Panic Attacks vs. Anxiety Attacks. Is there a Difference?

By: HOLLY HARTZELL- THOMAS

As someone who suffers from both panic and anxiety attacks, at some point in time I didn’t know there was a difference. But, I assure you there is. They each have different effects and symptoms. Panic attacks are more sudden and have more physical symptoms, while anxiety attacks are more in your head. But do they really need to be seperated? I mean, they are both a type of attack due to stress, so should we differentiate between them? Yes we should, and that is why they are labeled as two different things. It’s good to be aware of what’s happening in your head and how to cope.

What is a panic attack? Mayo Clinic defines panic attack as, “Sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety and physical symptoms, based on a perceived threat rather than imminent danger.” The physical symptoms of panic attacks include but are not limited to, racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling or shaking, unstable breathing, weakness or dizziness, and tightness in the chest. A panic attack is more of a physical reaction to excessive worrying that is caused by excessive worrying or severe stress. There are not only physical symptoms of panic attacks, but mental ones as well, which are and not limited to, fear of dying or losing control, a sense of detachment from the world, or fear in general. Panic attacks reach their peak at around 10 minutes and end after 20 to 30 minutes, they rarely exceed an hour. Some people can get panic attacks every few days, and others can get them once a month; it all depends on your mental state and what is happening currently in your life. Having panic attacks doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety or a panic disorder, it could simply be because of stress. 

Ways to calm a panic attack:

  1. Breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as possible through your nose. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  2. Count steadily from 1 to 5 after or during deep breathing.
  3. Relax each muscle one by one consciously
  4. Get moving i.e. walk around, exercise etc etc 
  5. Realize you are having a panic attack.   
  6. Repeat a mantra; i.e. “Undistort the distorted”

What does an anxiety attack entail? Typically anxiety attacks happen to someone with an anxiety disorder, I have generalized anxiety disorder which means I am prone to anxiety attacks, anxiety attacks do not happen to any and everyone. Symptoms of an anxiety attack include but are not limited to, worry, stress, distress, and fear. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks have to do with a more mental sense of fear. Such as the anticipation of a big event or something that you feel is going to or has threatened you. Anxiety attacks gradually build up over time and are much more in your head. It is possible to experience a panic attack and an anxiety attack in the moment. Anxiety attacks also have physical symptoms which is why they are commonly perceived as panic attacks. Symptoms including and not limited to, tightening of chest, dry mouth, sweating, chills or hot flashes, and trembling or shaking. As you could probably see, the physical symptoms are very similar and even share the symptoms of a panic attack, but the odd thing about anxiety attacks is that they could happen in the back of your head and you would look completely fine.

Ways to calm an anxiety attack:

  1. The 333’s , 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, then move 3 parts of your body
  2. 54321 remedy, 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you here, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste
  3. Challenge your negative thinking; i.e. “What if things go well?” instead of “What if things go wrong?” 
  4. Breathe deeply and focus on your breathing
  5. Get moving  i.e. get up and walk around, do exercises
  6. Mediate
  7. Do a form of selfcare; i.e. face masks, taking a long shower, etc. etc.

Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be frightening, but there are ways to cope and ease the attack. Another good way to stay on top of stress levels is making sure you get a healthy amount of sleep everyday. Sleep can really improve on your mental and physical health. Because anxiety can cause such turmoil, if you don’t find ways to cope with it, it can gradually get worse and worse which weakens your stomach and immune system. It’s not selfish to focus on yourself once in a while, even if you don’t suffer with panic or anxiety attacks. So when you feel another attack coming on, use your coping mechanisms to challenge the thoughts.  

One thought

  1. People are hardwired to experience both anxiety and panic attacks. Some are more prone to worry and anxiety because they have a very sensitive nervous system. If they grow up with others who are worriers, they can learn to worry.

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