Anxiety, Panic and Phobias: key facts
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling of fear that we get when faced with
threatening or difficult situations. It is a normal response when
faced with danger as it makes us more alert and gives us energy to
deal with problems. But if the anxiety is too strong or is
there all the time, then it can be a real problem. Anxiety
disorders affect about 1 in 10 people.
What is panic?
Panic is a sudden surge of intense anxiety that can come out of
What is a phobia?
A phobia is a fear of a situation, or
object. Whilst they are not dangerous, some people find
troublesome. and the fear can interfere with their life.
What causes anxiety, panic and phobias?
- Genes: Some of us seem to be born more anxious
than others. This tendency might be inherited through our
- Life experience: Bad experiences in the past,
big changes in life in the present - pregnancy, changing job,
becoming unemployed or moving house.
- Drugs: Caffeine in coffee can make you feel
anxious. Street drugs like amphetamines, LSD or ecstasy can all
make you anxious.
- Circumstances: Sometimes it is obvious
what is making you anxious. When the problem disappears, so does
the anxiety. However, some things are so threatening - like car
crashes, train crashes or fires - that the anxiety can go on long
after the event. You can feel nervous and anxious for months or
years after the event, even if you were physically unharmed. This
is called post-traumatic stress
What does it feel like to have anxiety, panic or a
- Your Mind:
- Worrying all the time
- Being irritable
- Sleeping badly
- Struggling to concentrate.
- Your Body:
- Racing heartbeat
- Muscle tension and pains
- Heavy breathing
- Indigestion and diarrhoea.
Panic is a sudden, overwhelming sense of
fear and a feeling that you are losing control. You breathe
quickly, feel your heart racing, sweat, and may feel that you are
going to die. You may try to escape from the situation as
quickly as you can.
When certain situations frighten you, you
can get strong feelings of anxiety and this is a phobia. So if you
have a phobia of dogs, you feel anxious when there are dogs around,
but feel OK at other times. You may tend to avoid the situations
that make you anxious, which can make the phobia worse as time
goes on. Your life can become dominated by your fear and
the precautions you take to avoid such situations. You will usually
realise that there is no real danger and may even feel silly about
your phobia, but you can't control it.
... and you may also feel
Anxiety and panic can often lead
to depression, when you feel
down, lose your appetite and see the future as bleak and
What help is available?
There is a more intensive talking treatment which can help
you to understand and control your anxiety. The treatment can take
place in groups or individually. Most groups are based on cognitive behavioural therapy and
Tranquillizers: These include the benzodiazepines, like diazepam and most
sleeping tablets. They are very effective, but can
be addictive, even after just a couple of weeks. Ideally, they
should not be taken for longer than 2 weeks.
usually take two to four weeks to make a difference. They can cause
nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth and constipation.
Beta blockers: can be used in
low doses to control the physical shaking of anxiety.
How to help yourself
There are ways you can learn to relax. You may
be taught this by a professional, in a self-help group or
using books, CDs and DVDs (see our
main leaflet). Regular practice will help you to relax more
easily and more quickly.
Self-help groups. Talking to
people with similar problems can be good because they understand
what you are going through and you can share ways to
How other people can help you
Talking it through. It can help to talk to
family or friends about your feelings of anxiety or phobia,
even if it is difficult. Ask a friend or relative whom
you trust and you respect, and who is a good listener. They have
had the same problem, or know someone else who has.
For more in-depth information see our main
leaflet: Anxiety, panic and
This leaflet reflects the most up-to-date evidence at the time
Produced by the RCPsych Public Education Editorial Board.
Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms
Reviewed by Dr Sophie Swinhoe
© February 2014. Due for review: February 2016. Royal
College of Psychiatrists. You can link to, download, print,
photocopy and distribute this leaflet free of charge. But you must
not change it or repost it on a website.
a catalogue of public education materials or copies of our leaflets
Department, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 21
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Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our
advice on getting help.
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