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Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack: The Differences

Knowing the difference between an anxiety attack vs panic attack is important. Knowing how to treat an anxiety vs panic attack can get you healthy again.

Keyword(s): anxiety attack vs panic attack

Have you ever experienced an overwhelming feeling that left you physically and emotionally gasping for air?

You may have experienced an anxiety attack or a panic attack.

But do you know which one it was?

The differences between an anxiety attack vs panic attack are subtle. These two experience share so many similarities that it's sometimes difficult to tease apart the areas where they differ.

But learning the difference between anxiety and panic attacks is important because those differences mean a lot when it comes to treating them.

Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack

Let's get started by breaking down an anxiety attack vs panic attack one by one.

Anxiety Attacks

The experience of an anxiety attack is different for everyone. But there are some common themes.

Many people feel afraid or fearful. They may also be apprehensive about making any choice or even just as apprehensive about not making a choice.

Anxiety attacks are also marked by physical sensations: Shortness of breath and increased heart rate are not uncommon.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are characterized by fear and/or terror experienced in a specific place at a specific time.

There may also be some apprehension, just as there is in an anxiety attack.

Many people find the physical symptoms of panic attacks to be more alarming. They include the same shortness of breath and racing heartbeat. But panic attacks are more likely to manifest themselves physically than anxiety.

If you're experiencing a panic attack, you might also find yourself temporarily crippled by:

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

The Characterizing Difference

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks have a few of the same features. There are also some aspects that differ but only slightly.

Telling the difference between an anxiety attack vs a panic attack often comes down to one key feature:

Anxiety builds up over time and attacks are the result of a distinct stressor.

When the point of stress dissipates, so does the anxiety.

Panic attacks can be unpredictable. They don't need a reason to seize you with fear. It's why you may have irrational fears about imminent death even when you're in otherwise good health.

What Does This Mean?

Let's use an example.

You're walking through an unlit park in the middle of the night. You feel nervous; your heart is racing. You know potential danger may be lurking around the corner, but the danger of not knowing may become too much after a while.

This can lead to an anxiety attack.

Panic attacks are different. They can be far subtler.

For example, having a shooting pain in your arm and breaking down because you think you might be having a heart attack but it's really a panic attack.

Can You Have a Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack At the Same Time?

Yes, your body can manifest panic and anxiety and hit you with a double whammy.

For example, if you're walking through the same dark park just mentioned, you might feel anxiety. But the sound of voices in the distance might send you into a full-blown panic attack because the voices may, in your mind, be proof of an imminent physical danger.

Anxiety Disorders vs Panic Disorders

For some people, anxiety and panic are a lifelong battle hardwired into their nervous system.

If your nervous system is very sensitive, you're more likely to grow up a worrier. You perceive more and you're more sensitive to the world around you and how it may hurt you.

For others, it takes several hard lessons to learn the lessons your body was built with.

The result can be anxiety and/ or panic disorders.

Like an anxiety attack vs panic attack, these two disorders aren't the same thing.

They have several patterns of comorbidity, which means they present in similar ways and people who experience one often experience the other.

However, according to a study published in the Journal of Nervous Mental Disorders, there are several interesting differences.

You'll spot them here.

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a disorder that features excessive and persistent worrying about almost anything.

Many people worry about family, money, and work.

But those who have an anxiety disorder may find these worries all-consuming and may experience anxiety that extends beyond normal worrying and transcends into constantly expecting the worst.

For example, those with General Anxiety Disorder are more likely to learn their anxiety is linked to hyperactivity in their central nervous system.

Additionally, people with anxiety disorders may experience more simple fears and phobias and they experience a more gradual onset of their symptoms. In other words, they may feel anxious for months or even years before they have an anxiety attack.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is related to anxiety disorder. It's characterized by regular and sudden panic attacks.

Where General Anxiety Disorder is linked to the central nervous system, panic disorders are better linked to autonomic hyperactivity.

Additionally, people with panic disorders are more likely to experience agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety where you avoid things that make you feel like you're going to panic. It is also better associated with feelings of depersonalization, or the feeling of being disassociated with your own body or mind.

You Don't Need to Live with Anxiety

If you find yourself wondering whether you're suffering an anxiety attack vs panic attack, then you may be experiencing an anxiety or panic disorder.

The idea of a disorder often gives people even more anxiety. But anxiety is not a life sentence. Anxiety disorders may feel crippling, but they are very treatable with anxiety counseling.

Anxiety counseling is an opportunity to engage in talk therapy and address the root of your fear and apprehension.

By working through these issues in a safe space, you'll be better able to understand why you feel the way you do and even change your responses to your stressors.

Do you struggle with anxiety? We can help.

Get in touch to learn more about how counseling can help you stop anxiety attacks and live a life free of unhealthy fear.


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