• Anxiety is fear that doesn’t have a recognizable source
  • Anxiety is a common experience for both patients and family/caregivers
  • Prevalence of anxiety is influenced by type, stage and site of disease, coping mechanisms, and access to social and emotional support
  • Unrelieved symptoms such as pain or dyspnea may create or worsen anxiety. Good symptom management of these and other symptoms is important
  • Psychological, social, and spiritual distress are equally important contributing factors
  • Anxiety can be reduced using both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions


The following are some important factors to consider when assessing and managing anxiety:

  • The person’s expressed experiences of their distress, including characteristics, severity and duration
  • Assessment of the sources and causes for anxiety
  • Previous experiences with anxiety
  • Family/caregiver reactions and concerns to the patient’s distress
  • Resources available to the patient, family/caregivers and team
  • Weighing the benefits and pitfalls of treatment options
  • On-going assessment and evaluation of patient’s responses to interventions


Anxiety can occur along a continuum of duration and intensity. Both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions may be of help:


  • Interdisciplinary assessment (identifying and attending to range of physical/psychological/social/spiritual factors)
  • Counselling support
  • Therapeutic interventions:
    • Relaxation techniques
    • Guided imagery
    • Breathing exercises
    • Meditation
    • Coping skills (strengths-focused)
    • Cognitive behavioral approaches
    • Music/rituals

(see Therapeutic Interventions)


  • Low dose benzodiazepines (e.g., lorazepam, clonazepam, diazepam) may be helpful
  • See section on agitation in Delirium for dosing and treatment options
    • Treatment with antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) may also be of benefit to some individuals


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  4. Levine P. Waking the tiger: healing trauma. California: North Atlantic Books; 1997.
  5. Librach L, Gifford-Jones W. Ian Anderson continuing education program in end-of-life care. Module 6: psychological symptoms. [Online]. Available from: URL:
  6. Storey P, Knight C. Pocket guide to hospice/palliative medicine. Gainesville (FL): American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine; 2005.
  7. Storey P, Knight C. UNIPAC Two: Alleviating psychological and spiritual pain in the terminally ill. Gainesville (FL): American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine; 1997.
  8. Watson M, Lucas C, Hoy A, Back I. Oxford handbook of palliative care. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005.
  9. Werth J, Blevins D, editors. Psychosocial issues near the end of life: a resource for professional care providers. Washington (DC); American Psychological Association; 2006.

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