You might have heard about somebody having a panic attack or an anxiety attack at a party, a social event, during a flight, at a runway, at a doctor’s chamber etc. and thought what exactly it is. In this article, we will try to explain both these terms and how similar and different they are from each other.
What is a Panic Attack
A panic attack is a very strong and impulsive emotion of fear, terror, nervousness, or apprehension. When you are having a panic attack, your entire day might become disrupted. Usually, the panic attacks occur all of a sudden, without any reason. However, in some cases, you may know that you will face a panic attack because it is a reaction to a known stressor, such as a phobia.
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The symptoms of panic attack usually reach their peak level within 10 minutes and then they gradually tend to wane. This might not be true in all cases.
In some cases, panic attacks may occur for a longer time or you may face one panic attack after another. This attack is so physically debilitating and terrifying that you may tend to feel stressed and worried for the entire remaining day after you had the panic attack.
What are symptoms of a panic attack
Panic attacks come all of a sudden, without an obvious trigger. For those who are not aware about the symptoms of this attack, they may feel that they are having a heart attack and seek medical help for it.
You may face some or all of the below mentioned symptoms for 10-15 minutes and then, they gradually tend to subside:
- a racing or pounding heartbeat, Heart palpitations, or accelerated heart rate
- chest pain or discomfort
- dizziness or lightheadedness or fainting
- hot flashes or chills
- nausea or abdominal distress or Abdominal cramping
- numbness or tingling sensation in the extremities
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- stomach pain
- tightness in your throat
- Excessive sweating
- the feeling of being choked or smothered
If you are experiencing a panic attack, you may also:
- feel a loss of control
- feel like they are going crazy and there is some danger lurking around
- have a sudden fear that they will die
- feelings of unreality (derealization), feel detached from themselves, which is called depersonalization, and feel detached from their surroundings
It is sometimes common to have one panic attack after another and thus, it may seem that an attack is lasting for much longer.
After an attack, many people feel stressed, worried, or otherwise unusual for the rest of the day.
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What is as an anxiety attack?
Well, you would be surprised to know that there is no such condition as an anxiety attack and the medical science doesn’t recognize this term. However, you may suffer from anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a condition defined as too much, continuous worrying over an imminent event such as death or illness of oneself or the others, or may be even small events such as being late for an appointment or other uncertain outcomes.
What are symptoms of an anxiety disorder/ anxiety attack?
It is necessary to know when you are facing an anxiety attack by recognizing its symptoms. It generally occurs after a period of extensive worrying for hours, or even days. It can last anywhere from minutes to hours, even days and weeks.
Anxiety attack symptoms include:
- being easily startled
- chest pain
- dry mouth
- fatigue comes easily
- Difficulty in concentration or loss of concentration. Sometimes, your mind may even go blank.
- muscle pain or Muscle tension
- numbness or tingling in the extremities
- a rapid or increased heart rate
- restlessness or feeling of on an edge continuously
- shortness of breath
- sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
- the feeling of being choked or smothered
- continuous worry and distress
What are their causes?
Panic attacks can be either expected or unexpected. Unexpected panic attacks have no apparent triggers. They may appear all of a sudden.
Anxiety attacks and expected panic attacks can be triggered by:
- work stresses
- social stresses
- withdrawal from alcohol or drugs
- chronic conditions or chronic pain
- medications or supplements
- various phobias (excessive fears of objects or situations)
- memories of past trauma
People are more likely to experience panic attacks if they have:
- an anxious personality
- another mental health issue, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder
- family members with anxiety or panic disorders
- a chronic medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, diabetes, or heart disease
- issues with alcohol or drug abuse
- ongoing stresses in their personal or professional lives
- experienced a stressful event, such as a divorce or bereavement
- experienced trauma in the past
- witnessed a traumatic event
Females are more likely than males to have anxiety or panic attacks.
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How do you differentiate between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?
The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably many times, but you should know that they are not the same. There are several common symptoms and thus, distinguishing between both of them becomes difficult.
- Time duration
When a panic attack occurs, it reaches its peak level within usually 10 minutes and then, gradually, it tends to subside. However, symptoms of a panic attack can prevail for long periods.
