Anxiety disorder 

What is an anxiety disorder? 

Everyone feels anxious from time to time, especially when confronted with challenging situations. Anxiety is your body’s way of responding to a stressful situation or when you feel under pressure. In moderation, anxiety can be useful – it can enhance focus, alertness and motivation. This type of anxiety is normal and usually ceases once the challenging situation has been resolved. Anxiety disorders are different. The anxiety experienced is ongoing, appears for no apparent reason and causes significant difficulties in functioning and daily life. The term anxiety disorder refers to a broad range of disorders including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, phobias and generalised anxiety disorder. This fact sheet provides general information on anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is a common mental health condition experienced in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and among veterans.

Signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder

  • Excessive worry about one or multiple things
  • Feeling restless, on edge, or close to panic
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Heart racing 
  • Tingling, coldness and numbness
  • Chest pain, breathlessness and a choking feeling  
  • Muscles tension, pain, aching and shaking 
  • Sweating 
  • Nausea, butterflies and a dry mouth 
  • Avoiding people or places 
  • Not going out 
  • Going to certain places at certain times, e.g. shopping at smaller shops, at less busy times 
  • Going to places but using coping behaviours to get you through: examples include self-talk, holding a drink, smoking more, fiddling with clothes or medication.  These are called 'safety behaviours'. 

Managing symptoms of an anxiety disorder

Seeking help from a qualified mental health practitioner is important. Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated with full recovery possible for some and for others, management of symptoms can be achieved. There are also a number of self-help strategies you can try including:

  • Gradually doing the things you normally avoid.  Whilst it will feel uncomfortable, you will learn that you can enjoy these events, and that the anxious feeling does go away.
  • Gradually decreasing any 'safety behaviours' you may be using, starting with the least important and building up over time to the most important.
  • Doing regular exercise
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Maintaining a healthly balanced diet 
  • Talking to people that care about you and who you trust
  • Keeping a regular sleep pattern
  • Minimising or ceasing drug and/or alcohol use
  • Educating yourself on your mental health issues and learning to recognise the early signs or relapse or a worsening of symptoms. 

When you notice feelings of anxiety arise, it can be helpful to ask yourself questions such as:

  • What am I reacting to? 
  • What is it that I think is going to happen here?
  • Is there another way of looking at this? Is this fact or opinion?

Where to get help

If you’re a veteran or family member who is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, or have been diagnosed and need support, reach out to Mates4Mates on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) for a confidential chat.

Alternatively, talk to a trusted General Practitioner about your health concerns or for 24-hour crisis-support phone Open Arms on 1800 011 046. If it’s an emergency, phone 000. 

Other helpful resources