We have often heard the terms, but is there a difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack? Is one more serious than the other? How do you know what distinguishes one from the other? Let's dive a little deeper and uncover the differences between these two conditions.
The terms' panic attack' and 'anxiety attack' are often used interchangeably. However, there are some big differences between the two. First, it is important to note that the term' panic attack' involves specific criteria and is a clinical term, while 'anxiety attack' is not a recognized or defined term.
While these two conditions can feel similar, there are specific differences that set them apart from each other. These differences are important to understand the underlying issues and how to deal with them. Let's look at each one separately:
A panic attack comes on suddenly as a debilitating, out-of-control feeling or extreme fear. They typically occur without a trigger; however, they can be provoked by a situation, phobia, memory, or even a specific object. A panic attack typically lasts a short time, usually less than 30 minutes. There are several symptoms that come along with a panic attack; they include:
An anxiety attack comes on gradually rather than that out-of-the-blue feeling of a panic attack. An anxiety attack can have the same symptoms. However, they are generally less intense and last longer than a panic attack. An anxiety attack is typically triggered by chronic stress or a response to extremely worrisome situations. Those who suffer from anxiety attacks may also be dealing with anxiety-related conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
People experiencing anxiety attacks may be dealing with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or another anxiety-related condition.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, it is important to seek professional help to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment and support.
The symptoms may seem very similar, the differences are what determines whether it is a panic attack or an anxiety attack. Let’s look at two different scenarios that explore how these two conditions differ.
Nancy is in the produce section of the grocery store. Suddenly, she feels like she cannot catch her breath; her heart is racing, and her palms are sweating. She has an overwhelming feeling of doom and feels like she may pass out. She feels completely out of control and has no idea what triggered this feeling. This lasts for about 15 minutes, and she begins to calm down. This is a classic example of a panic attack. It came on suddenly and intensely with no apparent trigger and lasted only 15 minutes.
Work has been very stressful for Joe over the last few weeks. He is constantly worried and feels very tense and restless. He isn't sleeping well at night and has been feeling very stressed out for weeks. During a meeting at work one day, he felt like he couldn't concentrate and had this increasing feeling of dread. This feeling continues after the meeting and throughout that evening and the next day. While there is no clinical term for this prolonged feeling of increasing anxiety and chronic stress, it is often referred to as an anxiety attack and typically brought on by a specific trigger.
These two scenarios clearly show the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Nancy's experience began suddenly without a trigger and only lasted for a short period of time. Meanwhile, Joe's situation had been building for weeks, continued though the next day and is clinically seen as a symptom of an anxiety disorder such as GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are often interchangeable terms, but you can see they are different conditions. If you or a loved one is suffering from either, talk to a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you address the issue, the sooner you will feel better and improve your quality of life.
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Linda Guerrera has been the Digital Content Manager for Health Products For You since 2022. A recipient of the New York State Broadcasters Award for Outstanding Work in Radio, she spent over ...
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