy or medication.

This usually involves working from a book or computer programme for around six weeks or longer. In some cases, you may be closely supported by a trained therapist who you'll speak to every week or two. Some treatments only involve minimal or occasional contact with a therapist, who monitors your progress.

There are numerous books and courses that can help you learn to cope with your anxiety, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends trying treatments based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of psychological treatment that can help you understand your condition better and how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. The aim of CBT-based treatments is to help you learn ways to manage your anxiety by modifying negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.

Read more about self-help therapies for anxiety.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release serotonin, which can improve your mood.

Examples of good aerobic exercises include:

  • walking fast or jogging
  • swimming
  • cycling
  • tennis
  • hiking
  • football or rugby
  • aerobics

You should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Moderate-intensity exercise should raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster.

Read more information and advice about:

Learn to relax

As well as regular exercise, learning how to relax is important.

You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or pilates to help you unwind.

You can also try this five-minute audio guide to dealing with anxiety.

Avoid caffeine

Drinking too much caffeine can make you more anxious than normal. This is because caffeine can disrupt your sleep and also speed up your heartbeat. If you're tired, you're less likely to be able to control your anxious feelings.

Avoiding drinks containing caffeine – such as coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks – may help to reduce your anxiety levels.

Read more about water, drinks and your health.

Avoid smoking and drinking

Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make anxiety worse. Only drinking alcohol in moderation or stopping smoking may help to reduce your anxiety.

To reduce the risk of harming your health: 

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. 

Read how stopping smoking can reduce your anxiety.

Read more about alcohol units and stopping smoking.

Contact support groups

Support groups can give you advice on how to manage your anxiety. They're also a good way to meet other people with similar experiences.

Examples of support groups you may find useful include:

Support groups can often arrange face-to-face meetings, where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many support groups also provide support and guidance over the phone or in writing.

Ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety in your area, or search online for mental health information and support services near you.

Page last reviewed: 01/02/2016

Next review due: 01/02/2019