for better mental health

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.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is impacting all our lives, and we know that the usual advice might not quite apply. Some ideas for looking after yourself may feel unrealistic right now. And some treatment and support options will be harder to access, or may be unavailable for a while. But we hope that you can still find information here that helps you understand what you're going through, and find a path forward.
You can also find lots of resources in our coronavirus information hub. And our page of coronavirus useful contacts can direct you to more support.

How can I help myself?

Living with anxiety can be very difficult, but there are steps you can take that might help. This page has some suggestions for you to consider.

(For tips on coping with panic attacks, see our section on what helps to manage panic attacks.)

Talking to someone you trust about what's making you anxious could be a relief. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself. If you aren't able to open up to someone close to you, the Samaritans and Anxiety UK both run helplines that you can call to talk to someone.

Read Amy's blog about how sharing her experiences of anxiety with others online helps her.

"Getting it off my chest seems to help relieve some of the pressure."

It can be really hard to stop worrying when you have anxiety. You might have worries you can't control. Or you might feel like you need to keep worrying because it feels useful – or that bad things might happen if you stop.

It can be helpful to try different ways of addressing these worries. For example, you could:

  • Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries – so you can reassure yourself you haven't forgotten to think about them. Some people find it helps to set a timer.
  • Write down your worries and keep them in a particular place – for example, you could write them in a notebook, or on pieces of paper you put in an envelope or jar.

Read Damien's blog about how being creative helps him manage his anxiety.

"[I try to] accept that this is how I feel at the moment, but it won’t last forever."

  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. (See our page on coping with sleep problems for more information.)
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. (See our page on food and mood for more information.)
  • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. (See our pages on physical activity for more information.)

Read Stephen's blog about how running helps him feel better.

"I find going for a walk great, even if I can’t go far. I walk around the garden and eat my lunch outside."

Breathing exercises can help you cope and feel more in control. You can find some suggestions on our page on relaxation and on the NHS Choices website.

"Breathe… always remember to breathe. Take time to inhale. It’s the simplest thing, but is forgotten in panic attacks."

Can mindfulness help with anxiety?

Mindfulness is a way of giving your full attention to the present moment. It can help with some anxiety disorders, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best-practice in healthcare – says it's not helpful for social anxiety. (Read more about social anxiety in our page on types of phobias).

Some people say they find mindfulness helpful for coping with other anxiety disorders, but others say it makes them feel worse – particularly if keeping a busy mind is an important way of coping for you. It's best to try it with a trained professional if possible, or to get advice from a doctor or therapist before trying it by yourself. (See our pages on mindfulness for more information.)

"Now I look for natural ways to control the panic and anxiety, including meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, mindfulness and diet."

It might help to make a note of what happens when you get anxious or have a panic attack. This could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you, or notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.

You could also make a note of what's going well. Living with anxiety can mean you think a lot about things that worry you or are hard to do. It's important to be kind to yourself and notice the good things too.

"I keep a photo diary of all the things I’ve managed to do! Makes me think "I can do this". So when I go and sit in a café, or go for a walk, I take a pic to record that I’ve done it, and look back when I feel scared… it encourages me that maybe I can do something [again] if I’ve done it before."

Peer support brings together people who’ve had similar experiences to support each other. Many people find it helps them to share ideas about how to stay well, connect with others and feel less alone. You could:

(See our pages on peer support for more information about what it involves and how to find a peer support group to suit you. If you're new to online peer support you might find it helpful to read our information on how to stay safe online.)

Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, herbal treatments, Bach flower remedies, and hypnotherapy are all types of complementary therapy that you could try, and see if they work for you. Some people find that one or more of these methods can help them to relax, or sleep better.

Many chemists and health shops stock different remedies and should be able to offer advice. (See our pages on complementary and alternative therapies for more information.)

"[For me, it's] a hypnotherapy CD. I laughed when my husband brought it home; now I use it myself – very calming."

This information was published in September 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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