You might often hear the terms panic attack and anxiety attack being used interchangeably to describe a single experience. Although there are similarities between them, they are two separate emotional conditions.
It is easy to see why the two conditions are often misunderstood to be one and the same. Panic attack and anxiety attack are both characterized as an overwhelming fear that takes over a person, and causes a paralysing sense of unease.
In terms of casual conversations where you’re sharing with a friend or family member how you felt during a panic or anxiety attack, it may not matter much to use the correct terms.
However, when it comes to seeking anxiety counselling and describing your symptoms to a mental health professional, using the right term starts to matter a bit more. Once you understand the difference between the two, you can seek out the most appropriate treatment to resolve the condition.
Here we will discuss some of the main differences between a panic attack and anxiety attack so you can get a better understanding of what each condition entails and how their respective symptoms can be treated differently:
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear and apprehension that typical comes out of nowhere and does not appear to be caused by any stressor. The intense physical sensations associated with a panic attack are usually unpredictable, and can make a person feel a sense of impending doom.
A person having a panic attack sometimes believes that there is an imminent threat to his or her life and may feel as though they are having a heart attack or even dying. Panic attacks typically last for about 10 minutes, but because of the severity of the symptoms, people who experience it find themselves worrying about the next unexpected attack. This anticipatory anxiety often prevents them from living a normal life even after the symptoms have long subsided.
Some of the symptoms of panic attack are:
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pressure in the head
- A feeling like you are suffocating
- Feeling weak
- Having difficulty breathing
- Hot or cold flushes
- Scared of dying
- Feeling a loss of control
- Dizziness or light-headedness
What Is Anxiety?
The term anxiety is loosely thrown around to refer to the general feeling of worry or pressure that almost everyone experiences from time to time. But unlike worry that is caused by external stressors, an anxiety attack does not easily pass when a problem is resolved or stressors are removed.
Anxiety is a mental disorder that causes fear, nervousness, and worry that just won’t go away. It is described as an intense fear over a specific place or future events such as a job interview, illness, or death. The condition intensifies over a period of time until the fear of a perceived danger becomes too overwhelming that it may feel like you are having a heart attack.
The symptoms of anxiety include:
- Muscle tension
- Disturbed sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive fear and worrying
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tense
- Obsessive thinking
- Avoidance of situations
The symptoms of anxiety attack are somewhat similar to panic attack but the difference is that the symptoms associated with anxiety attack are short lived and less intense.
After identifying the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, we can see that the main difference is the unidentifiable triggers of panic attacks. In contrast to anxiety attack, a panic attack brings a slew of intense feelings that typically involves a sense of impending danger that one needs to immediately escape from.
Both panic and anxiety attacks are conditions that can hinder an individual from living a normal and fulfilling life.
If you have been suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, remember there’s always ways you can address these issues – whether it’s trying a number of self-help methods such as meditation, hypnosis or exercise – or seeking help from a mental health professional, it’s important that you get past these issues and claim back your quality of life.