Anxiety and Panic Attacks

It is normal to feel anxious or worried in situations that we see as threatening. In fact, a certain level of anxiety can be helpful in making us prepare for important life events, such as exams or job interviews, or by helping us escape from dangerous situations.

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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Physical Symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Hyperventilating 
  • Nausea

Mental Symptoms:

  • Feeling worried
  • Fearing the Worst
  • Feeling Irritable
  • Bursts of Anger
  • Finding it Difficult to Concentrate

Getting Help

If you think you or someone close to you are experiencing problems with anxiety that have not resolved themselves, speak to a GP or other health professionals.


Anxiety might feel like it will never go away, but in most cases it does get better with the right treatment.

  • Lifestyle changes are usually the first thing to try. Getting more exercise, eating healthily and sleeping well can help you feel much less anxious and more able to cope.
  • Using self-help tools can be a useful next step. Many of these are available as workbooks or as internet-based programmes. These can often be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been found to be effective for the treatment of anxiety. CBT is a treatment that helps change the way a person thinks or behaves. It identifies unhelpful ways of thinking and can help break the cycle of negative thoughts.
  • In moderate to severe cases, medication may be required. Many people find them effective, but they can have their drawbacks. Some people experience unpleasant side effects, and they can take several weeks to work. A combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medication is often the most effective way to treat anxiety.

Tips for Living with Anxiety

  • Take some time out of everyday to do something relaxing, such as listening to music, gardening or going for a walk.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs to calm yourself down when you are feeling anxious. These can make symptoms worse and can interfere with any medication you may be taking.
  • Look after yourself. Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can make you feel better.
  • You may find it helpful to keep a diary to monitor how you feel and try to identify possible triggers of anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Stick to your usual routines. Set yourself small daily goals and reward yourself for what you achieve.
  • It may be tempting to withdraw from social activities and stay at home. This will not help in the long run. It is important to stay engaged with other people and try to keep doing the things you enjoy.
  • Talking to someone you trust about how you are feeling can be helpful, and may make it easier to talk to your GP.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Make an appointment with a GP. There are lots of different treatments available that may help you feel better.

Tips for Helping a Loved One with Anxiety

  • One of the best ways to help a person with anxiety is to listen to their worries. Try to be patient and understanding.
  • Avoid being judgemental or telling them to “snap out of it”
  • Anxious people can sometimes be irritable or difficult to deal with. Try to be patient and not take their reactions personally.
  • Encourage the person having problems to stick to normal routines. Help them establish small daily goals and recognise each success.
  • If someone you care about is feeling very anxious, encourage them to get help rather than dealing with it by themselves. A good place to start is by discussing things with a GP.

Useful Links

Royal College of Psychiatrists -

This site provides a detailed patient information leaflet about anxiety as well as other mental health information. Search “anxiety” from the homepage.

Mind -

Information and support along with downloadable leaflets and real people’s stories. Search “anxiety” from the homepage.

Samaritans -

Available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress and finding it difficult to cope.

Types of Anxiety

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Feeling anxious for a long period of time about nothing specific. The feelings are often overwhelming and they may stop you from doing things you would like to do.

Panic Disorder

Experiencing panic attacks that may come out of the blue. This can cause fear of having more panic attacks and make you avoid certain situations.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Anxiety leads to obsessions (repeated unwanted thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive behaviours or mental acts). These obsessions and compulsions can stop you from living a normal life.


An intensive fear of something specific. The feared object or situation is usually harmless. A phobia will often make you go to great lengths to avoid the feared situation.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is an intense rush of psychological and physical symptoms that comes on suddenly. Experiencing a panic attack can be very frightening and uncomfortable. Panic attacks cause an overwhelming sense of fear, as well as physical sensations such as nausea, sweating and trembling. It is common to feel as though you can’t breathe, that you are choking, or as though your heart is beating too fast. Panic attacks usually last between 5 and 20 minutes, with a peak at about 10 minutes. During a panic attack, it is common to fear that you are dying or losing control.