Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What They Are, and Are They Different?
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What makes them different? Our blog explores the subtle (and major) differences between these two awful experiences.
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Feeling stressed or anxious in different situations is a part of life. You can feel nervous about basic things, such as what to wear to an event, or anxious about big life decisions. Either way, it is entirely normal and is not considered a disorder when occasional and only lasts a short while. An anxiety disorder is when it goes out of hand and is uncontrollable – leading to anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are terms that are commonly used as synonyms. However, they are different conditions. Anxiety attacks occur in response to triggers and gradually build up, while panic attacks are abrupt and sudden. Whether anxiety or panic attacks, they both point to unresolved mental health issues that need addressing.
This article will discuss the difference between anxiety and panic attacks, common signs and symptoms, causes, and other important details.
Stats About Anxiety & Panic Attacks:
The American Psychiatric Association presents statistics showing the percentage of individuals suffering from anxiety disorders in the USA in any given year. Studies show that almost 7% of American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder, and 2-3% of adults struggle with panic disorders.
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What is an Anxiety Attack?
An anxiety attack is an emotional response the mind gives to certain situations. It is usually connected to anticipating a stressful situation, event, or experience. An anxiety attack comes while waiting for something to happen. These attacks come with symptoms such as distress, fear, and extreme worry.
Mental Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
Inability to concentrate
Physical Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack
Fatigue and tiredness
Tension in muscles
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are sudden, as compared to anxiety attacks. They come suddenly and abruptly and are filled with an intense fear that overwhelms the affected person. Some uncomfortable physical attributes accompanying a panic attack are breathlessness, nausea, and increased heart rate.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition or DSM-5, panic attacks come in two different forms:
Expected panic attacks: attacks that are triggered by external causes and stress-inducing situations.
Unexpected panic attacks: attacks that just occur out of the blue, without any apparent reason or obvious cause.
Mental Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Feeling like you are detached from your body
Fear of losing control
Being afraid of going crazy
Fear of death
The feeling that nothing is real
Physical Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Pain in the chest
Feeling faint or lightheaded
If you feel like you are choking
Being unable to breath
Feeling numb and tingly
Getting the chills
Palpitating or pounding heart
Experiencing hot flashes
Abnormally fast heart rate
Abdominal pains and nausea
Shaking or trembling
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: How Can I Tell Which One I’m Having?
It can be difficult to understand whether you or someone you love are experiencing a panic or anxiety attack. There is a fine line between the two; telling them apart may seem impossible sometimes. In such cases, try to focus on the following:
The Cause of the Attack
Anxiety attacks usually occur due to something that seems stressful or threatening to the person experiencing the attack.
Panic attacks do not need to be triggered by a stressor. They are usually abrupt and occur without an apparent reason.
The Level of Distress
Anxiety attacks can range from mild to severe, depending on every person and their specific traits. For instance, someone may be experiencing an onset of anxiety throughout the day but may be able to go about their day. On the other hand, someone may feel anxious and experience an attack shortly after
Panic attacks, however, are typically severe and can disrupt your whole day.
How Quickly They Happen
Anxiety attacks usually build up slowly and gradually
Panic attacks are typically very abrupt and come without notice
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Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What Causes Them?
Like many other mental disorders, the cause of anxiety and panic attacks is not yet completely understood. However, these conditions negatively affect the affected person's life. Traumatic life events can be triggers that lead to anxiety and panic in people, especially those who are already suffering from other mental health issues.
There is no apparent reason for the onset of unexpected panic attacks, but expected panic and anxiety attacks are commonly observed to be caused due to the following primary reasons:
Stressful and uncomfortable social situations
Different phobias and things that you may fear
Stressful work environment
Traumatic memories and experiences
Life-changing illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, heart diseases
Extreme and chronic pain
Substance withdrawal symptoms
Side effects of various supplements and medications
Excessive caffeine intake
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: Who is at Risk?
Many factors can make individuals prone to anxiety attacks and panic attacks. However, both of the conditions have similar risk factors.
Someone who has experienced trauma or has witnessed events that have caused them extreme pain is often at risk of developing anxiety and panic disorders. These traumatic experiences can be the death of a loved one, life-changing accidents, or serious illnesses.
Everyone experiences some stress in their life, but constant stress without being able to relax and blow off some steam occasionally can take a toll on mental health. Ongoing stress at work, family responsibilities, financial burdens, problems at school, and bad relationships are just a few reasons that can cause stress in your life and maybe become a reason for the onset of panic and anxiety.
If someone is chronically ill or living with life-threatening health conditions, they may not be able to tell what will come tomorrow. The fact that the future is unknown and they cannot anticipate if and when they will get better can cause mental stress. People with conditions such as cancer, tuberculosis, HIV, and other chronic diseases are prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
Existing Mental Health Conditions
Individuals who already have mental health issues such as depression or some phobia are more at risk of experiencing panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
If you have an immediate family member who suffers from panic and anxiety, you may also be at risk of developing the condition.
