Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation and occurs in anticipation of a future threat. It is usually short-lived and commonly associated with feelings of stress, worry, tension, nervousness, and fear.

Anxiety can be beneficial in some situations, and from an evolutionary perspective anxiety is advantageous. It heightens our abilities to pre-empt and detect threats in our environment, prepares us to fight/flee dangerous situations, and by replaying events over (which is a common feature of anxiety) allows us to anticipate and prepare for future risks. A moderate degree of anxiety can motivate us to do better and to be productive.

However, anxiety can also be unhelpful as it can cause us to overestimate the likelihood of danger occurring, and to underestimate our ability to cope if the event were to occur. Anxiety can also cause excessive worrying about past and future events. A common feature of anxiety is the avoidance of situations that trigger or worsen the anxiety symptoms. 


Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Physical: restlessness, headaches, racing heart or tightening of the chest, gastrointestinal upset, muscle tension, difficulties sleeping, sweating, trembling/shaking, feeling lightheaded and breathing difficulties
  • Behavioural: avoidance, procrastination, excessive need for control, impatience, social withdrawal, and restlessness
  • Psychological: Ruminative worry or catastrophising about things that have happened in the past or things that might happen in the future, fear of losing control, fear of “going crazy”, feeling detached from oneself, making constant comparisons, feeling on edge, dread, and specific fears or phobias
  • Cognitive: Problems with concentration and memory, indecisiveness and mind going blank

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life[1].  Importantly, there are effective treatments for anxiety.

Anxiety disorders differ from normal or transient feelings of fear, nervousness or anxiousness. In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the symptoms must be persistent, disproportionate to the situation, age inappropriate, and cause impairments in functioning[2].

There are different types of anxiety disorders. The most common include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia

There are a range of effective treatment options available for anxiety.

  • Psychologists can diagnose and treat anxiety. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness and lifestyle changes have been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety.
  • Speak with your GP to rule out an underlying health condition contributing to the symptoms of anxiety. A GP or other medical doctor might also be able to offer advice on whether medication could be of assistance.


The Solicitor Outreach Service – Help when you need it

If anxiety is impacting your quality of life, help is available. The Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) is an independent and confidential psychology counselling service for NSW solicitors.

NSW solicitors can call SOS on 1800 592 296 for access to:

  • Up to three counselling sessions with an SOS psychologist per financial year, paid for by the Law Society of NSW
  • 24/7 telephone crisis counselling with a psychologist.

The SOS psychologists are trained in the use of evidenced-based strategies to treat common mental health concerns, such as anxiety, and are also familiar with the challenges commonly faced by NSW solicitors.

If your or someone else’s life is in danger, phone 000 immediately.

The below articles might also be helpful:

Want to learn more about anxiety?

  • Australian Psychological Society – Information about anxiety disorders here
  • Black Dog Institute – Resources and support for anxiety here
  • Centre for Clinical Interventions – Self-help resources for anxiety and stress here

Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Manager.

First published Friday 15 October 2021

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National survey of mental health and wellbeing: Summary of results, 2007

[2] American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.