Emma Mudge, Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner

Dealing with anxiety and panic attacks


11 July 2023

Anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobia-related disorders1, impact around 1 in 10 of us in the UK2, often resulting in significant negative effects on both mental and physical health. Recognising the symptoms and seeking timely treatment where necessary is essential for managing this condition effectively.

Anxiety is your body’s way of telling you, "Hey, watch out, things might not be safe here!" In small doses, anxiety can be helpful, giving you that extra boost to tackle life's challenges head-on. But when it becomes constant or overwhelms you, it's time to take it seriously.

Is anxiety different from depression?

Depression and anxiety have their own distinct symptoms. When dealing with depression, you might experience a lack of motivation, a drop in energy levels, and a loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy. On the other hand, anxiety might make you feel restless or, hyperactive. You'll still have that spark of enthusiasm for your interests, though you might dwell on past mistakes and become your own harshest critic. Anxiety can fill your mind with relentless worries and "what-ifs”, and excessive anxiety can trap you in a vicious cycle where you start avoiding activities and gradually slip into isolation and even depression.

Panic attacks

They can strike anytime, anywhere, sometimes without any apparent trigger. They reach their peak within minutes, and although they may leave you shaken, they're not physically harmful. People experiencing a panic attack might feel intensely worried, agitated, and fearful. They often describe feeling like they are going to die or frightened they’re 'going crazy' or losing control.

Physical symptoms for panic attacks

When panic takes over, your body enters fight-or-flight mode, pumping adrenaline through your blood. You may experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Breathlessness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tingling in the fingers and around the mouth
  • Dry mouth.

What to do during a panic attack:

Here are some tips to help you if you feel a panic attack coming on:

Stay put: If possible, stay where you are during the panic attack. Moving around may increase feelings of panic, so find a safe and comfortable space.

Breathe deeply: Take slow, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on your breath to help calm your body and mind.

Positive imagery: Shift your attention to positive, peaceful, and relaxing images. This can help distract you from anxious thoughts.

Remember it's temporary: Remind yourself that panic attacks are not life-threatening. They may be frightening, but they will pass. Trust that you have the strength to get through it.

 Is it a heart attack?

What sets a panic attack apart from a heart attack? Well, heart attacks typically involve crushing chest pain, mostly on the left side, sometimes radiating to your arm. Panic attacks, on the other hand, spare you the physical pain. While heart attack symptoms tend to worsen, panic attacks usually subside within half an hour, often leaving you mentally shaken but physically unharmed.

What causes anxiety and panic attacks? 

Your genes: This tendency might be inherited.

Stressful events: Divorce, money worries, bereavement, redundancy, and exams are obvious triggers for anxiety, but usually when the problem disappears, so does the anxiety. But other traumatic events such as car crashes, assaults and fires can leave you feeling nervous and anxious for months or years – known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 

Drugs: Illegal highs from amphetamines, LSD or ecstasy can make you anxious, as can excess caffeine.


Psychological therapies

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or talking therapy, can alleviate feelings of anxiety and panic and help change how you think and act. CBT focuses on current problems rather than things that have happened in the past.

Exposure therapy: This is a type of treatment used to help people overcome fears, anxiety disorders, phobias, or traumatic experiences. It involves gradually facing the things or situations that make them afraid or anxious in a safe and controlled way. This helps them learn that their fears are not as overwhelming as they might think and can help them to develop ways to cope with their anxiety. 


Anti-depressants: Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. While they are primarily used to treat depression, certain types of antidepressants can also effectively alleviate symptoms of anxiety and panic. These medications work by balancing certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety.3

 Beta blockers: 

• Beta blockers are a type of medication commonly used to treat high blood pressure and certain heart conditions. While they are not primarily prescribed for anxiety, they can sometimes be used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate, trembling, and sweating. 

It's important to note that medication should be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or primary care physician. They will evaluate your specific symptoms, medical history, and individual needs to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage for you.


Recognizing the symptoms and seeking appropriate treatment, such as psychological therapies or medication, can help manage anxiety and improve overall well-being. Support groups and open communication with trusted individuals can also provide valuable assistance in coping with anxiety. Useful contacts include:

  • National charity helping people with Anxiety - Anxiety UK
  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy -
  • Mental Health Support Network provided by Chasing the Stigma - Hub of hope


  1. Anxiety disorders – NIH
  2. Anxiety Statistics – Mental Health UK
  3. Anxiety medication – MIND 

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