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Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: What is the difference between these two intense feelings?

Explore the differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, highlighting their unique symptoms, causes, and coping strategies to understand these intense experiences better. Learn how to distinguish and manage these conditions effectively.

Written By: Muskan Gupta @guptamuskan_ New Delhi Published on: June 18, 2024 12:17 IST
Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack
Image Source : SOCIAL Difference between Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

In our fast-paced world, stress and anxiety are common companions. While many people use the terms "panic attack" and "anxiety attack" interchangeably, they are distinct experiences with unique characteristics. Understanding the differences between these two intense feelings can help individuals better manage their symptoms and seek appropriate treatment.

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes. These episodes often occur without warning and are marked by a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Common symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feelings of unreality (derealisation) or being detached from oneself (depersonalisation)
  • Fear of losing control or "going crazy"
  • Fear of dying

Panic attacks are often abrupt and intense, making them feel overwhelming and debilitating. They can occur unexpectedly or be triggered by specific situations, but they are generally not linked to a particular stressor.

What is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack, while not an official medical term, is commonly used to describe a period of intense, overwhelming anxiety. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks usually build gradually and are often associated with a specific stressor or situation. Symptoms of an anxiety attack can include:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances (trouble falling or staying asleep, unsatisfying sleep)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath

Anxiety attacks tend to be less intense than panic attacks but can last longer, sometimes persisting for hours or even days. They are often linked to ongoing stress or worry about specific events, such as exams, work deadlines, or personal relationships.

Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: Key Differences

  • Onset: Panic attacks come on suddenly and intensely, while anxiety attacks usually build up gradually in response to stress.
  • Intensity: Panic attacks are typically more severe and can include extreme physical symptoms like chest pain and a fear of dying. Anxiety attacks, while distressing, are generally less intense.
  • Duration: Panic attacks peak within minutes and then subside, often lasting around 10-30 minutes. Anxiety attacks can persist for a longer period, potentially hours or even days.
  • Triggers: Panic attacks can occur without a clear trigger, whereas anxiety attacks are often linked to specific stressors or situations.

Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack: Ways to Manage

If you experience panic or anxiety attacks, there are strategies to help manage and reduce symptoms:

  • Breathing exercises: Deep, slow breathing can help calm your nervous system.
  • Grounding techniques: Focus on the present moment by engaging your senses. For example, name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practises such as meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce overall anxiety.
  • Professional help: Therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and medication can be effective in managing panic and anxiety disorders.

Understanding the differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is crucial for effective management and treatment. While both are challenging, knowing their distinct characteristics can empower individuals to seek the right help and employ appropriate coping strategies. If you or someone you know struggles with panic or anxiety attacks, reaching out to a mental health professional can provide valuable support and guidance.

ALSO READ: International Panic Day 2024: 5 ways to reduce stress and anxiety to lead a happier life


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