Anxiety And Panic Attacks: The Bottom Line
Its understandable if youve been confused by the difference between anxiety and panic attacks. While anxiety attacks are situational, panic attacks seem to often appear for no reason, and panic attacks come and go more suddenly. Thankfully, there are ways to manage your risk of anxiety and panic attacks or prevent them by treating the underlying causes. This includes learning your triggers, learning how to self regulate your nervous system, and going to counselling to process your emotions.
What Are The 5 Differences Between Anxiety And Panic Attacks
Panic attack and anxiety attack are medical terms that are commonly used interchangeably, even though they dont mean the same thing. While they may share some common symptoms, several key markers differentiate one condition from the other.
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Generally, panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ in intensity and duration. Unlike anxiety attacks, panic attacks are more intense and appear suddenly. Whereas, anxiety attacks have triggering factors.
Diagnosis For Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
In the past, it was more difficult to diagnose panic and anxiety attacks. The symptoms that come with them are similar to those of many other illnesses, including heart disease, thyroid disorders, and breathing disorders. If you have an attack, you should see your doctor to make sure that the cause of these symptoms is not a serious medical condition.
If you find yourself having panic or anxiety attacks, or anxiety in general, a therapist or mental health professional can help to pinpoint these causes. They may also be able to help diagnose if you have a panic or anxiety disorder that triggers the attacks.
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Panic Attack Vs Anxiety Attack: Is There A Difference And What Are The Symptoms
The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are oftentimes used interchangeably by those unfamiliar with them, but its important to know that they arent actually the same, although, they might feel similar. With several symptoms in common, there are a few key characteristics that distinguish one from the other.
Family And Relationship Issues
Relationships, whether family, personal, or work-related, have their ups and downs. While relationships can be some of the best things in life, they can also be a source of stress and problems.
Working with a psychologist, either individually or in a group setting, can help iron out wrinkles that can form in even the strongest relationships.
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Causes Of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks can often be brought on by worry and fear, but in different ways.
Causes of a panic attack
A panic attack can be caused by a stressful event or nothing at all. They happen suddenly, usually without warning, and can even occur when youre sleeping or relaxed.
Panic attacks can be brought on by certain conditions:
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
Your panic attack can be the result of your body trying to get you out of a situation that is perceived as dangerous. This response puts your body into fight-or-flight mode.
Causes of an anxiety attack
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry or fear about a certain situation. Anxiety can cause you to have trouble rationalizing the situation and brings about feelings of dread and apprehension.
People who have anxiety attacks may also have an anxiety disorder, of which there are several.
What Is It Like To Have Panic Disorder
One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldnt get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldnt think straight.
After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help.
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How Anxiety Plays A Role
Its important to remember that its both normal and healthy to feel anxiety. During uncomfortable situations, anxiety may even help you sense and avoid danger. But people tend to experience those feelings more intenselyand beyond a manageable amountduring anxiety and panic attacks.
The system gets activated in response to things that arent actually dangerous, or youre exaggerating the danger or concern, Forand says. In other words, your body is setting up false alarms.
While anxiety attacks can be triggered by anxiety, panic attacks are generally classified as either expectedmeaning the attack is triggered by something like a phobiaor unexpected, where there is no discernable cause for the episode. And for those who suffer from unexpected attacks, it can be frightening. Once you have one of these experiences, Forand says, you can become so frightened of it that you start to avoid places that might be associated with it, referring to the roughly 6 million Americans who will develop panic disorder, which is a fear of having more panic attacks. You start to avoid things that remind you of it and become quite attuned to any of the physical sensations that might be a cue for a panic attack happening.
The Physiology Of Panic Attacks Vs Anxiety Attacks
A panic attack is the result of activation of the fear systemthe sympathetic nervous system, says Farchione. Its just happening at a time when theres not anything external to be afraid of, which is what is so disconcerting about it. In a panic attack, he says, the body floods with adrenaline, activating the part of the brain that handles emotionthe amygdala. This adrenal surge triggers the physical and emotional symptoms of a panic attack. When the surge subsides, your body and emotional state return to normal.
Anxiety attacks are similar, but just not as intense, says Farchione. In anxiety, you see the release of the stress hormone cortisol, but its not the same as you get in a panic reaction, says Farchione. He gives an example: If you were in a jungle that you knew had dangerous animals in it, you might be on guard to every sound and movement, he says. Thats anxiety. But when a lion jumps out of the jungle and charges toward youthats what a panic attack feels like.
This simple trick could help you conquer panic attacks.
What Are Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks cause you to feel intense, overwhelming emotions. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, theyre not exactly the same thing. Both panic and anxiety attacks activate your nervous system to send you into fight-or-flight mode, causing physical and emotional symptoms. Their differences lie in what causes the attack.
Symptoms Of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks have physical symptoms that can help you understand what is happening with your mind and body.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Panic attacks are usually sudden and reach their peak within a few minutes. While they are debilitating at the moment, people usually recover within less than an hour.
