Anxiety tells us when we must flee, freeze or fight and mobilizes us without too much thinking and without which we would succumb to most threats in our lives. However, when anxiety occurs due to imagined threats, some of which may or may not be real or meaningful, it can contribute to significant distress and avoidance. A panic attack, on the other hand, comprises abrupt, intense fear or discomfort coupled with mental and physical symptoms. This attack can last for a few minutes to hours.
While it is common to hear anxiety and panic attacks used interchangeably, courtesy of the common symptoms, behavioral health professionals say these terms have different features.
Read on for the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack.
A key difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks is their appearance. An anxiety attack is a response to stress, fear, or worry and will start gradually and build up over time. A panic attack, on the other hand, is spontaneous, going from 0-10 in a moment. After a panic attack, the victim may feel stressed, on edge, or worried for the rest of the day.
A panic attack is an intense, sudden feeling of terror, fear, or discomfort coupled with other mental and physical symptoms. The symptoms are extreme and cause severe disruption to the individuals. These symptoms include the fear of dying, feeling detached from self, fear of going crazy or losing control, excessive sweating, chills, dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness, heart palpitations, hot flushes, abdominal distress or nausea, difficulty breathing, tingling sensations, and numbness.
Symptoms of panic attacks include difficulty concentrating, restlessness, irritability, disturbed sleep, dizziness, increased heart rate, fatigue, and muscle tension.
Triggers are another difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. Anxiety triggers are often situational, including fear of closed spaces or being trapped in an elevator. Therefore, an anxiety attack will result from the factors that cause someone’s anxiety. On the other hand, it is challenging to establish the cause of panic attacks as they often start suddenly.
Statistics reveal an upsurge in anxiety among people using addictive drugs, as addiction affects the mind. Equally, people using hallucinogenic drugs will be more vulnerable to panic attacks, paranoia, and anxiety attacks. These symptoms often show during drug detox and withdrawal. Transitioning to normal life will also cause anxiety post-drug rehabilitation, hence the need for anxiolytic medications.
Despite the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks, common treatments can address the problems. These include psychotherapy to help you establish the cause and management for a hopeful outlook. Medications can also reduce the symptoms as you navigate long-term strategies. Self-help techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises will also manage the symptoms at your own pace.
Panic and anxiety attacks are different despite the interchangeable use of terms. These attacks differ in their appearance, symptoms, and triggers. When they happen, they disrupt your normal life, hence the need for intervention. By talking to a doctor about your symptoms, they will recommend treatment options for relief to ensure a quality life.