Most people are familiar with feeling anxious before a significant event such as an exam, or being pulled over for speeding. This mild anxiety gears you up for action, to study harder for that exam or to face a threatening situation. In general, it helps you cope with stressful situations.

However, when anxiety persists after the event or threat has passed, it can get in the way of coping and interfere with how you live your life. You may feel 'on edge' most of the time, without any noticeable reason. The feelings that geared you up before just don't rest, and may make you so uncomfortable that you stop doing your normal everyday things. Sometimes these feelings can be so strong that they may be quite frightening.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems, and the term covers a wide range of conditions including phobias (such as claustrophobia and agoraphobia), panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder. Anxiety disorders are not a character weakness or a matter of having a 'bad case of nerves'. Feeling anxious is not your fault, and is certainly not something to be ashamed of or to hide from others who may be able to help you. Without support, it may become a serious problem affecting your work, family and social life. It can also be difficult to work out the difference between feeling anxious and feeling depressed. Sometimes these go hand in hand, sometimes not - your doctor or mental health professional can explain this further.

Anxiety fact sheet (PDF, 806.19 KB)


Anxiety can present with a wide range of signs or symptoms, sometimes dependent upon the type of anxiety disorder that a person may have. However, some of the very basic signs may include:

  • persistent thoughts about a particular situation or event,
  • excessive worrying,
  • difficulty sleeping,
  • chest pain or discomfort,
  • muscular aches, pains and headaches,
  • trembling, shaking or dizziness,
  • sweating,
  • feeling as if you are choking or having trouble breathing,
  • fearing that you are losing control or going crazy.

These are only a few signs and the signs do vary. Some of these signs can also be symptoms of serious physical problems and it is important that you DO NOT simply assume that any of these are anxiety - get them checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.

Getting help

Your chain of command is a primary resource that can provide advice, referral and support. Other than in an emergency, you can also contact your local ADF Health Centre, Mental Health Professional, Chaplain, or the Duty Officer/Officer of the Day for immediate assistance and referrals. In an emergency situation call 000.

Contact details for accessing services and support can be found on the Garrison Health Centres page and the Helplines page.

To learn more about anxiety you can access some of the websites under 'Further Information' (below).

A range of web-based and smartphone self-help apps for anxiety can be found on the Web and Mobile Apps page.

Anxiety in the ADF

The 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Well-being Study indicated that the three most common anxiety disorders in the ADF are panic attack (7.1%), specific phobia (6.0%) and social phobia (3.8%). These rates are similar to those within the Australian community.

Symptoms for different anxiety disorders are likely to first occur at very different ages. For example, the average age for first experiencing specific and social phobia is in the teenage years. In contrast, the average age for first experiencing panic disorder, generalised anxiety and agoraphobia is in the mid-20s.

While it is well know that depression is associated with suicide, anxiety disorders have also been shown to be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviours for ADF members.


A diagnosis of anxiety does not automatically preclude a member from deploying provided they have been effectively treated and have been free of symptoms for a specified period of time. Defence conducts an assessment of the risks associated with particular operations and some operations may not be suitable for a member experiencing specific health conditions. Assessment of suitability for future deployments is carried out on an individual basis.


Treatment for anxiety typically consists of therapy with an experienced professional and the member, family, couple, or group, and/or prescribed medication.

Anxiety related difficulties often respond well to simple lifestyle changes and to changes to the way you think about yourself, your world and your life. You may like to use some of the following strategies to help yourself:

  • maintain a healthy lifestyle - eat nutritious meals and exercise regularly,
  • learn controlled breathing and relaxation techniques,
  • limit your alcohol and caffeine intake,
  • try to ensure you get enough sleep,
  • schedule time to relax or unwind.