If youre having a panic attack, youll likely experience four or more of the following symptoms as it happens:
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How Are They Diagnosed
In many cases, palpitations are harmless, but they can be worrisome. A cause may be unknown, and tests might not return any results.
If you continue to experience palpitations or if youd like to be sure an underlying problem isnt causing them, make an appointment to see your doctor.
At your appointment, your doctor will conduct a full physical exam and ask about your medical history. If they suspect something might be causing these symptoms, theyll order tests.
These tests can be used to help identify a cause for heart palpitations:
- Blood tests. Changes in your blood may help your doctor identify possible problems.
- Electrocardiogram . This test records your hearts electrical signals for a period of time. In some cases, you may have an EKG while youre exercising. This is known as a stress test.
- Holter monitoring. This type of test requires you to wear a monitor for 24 to 48 hours. The monitor records your heart the entire time. This longer time frame gives your doctor a broader window of your hearts activities.
- Event recording. If the palpitations are too sporadic for continuous monitoring, your doctor may suggest another type of device. This one is worn continuously. Youll use a handheld device to begin recording as soon as you start experiencing symptoms.
What Is An Anxiety Attack
Feeling stressed or feeling anxious is different from having an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks are generally triggered by specific situations. In this aspect, they are easier to deal with because you know when to expect one. You can then either avoid the situation or have a contingency plan in place to manage it.
Unfortunately, an anxiety attacks symptoms can linger over days, weeks or even months. They do not come and go but instead build up gradually. When your anticipation of an unwanted situation builds up , and you just cant take it anymore, it may feel like a sudden attack.
In my case, I used to have anxiety attacks around the subject of a terminal illness. I was once surrounded by people in the palliative care space, who did not respect me when I said I dont want to talk about this because what they were saying would bring up painful memories. They would also dismiss me whenever I spoke about antiaging and life extension, even though I was clearly passionate about it. The repeated invalidation and dismissal of my experiences would lead to anxiety attacks, but I would manage or prevent them by leaving the room. Now, I no longer have them as I dont have to interact with those who created the situation.
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When Might I Have Panic Attacks
Panic attacks happen at different times for everyone. Some people have one panic attack then don’t ever experience another, or you might find that you have them regularly, or several in a short space of time. You might notice that particular places, situations or activities seem to trigger panic attacks. For example, they might happen before a stressful appointment.
Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. They can come on very quickly. Your symptoms will usually be at their worst within 10 minutes. You might also experience symptoms of a panic attack over a longer period of time. This could be because you’re having a second panic attack, or you’re experiencing other symptoms of anxiety.
“My panic attacks seem to come out of the blue now. But in fact, they seem to be triggered mainly at night when I want to go to sleep but cannot stop my mind racing, experiencing worry and panic about anything that may be on my mind.”
When To Get Help
See a GP if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder.
They’ll ask you to describe your symptoms, how often you get them, and how long you have had them.
They may also carry out a physical examination to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
It can sometimes be difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions and personal life, but try not to feel anxious or embarrassed.
You may be diagnosed with panic disorder if you have regular and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month of continuous worry or concern about having further attacks.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Panic Disorder
While many people experience just one or two panic attacks without further episodes or complicationsand theres little reason to worry if thats yousome people go on to develop panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks, combined with major changes in behavior or persistent anxiety over having further attacks.
You may be suffering from panic disorder if you:
- Experience frequent, unexpected panic attacks that arent tied to a specific situation
- Worry a lot about having another panic attack
- Are behaving differently because of the panic attacks, such as avoiding places where youve previously panicked
While a single panic attack may only last a few minutes, the effects of the experience can leave a lasting imprint. If you have panic disorder, the recurrent panic attacks take an emotional toll. The memory of the intense fear and terror that you felt during the attacks can negatively impact your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life. Eventually, this leads to the following panic disorder symptoms:
Anticipatory anxiety Instead of feeling relaxed and like your normal self in between panic attacks, you feel anxious and tense. This anxiety stems from a fear of having future panic attacks. This fear of fear is present most of the time, and can be extremely disabling.
Is It Time To Get Some Help
Life is rarely without its challenges. There are some, however, that can be so overbearing that it seems impossible to move on.
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Some People May Develop Panic Disorders
For many people, the feelings of panic occur only occasionally during periods of stress or illness. A person who experiences recurring panic attacks is said to have panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. They generally have recurring and unexpected panic attacks and persistent fears of repeated attacks.
The Difference Between Anxiety And Panic Attacks
In many ways, panic attacks are more challenging to manage and regulate than anxiety attacks. Panic attacks dont always have an identifiable trigger, where your body and mind send danger signals before things get out of hand. Instead, you suffer suddenly from an intense feeling of fear, terror or other uncomfortable emotion. A panic attack comes on suddenly, with extreme emotion bursting out of nowhere.
However, the upside to panic attacks is that they generally peak after 10 minutes and then subside. You dont suffer from lingering effects for days on end, and you may even feel like your normal self again within an hour or two.
Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, can last several hours.
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