5 Dec 2023
Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack – A Comprehensive Exploration
The demanding pace of the modern lifestyle can take a toll on our mental health, leading to the prevalence of a state of anxiety and panic among individuals. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct experiences with unique symptoms and characteristics. Knowing what a panic attack vs anxiety attack is can help avert or manage them efficiently.
This blog explores the key differences between these two conditions, their symptoms, the diagnostic process, treatment options, and effective coping strategies.
In this article:
Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack - Key Differences
Panic attacks are intense, sudden episodes of overwhelming fear that peak within minutes. They can occur without warning and are accompanied by certain symptoms such as a rapid heart beat, breathlessness, and a sense of impending doom. They are typically brief but leave a lasting impact.
Anxiety is a natural response to stress, commonly encountered by individuals during various life situations such as public speaking, exam-taking, or when faced with significant decisions. It is a normal part of the human experience. However, if the anxiety extends beyond the typical transient worry or fear or intensifies over time, it could indicate the presence of an anxiety attack.
Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack Symptoms
Numbness in Hands
Increased Heart Rate
Feelings of Fear
Chest Pain or Discomfort
Shortness of Breath
1. Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks are characterized by persistent and overwhelming worry about future events and even about everyday situations.
Individuals experiencing this attack may find it challenging to concentrate as their minds are often consumed by anxious thoughts.
Chronic fatigue is a common symptom of an anxiety attack, as the mind is in a constant state of alertness. This can lead to physical exhaustion.
Irritability is a prevalent emotional response during anxiety attacks, making it difficult for individuals to manage stressors calmly.
Since this attack can manifest physically, it often leads to tension headaches, which are usually because of heightened stress levels.
2. Symptoms of Panic Attacks
These attacks can induce sudden and profuse sweating, a physiological response to the intense fear experienced.
Individuals may experience a tingling sensation or numbness in their hands during the attack, often due to heightened stress hormones.
Intense nervousness or restlessness is a hallmark of this attack and is often accompanied by a sense of impending doom.
These attacks may disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or frequent awakenings during the night.
A sudden and overwhelming dizziness is a common symptom, often accompanied by a sense of losing control.
3. Shared Symptoms
There are some shared symptoms of anxiety vs panic attacks, which often makes it challenging to distinguish between the two. Outlined below are some symptoms:
Both types of attacks can trigger a rapid heart rate, contributing to the overall feeling of distress.
The overwhelming emotion of fear is a shared experience, though the triggers and intensities may vary between these two attacks.
Chest pain or discomfort is one of the common symptoms, which occurs due to heightened physiological responses.
Both types of attacks can result in shortness of breath, creating a sense of breathlessness or suffocation.
Profuse sweating is a common symptom exhibited by both. It reflects the heightened response to the stress.
Diagnosing Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Accurate diagnosis is fundamental to effective management. There are no lab tests that diagnose these disorders, but your HCP (health professional) may utilize various criteria, including the duration and intensity of symptoms, to differentiate between the two attacks. Diagnostic tools such as the DSM-5 provide guidelines for clinicians to make informed assessments.
Anxiety and panic attack medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines are prescribed to manage symptoms associated with both conditions.
Medications such as alprazolam, clonazepam, or lorazepam may provide immediate relief during acute episodes.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach, helping individuals identify and reframe negative thought patterns associated with both conditions.
Exposure therapy assists individuals in gradually confronting and overcoming the feared situations or stimuli that trigger their attacks.
Coping Strategies for Panic vs. Anxiety Attack
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and Meditation Practicing techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can help individuals manage racing thoughts and stay grounded during anxiety attacks.
Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, promoting a sense of well-being and reducing anxiety.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Focused and controlled breathing can help alleviate symptoms and restore a sense of calmness.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups of the body in a systematic way to promote physical and mental relaxation.
Anxiety Attack Coping Strategies
Panic Attack Coping Strategies
Can anxiety attacks escalate into panic attacks?
Yes, prolonged or unmanaged anxiety attacks may escalate into panic attacks, especially if the underlying stressors are not addressed.
Are medications the only treatment option for panic and anxiety attacks?
No, a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and self-help strategies can prove effective in managing panic and anxiety attacks.
What can be done to manage and prevent panic attacks?
Learning and practicing relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and stress management can be beneficial in preventing or reducing the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Seeking therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can also prove effective for managing anxiety and panic symptoms. In some cases, medication may be prescribed by a Healthcare Professional to help manage symptoms.
How long do panic attacks typically last?
The duration of a panic attack can vary widely from person to person and even from episode to episode. This attack may last around 5 to 20 minutes on average, but some can be shorter or longer. It's essential to recognize that the intensity and symptoms experienced during an attack can make the time feel longer than it is.
What are the signs and symptoms of an anxiety attack?
Anxiety attacks can show a range of symptoms. Common signs include intense fear, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, trembling, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom.
What are the causes of panic attacks?
Various factors, including high stress levels, major life changes, trauma, phobias, and a family history of panic disorders, can cause panic attacks. Identifying specific triggers can help manage and prevent these attacks.
Understanding the nuances between panic and anxiety attacks is pivotal for accurate diagnosis and targeted interventions. Though they have common features, these conditions require tailored approaches for effective management. By recognizing the specific symptoms, seeking professional help, and implementing coping strategies, individuals can regain control over their mental health and embark on a journey toward holistic well-being.