What's the Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack?

What's the Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack?

 

Ah, the age old question of what's the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. It seems like a pretty simple question.. but it isn't so easy when you take a look at the terminology we use to talk about these phenomena. Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can be elusive in their expression and presentation.

 

Panic attacks can have a wide array of symptoms, and there are several types of panic attack.

If you’re not sure what constitutes a panic attack, one good way to start differentiating between the two is to think about what triggers them. Anxiety attacks can be triggered by any situation that someone finds stressful or scary. A person who experiences anxiety attacks may worry about doing something embarrassing in front of people, getting into an accident, or going somewhere and having no one show up or pay attention to them. Panic attacks can be triggered by a specific event, such as driving across a bridge, standing in line at a store and watching every other customer get helped before you get your turn, being called on in class when you haven’t prepared an answer or carrying on a conversation with someone you don’t know well.

Panic attacks can have a wide array of symptoms, and there are several types of panic attack. Some people experience only physical symptoms such as shaking or sweating and assume they are having a heart attack. Others feel only psychological symptoms like fear of dying or losing control. Still others may experience both the physical and psychological symptoms simultaneously.

You can experience anxiety as part of a panic attack, but it isn't the same thing.

You've probably heard of anxiety and panic attacks, but what is the difference between them? This is a common question because both disorders involve fear, though their causes and symptoms are quite different. Here's what you should know about these two conditions.

When many people think of a panic attack, they may envision someone who is in the throes of a paralyzing fear so intense that they can't function. While this extreme scenario may be true for some people with panic disorder, many experience symptoms that aren't as severe. For example, if you ever feel uneasy or nervous when in an unfamiliar place or situation—like starting a new job—you may be feeling anxious and afraid just like someone having an anxiety attack. However, anxiety can also result from less serious scenarios like seeing your boss at work (anxiety) versus being stuck in an elevator with someone you don't know (panic).

The main distinction between anxiety attacks and panic attacks is that anxiety is considered a normal reaction to stress. Panic attacks are highly disruptive form of anxiety with extreme physical and mental effects on the body; it’s difficult to control your thoughts during one, which makes it hard to go about your day-to-day life normally. Having frequent episodes of either condition can lead to other health problems like depression or substance abuse disorders.

The main difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is the degree of severity.

The main difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is the degree of severity. Panic attacks can be extremely intense, and you may feel like you're about to lose control or die. Anxiety attacks can cause similar symptoms, but they tend to be less severe and come on more gradually, often in response to a specific trigger or stressor, such as public speaking or reuniting with someone you haven't seen in years.

Anxiety usually comes with physical symptoms like a racing heart, headaches, sweating and muscle tension. Anxiety attacks can also lead to nausea, shaking or tremors, diarrhea and more.

Anxiety and panic attacks share many of the same symptoms. The most common symptoms you'll experience are rapid heartbeat, sweating, muscle tension, nausea and shaking or tremors. Other common symptoms include diarrhea, dizziness and an upset stomach.

However, unlike a panic attack, anxiety doesn't occur instantly in response to a trigger - it's more about persistent worries about everyday situations and events that cause someone’s anxiety level to rise above normal levels. Panic attacks can be triggered by things like a traumatic event, serious illness or even genetics (a family history of mental health conditions).

Physical symptoms that come with a panic attack are much more severe. These symptoms may include pain in your chest or stomach, lightheadedness, chills or hot flashes and more.

It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable when you’re having a panic attack. In fact, many of the physical symptoms that come with a panic attack are much more severe than those that occur with an anxiety attack. These symptoms may include pain in your chest or stomach, lightheadedness, chills or hot flashes and more.

Typically, once you work through the anxiety attack and your body realizes it is no longer at risk, the symptoms will subside. If you experience any of the following feelings during an anxiety attack, there’s a good chance it has escalated into a panic attack:

  • Breathing problems

  • Tightening of chest muscles

  • Sweating

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Nausea

  • Shaking or tremors

  • Chills or hot flashes

  • Sense of impending doom (e.g., feeling like something terrible is about to happen)

Having anxiety is less serious than having panic attacks.

A panic attack is an intense, short-lived experience of anxiety. Panic attacks can be triggered by a variety of things: stress, medical problems, and even a sudden feeling of being out of control. They usually happen when we feel like the outside world is too much for us to handle, and our body reacts in defense. A panic attack does not require worry about having one again or knowledge about what causes them. All that matters is that you know how to manage them so they don't affect your life negatively.

