How to cope with fear, anxiety and panic

Fear, anxiety and panic can be difficult feelings to manage. There are different ways of dealing with these emotions to help you feel better.

Reducing anxiety

Most people with cancer won’t feel anxious all the time. You may just have short episodes of feeling very anxious.

You might feel anxious:

  • just before treatment
  • when you think about going to the hospital
  • after treatment
  • when you go to the hospital for a check up

Finding ways of dealing with your anxieties

It helps to find your own way of dealing with your 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, mindfulness, 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

Talking to your doctors and nurses

Your doctors and nurses are there to help and will want to make things as easy as possible for you.

Try to let your doctors and nurses know how you are really feeling. They will be very sensitive and encourage you to tell them about your anxiety.

Counselling and talking therapies

If your anxiety is constantly affecting your day to day life and you feel in a permanent state of worry and panic, you might need some professional help.

Your doctors and nurses may suggest that you get some help from people trained to help you deal with anxiety and panic problems. This might be a:

  •  psychologist
  •  psychotherapist
  •  counsellor

Help from experts

You might worry that these experts only treat people who are mentally ill or under severe stress. Or that it means that you’re weak. But this is not true. Agreeing to see a professional show that you are strong enough to ask for help.

Many people have counselling and psychotherapy to help them get over day to day emotional or behavioural difficulties. This can include:

  • depression
  • phobias
  • shyness
  • panic attacks and severe anxiety
  • eating and sleeping disorders
Types of therapy

There are several types of therapy that may help you overcome anxiety and panic. They include:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • interpersonal therapy

These talking therapies can be a very effective way of treating anxiety and panic.

These treatments might not suit everyone. You might need to try different types of talking therapy until you find the one that works best for you.

Other treatments

Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety tablets as part of your treatment. This is usually if you are having very severe anxiety problems and panic attacks.

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.

These are not the same as antidepressants. You will probably only take them for a short time. Anti-anxiety tablets are not a long-term solution. They will not solve the underlying problem causing your anxiety.

For the long term, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant treatment to relieve your anxiety.

More information

Maudsley Learning, part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, has a set of cancer and mental wellbeing videos for people affected by cancer.

The videos have information and advice on what to do if a cancer diagnosis affects your mental health. They cover several topics, including breaking bad news, managing anxiety, common reactions to a diagnosis, and relationships.

Related links