Anxiety and panic attacks

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.

Your stories

Managing anxiety with creativity

Damien blogs for us about using creativity to manage his anxiety.

Posted on 04/03/2014

Sleeping with anxiety

Annie blogs about not being able to switch off and sleep, and how she copes with anxiety.

Posted on 18/04/2013

Talking about anxiety at university

Emmie blogs about her experiences of managing relationships and anxiety whilst at university.

Emma Togneri
Posted on 24/09/2014

What treatments are available?

This pages covers:

What main treatments are available?

The most common treatments that  your GP might offer you for anxiety and panic disorders are:

The kind of treatment your GP offers you might vary depending on your diagnosis, but ideally they should offer you a talking treatment before prescribing medication (this the recommendation of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who produce guidelines on best practice in healthcare).

Talking treatments

Talking treatments (also known as counselling or therapy), are a process in which you work with a trained therapist to understand the causes of your anxiety, and to find strategies to manage it.

There are lots of different types of talking treatments available, but the most commonly prescribed talking treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), because there is reliable evidence that it can be effective. 

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, depression and OCD traits. I had cognitive behaviour therapy for almost a year, which was very helpful.

Self-help resources

Self-help resources are tools that have been developed by health care professionals for you to use by yourself, and can be helpful in managing anxiety. They can be in the form of: 

  • workbooks
  • computer programmes, such as Fearfighter
Fearfighter is a computer-based CBT (CCBT) programme for treating anxiety, panic and phobias, which is freely available on prescription through the NHS. Some people prefer CCBT to seeing a therapist in person, particularly as a first step.

To access self-help resources:

  • You can buy self-help workbooks from various bookshops and specialist organisation websites, such as No Panic
  • Your local library might be able to order certain self-help books for you to borrow for free.
  • Your GP might be able to prescribe you self-help resources through the NHS – it's worth asking them if this is an option for you.  

What other treatment options are there?

Applied relaxation therapy

  • Applied relaxation therapy involves learning how to relax your muscles in situations where you normally experience anxiety.
  • It should be delivered by a trained therapist – usually for 1 session a week, over 3–4 months.
  • Your GP is more likely to prescribe applied relaxation if you have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or agoraphobia (a kind of phobia).

Exercise on prescription

GPs can prescribe exercise for a variety of problems, including mental health problems. If your GP prescribes you exercise, they should refer you to a qualified trainer who can help set up an exercise programme that suits you.

How can I access these treatments?

  • GP referral – The first step is usually to talk to your GP, who can make an assessment and prescribe treatments.
  • self-referral – In some cases you might be able to refer yourself for counselling. You can see if self-referral NHS services are available in your area by looking at the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme website.

(See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for information on talking to your GP, how they can help, and how to make sure you get service you want from them.)

The private sector

NHS waiting lists for talking treatments can be long, so you might want to consider seeing a therapist privately – but be aware that private therapists usually charge for appointments.

(See our page on seeking help through the private sector for more information.)

Charities and local support groups
  • Anxiety UK offer a range of talking therapies to their members (you can find out more on their website).
  • No Panic offer telephone mentoring and recovery group services to their members (you can find out more on their website).
  • Mind's Infoline can provide information about other local support services in your area.

What if none of these treatments help me?

If none of these treatments work for you, your GP can refer you for specialist help. This could be through your community mental health team (CMHT), which is made up of a number of different health care professionals, such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. Your CMHT can assess you separately and offer you a personalised treatment plan.

This information was published in February 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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