Anxiety on the other hand is a condition that affects many people every day. While anxiety doesn't directly cause panic attacks (they are two different things), it can be an underlying factor that makes someone more likely to have one. Anxiety ranges from mild to severe, causing people to feel shy or nervous at times and anxious or scared at others. Sometimes it's hard to tell if a person has anxiety or just feels anxious because they're worried about something like their health or family.

If experiencing anxiety brings up thoughts like "I'm going crazy," "I must have done something bad," "I can't go outside," "I should call someone right now," simply saying "no" will help ease the fears and bring yourself back down to earth

People can have anxiety without experiencing any panic attacks.

A person with anxiety might dread going to work, but they can still get up, go to the office and do their job. They might feel on edge all day and worry about being fired or embarrassed all day long. However, they don’t experience intense feelings of terror as they're walking through the office door.

This is where panic disorder and panic attacks come in. People with generalized anxiety disorder may also have panic disorder — but not everyone who experiences panic attacks has an anxiety disorder. Someone experiencing a panic attack might think that something terrible is happening, like they’re going to die or lose control of themselves. A person who has an anxiety disorder is more likely to expect the worst than someone who doesn't have a mental health condition.

You can have both an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder at the same time, too. Personality disorders are mental health conditions that affect how people behave or interact with others.1

Anxiety can be treated by attending cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, taking medication or both. If you're experiencing anxiety, you should talk to your doctor about the best course of treatment for you.

  • Anxiety can be treated by attending cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, taking medication or both. If you're experiencing anxiety, you should talk to your doctor about the best course of treatment for you.

  • When having an anxiety attack, you may experience a pounding heart and shortness of breath that comes and goes; nervous sweating; shaking of the limbs; dizziness or lightheadedness; chest pain or tightness; nausea or stomach distress; chills or hot flashes and tingling sensations in your hands.

  • Panic attacks, on the other hand, often happen without warning — even when there's no clear source of stress — and are much more dramatic than an anxiety attack. They often include a sense of impending doom and may cause sufferers to believe they're losing control, having a heart attack or experiencing some other medical emergency.

  • Though basic symptoms like trembling, racing heart and chest tightness can be experienced during both panic attacks and bouts of severe anxiety, there are some telltale signs that what you're experiencing is actually a panic attack: You may feel dizzy enough to pass out, have trouble catching your breath or feel as though your throat is closing up. In most cases where confusion between anxiety problems and panic attacks exists, it's usually because people aren't educated on what constitutes a panic attack versus just having high levels of stress/anxiety brought on by outside factors.

The first time someone experiences a panic attack they may think they are having a heart attack or something even worse because the symptoms are so severe. If this is you, let your doctor know immediately so they can help you manage your condition effectively and make sure there isn't something else going on with your physical health that needs attention as well.

If it's your first panic attack, seek medical attention immediately. It could be a sign of something more serious than anxiety. If you've already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the worst thing you can do is ignore it and hope it'll go away. Ignoring panic attacks can lead to many negative consequences for your overall health as well as for your recovery from anxiety.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that your panic attack will pass on its own—panic attacks can have serious consequences and cause certain symptoms that are particularly frightening. Not to mention that if left untreated, panic disorder may eventually lead to agoraphobia (a fear of being outside) or other phobias of social settings or crowds.

You can recognize whether a panic attack is just anxiety gone too far or if it is something more serious.

Panic attacks can be very scary. Their symptoms are intense and sudden, a feeling of terror coupled with a sense that you can't breathe or might die. For some people, the physical symptoms of an attack aren't so serious: there may be dizziness, weakness in the knees, sweating and nausea.

For others, though, these physical signs are combined with more disturbing feelings: you may feel like you're going to lose control of your mind; like your thoughts are racing and coming unhinged from the things you know; like there's something wrong with your body or that everything is falling apart around you; like you're going to go crazy or hurt yourself in some terrible way.

It's important for people experiencing panic attacks to realize that this is just anxiety gone too far. It can happen when we're under stress—but it doesn't have to mean there is something wrong with us as people (or our brains). In fact, most people who experience panic attacks have no underlying medical condition that would make them prone to them in general (although they may need treatment for other problems related to anxiety). And while it's perfectly normal not always being able to tell the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack—the warning signs are different—it's very important to seek help if one of these feelings develops in someone else.