Managing fear, anxiety and panic | Cancer Research UK
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Managing fear, anxiety and panic

Coping with cancer

This page is about managing fear, anxiety and panic. There is information about


Reducing anxiety

Most people with cancer won’t feel anxious all the time. You may just have short episodes of feeling very anxious. For example, when you are due to have treatment or when you think about going to the hospital. Or after treatment, when you go to the hospital for a check up. 

You may become very anxious about having injections or being sick. It helps to find your own way of dealing with these anxieties. You may want to try

  • Taking a friend or relative along to support you during treatment
  • Getting reassurance from your nurses and doctors
  • Using relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or visualisation before and during a stressful situation
  • Having a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment once a week
  • Doing some form of regular exercise that you enjoy, for example walking, yoga or swimming

If your anxiety is constantly affecting your day to day life and you feel in a permanent state of worry and panic, you may need some professional help. Try to let your doctors and nurses know how you are really feeling. They will be very sensitive about it and encourage you to tell them about your anxiety.


Getting treatment for your anxiety

Your doctors and nurses are there to help and will want to make things as easy as possible for you. They may suggest that you get some help from an expert such as a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor. These are people trained to help you deal with anxiety and panic problems.

Many people may be put off by the thought of seeing an expert. You may think they only treat people who are mentally ill or under severe stress. But many people have counselling and psychotherapy to help them get over day to day emotional or behavioural difficulties. This can include depression, phobias, shyness, severe anxiety, eating disorders, panic attacks and sleeping disorders.

Seeing an expert is not guaranteed to work for everyone but it can be a very effective way of treating these conditions. You might worry that some people would think that seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist means that you are weak. But this is not true. Agreeing to see a professional shows that you are strong enough to ask for help. And there are several types of therapy that may help you overcome anxiety and panic. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy.

Sometimes people who are very anxious and panicky may be depressed as well. It is important to let your doctor know if you think that you are suffering from depression as they will be able to suggest several options to help you deal with it. They may prescribe anti depressant medicines. Anti depressants can be very effective in helping to lift your mood. But they take a few weeks to start working, and you will probably need to take them for several months to really benefit from them.

If you are having very severe anxiety problems and panic attacks your doctor may prescribe anti anxiety tablets as part of your treatment. These are not the same as anti depressants. You will probably only take them for a short time. Anti anxiety tablets are not a long term solution because they will not solve the underlying problem causing your anxiety. These medicines work by helping you feel calmer and more able to cope. So it gives you the space to try to understand and overcome your fears and anxieties.

This section also has a page of information about how to manage your emotions when you feel sad or depressed.

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Updated: 4 July 2014