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Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
A self-help resource might be the first treatment option your doctor offers you. This is because it's available quite quickly, and there's a chance it could help you to feel better without needing to try other options.
Self-help could be delivered through:
"I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, depression and OCD traits. I had cognitive behavioural therapy for almost a year, which was very helpful."
If self-help resources aren't likely to help with the anxiety problems you're experiencing, or you've already tried them and they haven't helped, your doctor should offer you a talking treatment. There are two types of talking treatment recommended for anxiety and panic:
Usually this will be a type called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), but these drugs can sometimes cause side effects such as sleeping problems or feeling more anxious than you did before. If SSRIs don't work or aren't suitable you may be offered a different kind called a tricyclic antidepressant. (See our pages on antidepressants for more information.)
In some cases, such as if you have a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), your doctor may decide to prescribe you a drug called pregabalin. This is an antiseizure drug which is normally used to treat epilepsy (a neurological disorder that can cause seizures), but is also licensed to treat anxiety. (See our pages on anti-anxiety medication and pregabalin more more information.)
Beta-blockers are sometimes used to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heartbeat, palpitations and tremors (shaking). However, they are not psychiatric drugs so they don’t reduce any of the psychological symptoms. They may be helpful in certain situations, such as if you have to face a phobia (see our page on treatment for phobias for more information).
If you experience very severe anxiety that is having a significant impact on your day-to-day life, you may be offered a benzodiazepine tranquilliser. But these drugs can cause unpleasant side effects and can become addictive, so your doctor should only prescribe them at a low dose for a short time, to help you through a crisis period. (See our page about benzodiazapines for more information.)
"I take medication and this helps, but I have also had online [cognitive behavioural therapy] which was invaluable and [cognitive analytic] therapy as an outpatient at a psychiatric hospital. Talking cures are fantastic tools."
To get treatment on the NHS, the first step is normally to visit your doctor (also known as your GP). They will do an assessment, which might include asking you to fill in a questionnaire about how often you feel worried, anxious and nervous. They should then explain your treatment options to you, and you can decide together what might suit you best. (See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on how to prepare for an appointment and having your say in treatment.)
Unfortunately NHS waiting lists for talking treatments can be very long. If you're finding it hard to access talking treatments you could consider:
You can read the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) best-practice guidelines for treating anxiety disorders in full on the NICE website.
"If you don’t know what is wrong with you, how do you know how to fix it? For me, actually being diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder came as a relief! It meant that I wasn’t imagining the awful symptoms I’d been experiencing."
Your doctor should offer you regular appointments to check how you're doing, and see how well any treatment is working for you. Different things work for different people, so if a particular medication or talking treatment doesn't work for you, your doctor should offer an alternative.
If you've tried a range of treatments and none of them have helped, your doctor might refer you to a community mental health team (CMHT). This is is made up of a number of different healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. Your CMHT can assess you separately and offer you a personalised treatment plan.
This is particularly recommended if:
It's important to remember that recovery is a journey, and it won't always be straightforward. You might find it more helpful to focus on learning more about yourself and developing ways to cope, rather than trying to get rid of every symptom of your anxiety problem. (See our pages on self-harm and coping with suicidal thoughts and recovery for more information on these topics.)
This information was published in September 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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