How to deal with panic and anxiety

Everyone feels anxious or panicky at some point in their life. A little bit of anxiety can even be helpful. For example, feeling anxious before an exam might make you more alert and improve your performance.

But too much anxiety or panic can negatively affect your day-to-day life.

Phone 111 if you:

  • are in a state of despair
  • feel suicidal
  • are in need of emotional support

Phone 999 in an emergency.

What happens when you’re anxious or panicky?

When you’re anxious or scared, your body will release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

Although this can be helpful in some situations, it could also cause physical symptoms. For example, an increased heart rate and sweating. In some people, it might cause a panic attack.

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety. It can be frightening and happen suddenly, often for no clear reason.

Signs of a panic attack

If you’re having a panic attack, you may experience:

  • what feels like an irregular or racing heartbeat (palpitations)
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath (hyperventilation)
  • a choking sensation
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • tingling fingers
  • ringing in your ears
  • feeling disorientated
  • dry mouth

Most panic attacks last somewhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Causes of anxiety or panic

There are many different situations that can cause anxiety or panic. This is different for everyone.

Some causes of anxiety and panic include:

  • work – unemployment, retirement or workload
  • family – divorce, caring for someone or relationship challenges
  • financial problems – debt or unexpected bills
  • health – illness or injury
  • past experiences – bullying, abuse or neglect
  • big life events – buying a house, planning a wedding or having a baby
  • bereavement

Regular anxiety, fear or panic can also be a symptom of another health condition like:

Ways to manage panic and anxiety


  • practice calming breathing exercises
  • keep up your regular activities – try not to restrict yourself
  • try to work out if something is making you stressed – stress can make panic attacks worse
  • regular exercise – it helps manage stress, tension, and mood, and can improve your confidence
  • keep your energy levels stable by eating regular, healthy meals


  • do not try to do everything at once – set small targets that you can easily achieve
  • do not completely avoid situations that make you anxious – slowly build up the time you spend doing them
  • do not try to use alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve anxiety

How to handle a panic attack

When you first start to panic, focus on breathing slowly to help you feel calmer. A breathing exercise can help with this.

It may also help to focus on what’s around you, instead of what’s going on with your body. For example, you could:

  • listen to music
  • count all the red objects around you
  • do something you enjoy like reading, walking or watching television
  • think about things you can see, hear, smell and feel around you

You can also reassure yourself using coping statements. For example, remind yourself that although panic attacks feel terrible, they don’t cause anything bad to happen.

If you can, it’s important to stay in the situation you’re in. This shows you that you don’t have to escape for the panic to stop.

Help for anxiety or panic

You should speak to your GP practice if you’re worried about how you’re feeling. They’ll ask you to describe your symptoms, how often you get them, and how long you have had them.

They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

You could also talk to:

  • family
  • friends
  • a healthcare professional
  • a counsellor
  • Samaritans – phone 116 123 (available 24 hours a day)

It can sometimes be difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions and personal life. But, try not to feel anxious or embarrassed. Talking to someone could help you find a solution.

Last updated:
13 June 2024

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