It is common for individuals to frequently use alcohol or drugs to conceal their mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Substance abuse, however, only exacerbates it, especially if you suddenly attempt to quit cold turkey and fall into withdrawal.
It is important to remember that someone with anxiety is at higher risk of panic attacks. Still, it does not mean that they must experience the attack.
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: What do Doctors Say?
It is not possible for doctors to medically test or diagnose anxiety attacks, but diagnosis of anxiety disorders, anxiety symptoms, panic attacks, and panic disorders is possible. To do this accurately, medical healthcare providers will try to get a good knowledge of your condition. They will ask you about the symptoms you experience and then run some tests for conditions with the same symptoms, like thyroid or heart problems.
Once these are ruled out, a doctor can fully understand your issue. To be able to get a proper diagnosis, your healthcare professional may conduct:
Heart-related examinations like ECG or EKG
Psychological evaluations with the help of verbal or written questionnaires
If you are experiencing panic attacks, the doctor will be able to diagnose it, but the same cannot be said for anxiety attacks. However, a very close diagnosis can be made for anxiety attacks. For example, suppose your doctor determines that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder or anxiety symptoms. In that case, you may have had or are prone to anxiety attacks too.
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Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: How They’re Treated
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can be exhausting to live with. However, you never know what may trigger you. There are comprehensive treatment options for such disorders of the mind, including medication, therapy, or even self-help. Always speak to your doctor and find what is best for you and your situation.
Some treatment options to consider after consulting a medical healthcare provider that is fully aware of your history:
Psychotherapy & Counseling
Therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, or phycologists can talk to patients with anxiety or panic disorders to understand their problems. This can help manage attacks, along with helping patients understand why they are facing such troubles. The types of psychotherapy that doctors recommend are:
This therapy helps pinpoint exactly where your problem stems from. You can then reframe these unwanted feelings and neutralize invasive thoughts that trigger the attacks.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This helps you see your triggers, worries, and stress-causing factors in a new light. Counselors will help you create and develop new techniques to manage triggers to avoid an attack.
As the name suggests, this therapy exposes the patient to situations that trigger their fears, panic, and anxiety, but in a controlled manner. This helps them confront these fears.
Techniques that help relax the mind and help manage panic or anxiety attacks. To do this, doctors may guide you through breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, autogenic training, and biofeedback.
Your doctor may prescribe a few types of medication to help manage your panic attacks or anxiety attacks. These include:
Beta Blockers help control various physical symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety attacks, such as increased heart rates
Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines can help calm you down as they are sedatives
Antidepressants contain SSRIs and SNRIs and help manage signs of panic and anxiety.
A few tips to help you prevent panic attacks and anxiety attacks and reduce their severity when they do occur are:
Get regular exercise
Practice meditation such as yoga, breathing techniques, relaxation techniques
Improve your sleeping pattern
Eliminate alcohol and substance abuse from your routine
Minimize caffeine intake
Make sure you have a nutritious diet
Try to reduce stress and enjoy a calm environment
Join a support group
Learn how to identify and manage triggering and negative thoughts
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: Calming an Anxiety Attack or A Panic Attack
A few techniques can help you stay composed until an episode of anxiety or panic does not blow over. Try the following tricks next time you experience an anxiety attack or panic attack:
Identify and acknowledge that you are having an attack; denial is not going to help
Keep telling yourself “This is not going to last forever,” which is true. It is just a matter of being patient.
An attack will affect your breathing pattern. Take deep breaths to keep yourself as calm as possible. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Try to pinpoint exactly where you feel the anxiety – scan your body and find where you are feeling it so you can shake that body part and tell your brain you have released the anxiety.
Tell your anxiety that it is allowed to stay for some time, but then it has to leave – you own your body, not your anxiety or panic attack.
Take yourself to your happy place. Close your eyes and visualize a place, situation, or thing that makes you happy – just for a few minutes!
You can use these tips to calm yourself or a loved one if they are experiencing a panic or anxiety attack. Always remember that there is hope, and you can take control of your situation. Contact a doctor if you feel like you need someone to guide you or need to speak to someone.
Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks: Both are Awful to Experience. The Forge Recovery Center Will Help
Emotional health and mental well-being are the first and most important steps to living a happier and healthier life. Mental healthcare professionals, support groups, online self-help resources, communities, and crisis hotlines are always available for individuals nationwide.
The Forge Recovery Center has a dedicated and effective mental health treatment program. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, we’ve carefully curated a welcoming, warm space in which the causes of anxiety attacks and panic attacks can be safely explored and treated.
You deserve a better life. Reach out today to The Forge Recovery Center and learn more about our effective, evidence-based mental health treatment program.
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