Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to an uncertain situation. But if it affects how you cope with daily life, you may need help.

Symptoms of anxiety

Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to an uncertain situation. But if it affects how you cope with daily life, you may need help.

You may be anxious or frightened about whether treatments will work and what will happen in the future. After treatment, many people worry about whether the cancer will come back. You may also worry about any aches or pains.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • not being able to concentrate
  • being irritable
  • being easily distracted
  • feeling restless
  • having a constant feeling of dread.

If you are anxious you may also notice some physical symptoms such as:

  • having tense muscles
  • feeling short of breath
  • feeling dizzy
  • sweating
  • having a dry mouth
  • being unable to sleep
  • feeling tired
  • having digestive problems.

Other people telling you that everything will be okay can sometimes make anxiety worse. You may feel that they are not listening to you, or that they do not understand your worries.

Managing anxiety

Living with anxiety can be hard. There are things you can do to help manage your anxiety and cope with the physical symptoms. For example:

  • Try to focus on things you can control – you may want to find out more about the cancer, your treatment options, and how to manage any side effects.
  • If you feel like talking, talk to someone who is a good listener – this may be a friend, partner or family member.
  • Think about your breathing – breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Put on music you enjoy and close your eyes – this can help you feel calmer.
  • Do some physical activity – even a short walk can help with anxiety.
  • Keep a diary of what makes you anxious – this can help you avoid those situations if possible.
  • Try activities or treatments such as yoga, meditation, massage or reflexology these may help you relax and manage your anxiety.

If you feel your anxiety is getting worse, speak to your GP, specialist nurse or a psychologist or counsellor. They can help you find ways of coping with it. Many people who have anxiety may also have depression. Speaking to your healthcare team is the best way to get the help you need.

You may find it helpful to contact Anxiety UK. They also have many DVDs, CDs, online apps or podcasts that you can use at home. You may also find it helps to join a support group – visit macmillan.org.uk/inyourarea to search for local groups.

Panic attacks

A panic attack is an intense version of how you would normally respond to fear or stress. If you are very anxious then you may have a panic attack. Symptoms can include:

  • a pounding heart
  • sweating or shaking
  • feeling sick, faint or dizzy
  • feeling unable to breathe properly
  • chest or stomach pains
  • shaky arms or legs.

How to cope with a panic attack

Panic attacks can feel frightening, but there are ways to help control them. Talking therapies can help you manage panic attacks. If you see a counsellor or psychologist, tell them you had a panic attack. They can try to work out how to help you. There are also many self-help resources available. Your doctor or nurse may be able to tell you more about these.

Tell your family and friends that you have had a panic attack, in case it happens again. There are practical ways to manage anxiety, such as breathing exercises and visualisation.

If you are having a panic attack, try to:

  • stay where you are
  • stop the car if you are driving
  • tell yourself it is a panic attack and concentrate on the fact that it will be over soon
  • breathe slowly and deeply.

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

Macmillan Telephone Buddies
With a weekly call from one of our trained Telephone Buddies, you don't have to face cancer alone.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.