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Anxiety, fear and panic

Most people feel anxious or scared sometimes, but if it's affecting your life there are things you can try that may help.

Support is also available if you're finding it hard to cope with anxiety, fear or panic.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety can cause many different symptoms. It might affect how you feel physically, mentally and how you behave.

It's not always easy to recognise when anxiety is the reason you're feeling or acting differently.

Physical symptoms
  • faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat
  • feeling lightheaded and dizzy
  • headaches
  • chest pains
  • loss of appetite
Mental symptoms
  • feeling tense or nervous
  • being unable to relax
  • worrying about the past or future
  • feeling tearful
  • not being able to sleep
Changes in behaviour
  • not being able to enjoy your leisure time
  • difficulty looking after yourself
  • problems concentrating at work
  • struggling to form or maintain relationships
  • worried about trying new things

Symptoms of a panic attack

If you experience sudden, intense anxiety and fear, it might be the symptoms of a panic attack. Other symptoms may include:

  • feeling that you're losing control
  • sweating, trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath or breathing very quickly
  • feeling sick (nausea)

A panic attack usually lasts 5 to 30 minutes. They can be very frightening, but they're not dangerous and should not harm you.

Information:

If you're not sure how you feel, try our mood self-assessment.

Things you can try to help with anxiety, fear and panic

Do

Don't

  • do not try to do everything at once – set small targets that you can easily achieve
  • do not focus on the things you cannot change – focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better
  • do not avoid situations that make you anxious – try slowly building up time spent in worrying situations to gradually reduce anxiety
  • try not to tell yourself that you're alone; most people experience anxiety or fear at some point in their life
  • try not to use alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve anxiety as these can all contribute to poor mental health

Anxiety control training audio guide

In this 6-minute audio guide, Dr Chris Williams talks about how to relax and beat your anxieties, today and in the long term.

Media last reviewed: 2 March 2018
Media review due: 2 March 2021
Information:

Further information and support

The mental health charity Mind offer more information on:

Your Mind Plan on the Every Mind Matters website sends personalised tips and advice to your email inbox.

Where to get NHS help for anxiety, fear and panic

Referring yourself for therapy

If you need more support, you can get free psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS.

You can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you're struggling to cope with anxiety, fear or panic
  • things you're trying yourself are not helping
  • you would prefer to get a referral from a GP

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if:

  • you need help urgently, but it's not an emergency

111 can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone. Go to 111.nhs.uk or call: 111.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E now if:

  • you or someone you know needs immediate help
  • you have seriously harmed yourself – for example, by taking a drug overdose

A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a medical emergency.

Find your nearest A&E

Causes of anxiety, fear and panic

There are many different causes of anxiety, fear or panic and it's different for everyone.

When you're feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

This can be helpful in some situations, but it might also cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating. In some people, it might cause a panic attack.

Regular anxiety, fear or panic can also be the main symptom of several health conditions. Do not self-diagnose – speak to a GP if you're worried about how you're feeling.

Identifying the cause

If you know what's causing anxiety, fear or panic, it might be easier to find ways to manage it.

Some examples of possible causes include:

  • work – feeling pressure at work, unemployment or retirement
  • family – relationship difficulties, divorce or caring for someone
  • financial problems – unexpected bills or borrowing money
  • health – illness, injury or losing someone (bereavement)
  • difficult past experiences – bullying, abuse or neglect

Even significant life events such as buying a house, having a baby or planning a wedding could lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.

You might find it hard to explain to people why you feel this way, but talking to someone could help you find a solution.

Find out more about the 5 steps to mental wellbeing.

Conditions related to anxiety, fear and panic

A table showing some of the conditions related to anxiety, fear and panic
Symptoms Possible cause
feelings of anxiety that will not go away, anxiety is affecting your life generalised anxiety disorder
overwhelming fear of something specific like an object, place or animal phobias
regularly experiencing panic attacks panic disorder
often reliving traumatic past experiences, nightmares and flashbacks post-traumatic stress disorder

Page last reviewed: 15 October 2019
Next review due: 15 October 2022