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Is There A Difference Between An Anxiety Attack Vs A Panic Attack?

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Anxiety is something we all experience on and off, usually due to situations in our life that appear difficult to us. Some of us may even experience panic attacks during our lives, due to major events or at times without any identifiable cause. While most people think of these as the same thing, there are a few differences to be aware of.

Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks are psychological issues that lead to physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating and feeling fearful. Some people may also feel nauseous and have difficulty breathing easily. Let’s look into both of these a little closer so that we can tease out the overlooked difference between the two: 

Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack

Anxiety is a well-known feeling, most people will experience varying levels of anxiety at some point in their life, which is normal. Often, when the feeling of anxiety is excessive and not in proportion to the event that is triggering it, it could be a matter of concern. In general, however, anxiety attacks typically will have a known cause (usually something external), they may occur without an identifiable cause (a deep-rooted psychological issue or due to other medical conditions). Anxiety usually builds up gradually, for example, feeling more and more anxious when you need to speak at a public presentation. Some signs of an anxiety attack may be nervousness, an uneasy tummy and mounting stress or a feeling of queasiness slowly building up. 

A panic attack is an intense, short-lived condition. Some signs of a panic attack include nausea, feeling like you’re losing control, fearing for your life, headache, abdominal ache, dizziness, sweating, difficulty in speaking, listening, seeing, difficulty in breathing and a racing heartbeat. It will feel like your body is shutting down. Panic attacks may or may not be caused by external triggers, often they may or may not have a specific cause. People who have regular panic attacks may be suffering from panic disorder. 

Difference Between Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

The primary difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack is the duration and onset of each attack. Panic attacks are usually shorter and can happen suddenly, especially if they do not have a specific cause (called stressor). In a few cases, panic attacks can persist for a longer duration, but typically the signs of a panic attack will start reducing after 30 minutes or less. 

Anxiety on the other hand can persist for as long as the trigger is around. If an event, task or social interaction is triggering anxiety, you may feel the symptoms and signs of an anxiety attack until you are removed from that situation. Unlike a panic attack, an anxiety attack will build up gradually. 

Another major difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is the severity of the physical and emotional symptoms. A panic attack is usually very intense and can be accompanied by feelings of detachment (both from the world and oneself). The physical symptoms are usually similar between these two, but just stronger with panic attacks. 

Causes and Treatments

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can have similar causes, these may include:

  • An underlying mental illness
  • Stress-related to work or the workplace environment
  • Social interactions and events
  • Phobias
  • Traumatic memories
  • Bodily pains
  • Chronic and long term medical issues (such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes
  • An undiagnosed neurosis
  • Due to some medications

Note that this list of triggers and causes for panic attacks and anxiety attacks do not include panic attacks that do not have any trigger. Many people suffer from sudden panic attacks that are caused by no known reasons. However, on evaluation, your psychiatrist can help in understanding, identifying the cause and managing these conditions better.  

Typically, clinical treatment for both these conditions will include therapy (chiefly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT) and sometimes medications. Some anxiety treatments at home include slow and controlled breathing, training yourself to accept the situation you’re going through and using relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery or even aromatherapy. However, you can also use other healthy methods as long as it calms you down. Panic attack treatments at home include the same things, but you may need to talk to your psychiatrist or counsellor whenever you have a panic attack.  

Conclusion

While the difference is not obvious at first, hopefully, this overview has helped you understand panic attacks vs anxiety attacks better. Keep in mind that an anxiety attack can also climax into a panic attack. Also, the home remedies mentioned above are only to be used along with any other treatment your doctor has prescribed. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms, please seek medical attention at the earliest. 

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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