Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: What’s the Difference?

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are two terms commonly used interchangeably to describe feelings of intense fear, apprehension, and worry. However, while they share some similar symptoms, they are different experiences.

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or terror that comes on without warning and reaches peak intensity within minutes. It often includes a sense of impending doom or death.

The symptoms of a panic attack can vary but typically include:

  • Racing or pounding heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or stomach upset
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from one’s surroundings
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that many people mistake it for a heart attack or other medical emergency. Panic attacks can occur at any time, including during sleep.

What is an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are a little different. While the symptoms may be similar to a panic attack, they tend to build up over time.

Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, can be a response to a stressful situation, such as giving a speech, going on a date, or taking an exam. For some people, anxiety attacks may become more frequent or occur in situations that were previously not considered stressful.

Some common symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • Excessive or persistent worrying
  • Feeling nervous or on edge
  • Racing thoughts
  • Muscle tension or discomfort
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating or chills
  • Stomach upset or diarrhea

Anxiety attacks tend to last longer than panic attacks, often for several hours or days. Although they can be debilitating, they are typically not as intense or sudden as a panic attack.

What Causes Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks?

The causes of panic attacks and anxiety attacks are not well understood, but some factors may increase the risk of experiencing these conditions:

  • Genetics: Some people may be more prone to panic attacks or anxiety attacks due to inherited traits or genes.
  • Trauma: Trauma or a previous traumatic event may trigger panic attacks or anxiety attacks in some people.
  • Stress: Lifestyle stressors such as work, school, or personal issues may contribute to the onset of panic attacks or anxiety attacks.
  • Substance use: The use of drugs, alcohol, or medication may increase the risk of panic attacks or anxiety attacks in some people.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart disease, may cause symptoms similar to panic attacks or anxiety attacks.

Treatment for Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be treated with several different methods, including therapy, medication and lifestyle changes.

  • Therapy: Therapy or counseling can help people who experience panic attacks or anxiety attacks understand and manage their symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one such therapy that has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and panic.
  • Medication: Certain medications, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, may be prescribed to manage severe symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety attacks.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes, such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, getting regular exercise, and practicing relaxation techniques can also help reduce the frequency and severity of panic attacks and anxiety attacks.

When to Seek Help

If you experience panic attacks or anxiety attacks, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional. A doctor or psychologist can diagnose your condition and recommend appropriate treatment options. Waiting to get help can make your symptoms worse and lead to other health problems such as depression and substance abuse.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while panic attacks and anxiety attacks share similarities in symptoms, they are different experiences. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and without warning, while anxiety attacks tend to build up over time. Understanding the differences between these conditions can help people seek appropriate treatment and manage their symptoms effectively.

FAQs

FAQs about Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: What’s the Difference?

1. What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of fear or discomfort that typically lasts for a few minutes. People experiencing a panic attack might feel like they are unable to breathe, have a heart attack, or lose control. Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, sweating, and trembling.

2. What is an anxiety attack?

Anxiety attacks are less sudden and intense than panic attacks, and their symptoms are usually less severe. People experiencing an anxiety attack might feel nervous, tense, or on edge. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating and an increased heart rate. Anxiety attacks can last for several minutes or even hours.

3. How are panic attacks and anxiety attacks treated?

Treatment for panic attacks and anxiety attacks can vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and the individual. In general, treatment for panic attacks might involve medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Treatment for anxiety attacks can also include medications and therapy, but may also involve lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress reduction techniques. It’s important to speak to a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing panic attacks or anxiety attacks as they can help determine the best course of treatment for you.


References

1. Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 17(3), 327-335.
2. McEvoy, P. M., & Mahoney, A. E. J. (2012). To be sure, to be sure: intolerance of uncertainty mediates symptoms of various anxiety disorders and depression. Behaviour research and therapy, 50(11), 744-749.
3. Rachman, S. (2004). Fear of contamination. Behaviour research and therapy, 42(11), 1227-1255.