People often use the terms “panic attacks” and “anxiety” interchangeably. From a clinical and medical perspective, however, panic attacks and anxiety are two different things.
They share some of the same symptoms, such as feeling stressed, experiencing a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, excessive worrying, and so on. Additionally, it’s common for people with anxiety to experience panic attacks as a symptom. However, each condition has some unique features that help distinguish between the two.
This article covers everything you need to know about anxiety, panic attacks, and the differences between the two disorders.
What Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are best described as a sudden and intense feeling of terror, fear, nervousness, or apprehension. They usually happen suddenly and without warning. For most people, there are no obvious triggers and they can’t be sure when the next attack will strike.
Symptoms of a panic attack include:
● Accelerated heart rate
● Shortness of breath
● Chest pain or a tight feeling
● Nausea, dizziness, feeling sick
● Fear of something bad happening
● Excessive sweating
● Feeling smothered
● Fear of losing control.
For most people, the symptoms will start to subside after 10 minutes. But for the period of the attack, it can be a scary and traumatizing experience that has a ripple effect for hours or days after.
It’s also possible to experience a succession of panic attacks one after the other, making the episode last longer.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety has a lot of the same symptoms as a panic attack but isn’t as sudden or as intense. Anxiety builds up over time. It’s a disorder some people learn to live with day-to-day.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
● Being easily irritated and annoyed
● General restlessness
● Difficulty sleeping
● Muscle tension
● Increased heart rate
● Shortness of breath
● Difficulty concentrating.
Unlike panic attacks, the symptoms do not come on and subside after 10 minutes or so. Most of these symptoms will be present most of the time for someone suffering from anxiety. They will also worsen under certain circumstances, and likewise, you can manage them with the right treatments.
Clinical Differences Between a Panic Attack and Anxiety
Medical professionals refer to the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) when diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM-5 recognizes anxiety as a disorder and lists panic attacks as a type of anxiety disorder.
It defines a panic attack as “an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress,” while it refers to anxiety as an “anticipation of future concern.” In this way, it looks at anxiety as a reaction rather than an unexpected episode.
Although the DSM-5 groups the two conditions together in their symptoms and triggers, it also makes a clear differentiation between the two disorders. Panic attacks are short-lived episodes of extreme distress. Anxiety lasts a long time and the symptoms range from mild to severe.
Panic attacks also accelerate physical sensations, such as feeling your heart racing or excessive sweating and breathing. Anxiety can also cause these symptoms, but over time it can also cause reduced physical activity while panic attacks do not.
What Causes Panic Attacks and Anxiety?
Panic attacks can be both expected and unexpected. It can be difficult to predict or even narrow down what triggered an unexpected panic attack. For expected panic attacks and anxiety, here are some of the common triggers:
● Stressful situations
● Social situations
● Chronic pain
● Confusing situations
● Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
● Reminders of traumatic experiences
● Confronting phobias.
Treatments for Panic Attacks and Anxiety
The treatments for anxiety disorders and panic attacks are very similar. The three main treatment methods are:
Medications – Antidepressants and other anxiety medications can help you manage the symptoms of these conditions. The drawback is that there are possible side effects, and medications do not work for everyone.
Therapy – Working with a therapist can help you get a better understanding of why you suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. They will then help you work through the causes of a psychological standpoint.
Lifestyle changes – If you know what triggers your anxiety or panic attacks, there may be some natural solutions help. General wellness lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating well, meditating, and reducing the stress in your life are very effective for some people.