An anxiety attack is an intense and/or extended period of anxiety. It is more severe than the simple feeling of anxiety but less severe than a panic attack. While panic attacks come on suddenly, symptoms of anxiety follow a period of excessive worry.
Panic attack is so physically debilitating and terrifying that you may tend to feel stressed and worried for the entire remaining day after you had the panic attack.
However, anxiety attack symptoms vary in intensity, from mild to severe.
- Associated trigger
An anxiety attack is a response/ a reaction to a fear arising out of something which causes you stress. E.g. you’re walking down a dark alley and hear footsteps, or you’re at even the top of a rollercoaster and looking to go down that large hill.
Panic attack on the other hand doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and you cannot predict it. Panic attack is the body’s response to some lurking danger, even if there’s no obvious threat to the person’s physical well-being.
- Associated symptoms
Symptoms of anxiety are linked to numerous mental health conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma, while panic attacks mainly affect those with panic disorder.
The symptoms of both these attacks have been given in the article to give you a better understanding of the characteristic difference between them.
- Panic speeds up physical sensations, and worry slows the mental activity
During a panic attack, a person’s breathing quickens and their heart rate increases. You may feel that the body has prepared itself to fight off an unseen enemy.
However, during an anxiety attack, there are periods of time when your physiological activity is reduced. Your heart beat may not increase; though your sweat response might be decreased.
What should you do when you are having a panic or an anxiety attack?
You may follow the given strategies to help you deal with them:
- Acknowledge the attack
The symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack can be extremely frightening. You should understand and know and face that you are having them. Symptoms will be over soon as soon as the attack passes.
- Breathing technique: Breathe slowly and deeply
Having trouble in breathing is among the most common and disturbing symptoms of these types of attack. When you are not breathing properly, remember that the brain is receiving less oxygen than required which further hampers you in thinking and functioning properly.
You should focus the attention on your breathing and try to inhale and exhale slowly and at a steady rate. This will help you in calming down.
- Try relaxation techniques
Methods of relaxation, such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, can reduce feelings of panic and anxiety.
A person can learn these techniques online or by working with a qualified therapist.
- Home remedies
There are certain home remedies as well as lifestyle related things which will help you in fighting these two attacks. These are self help strategies and often will help you in reducing the stress level in your body.
- Maintaining a positive attitude towards life and in general. Try to warden off negative thoughts from your life.
- Know what the stressors in your life are. Try to manage or reduce these stressors.
- Think the triggers which cause you these attacks. Avoiding them or successfully managing them will help in long run.
- You should try to limit alcohol and caffeine intake in your body.
- Try to eat wholesome and balanced meals every day. Having anti oxidants in your meals will help manage free radicals.
- Try to sleep continuously at a stretch for 8 hours in night. Having a good sleep relaxes your body and prepares your body for the coming day.
- Exercise every day
- Try to keep your mind busy. At the same time, take out some time to do activities which you enjoy. This cheers both the body and the mind.
- You may practice meditation, yoga, or deep breathing
Engaging in therapy can help to identify triggers. Therapy can help you develop ways to manage your symptoms. Therapy also aims to help people to accept their pasts and work toward their futures and gain a clearer point of view that will allow for a more positive outlook towards life.
- Medical treatments
Both panic attacks and anxiety disorders are response to some underlying emotional fear arising out of something. Medication can reduce symptoms in people with severe or recurrent panic or anxiety. They may only be needed for a short period of time to control symptoms while you work on the other strategies.
It can be used in conjunction with therapy or as a stand-alone treatment.
Your healthcare professional may prescribe:
- anti-anxiety drugs
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Everyone can experience panic attacks and anxiety; they are part of the emotional and protective responses hardwired into the human body. It’s when either occurs frequently that there is cause for concern. It should not be avoided and ignored.
Rather, you should discuss this with your partner and family so that they can provide a more supportive environment for you to help in managing it. The sooner a person seeks help, the better the outcome.
Also, if required consult a healthcare professional so that the symptoms can be managed properly.