Panic attack vs anxiety attack: Let's understand the difference
Both, panic attack and anxiety, are a state of uneasiness that put one's body in a flight-or-fight mode. They are sudden and often intense psychological responses to a situation that is deemed threatening. However, although they have pretty much the same symptoms, a panic attack differs from an anxiety attack in many ways. Let's understand the difference between the two mental health conditions.
Here's what our expert says
- A panic attack is a physiological reaction of the mind and body where one's rate of breathing, and pulse rate increase, along with sudden sweating, nausea, dizziness, and dry mouth.
- The person suffering appears to be in severe distress.
- Anxiety is a psychological response to stressors, it usually doesn't manifest as physical symptoms and can be felt by the patient while others are unaware.
Panic attacks are sudden, anxiety builds up gradually
Panic attacks show up suddenly and are quite intense with an overwhelming burst of emotions. They can be both expected and unexpected, making it a condition that can happen to anyone, anytime. On the other hand, an anxiety attack builds over time and generally happens once a fear or stress about something is established and aggravated. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Panic attacks usually aren't about triggers whereas anxiety is
Panic attacks don't always occur due to a trigger or a stressful situation. They can show up unexpectedly, may occur out of the blue, and their physical symptoms are stronger. Whereas, anxiety attacks are largely based on triggers and speed up gradually once the person is caught up in them. People with this condition are recommended to avoid their triggers as much as possible.
Here are some of the most common triggers
Panic attacks and anxiety attacks may prolong due to a stressful job, caffeine intake, accidents, social gatherings, chronic illnesses, traumatic experiences, fears and phobias, medication, guilt, gastric situations or skipping meals, conflicts or fights, separation from or loss of a loved one, etc.
Panic attacks subside quickly, anxiety stays for prolonged periods
While panic attacks and anxiety share a certain set of symptoms that are the same, there are some that differ. A panic attack is sudden, with symptoms like a feeling of disconnection, loss of control, chest pain, and shaking. Its symptoms generally last only a few minutes. Anxiety induces more muscle tension, irritability, and disturbed sleep. Symptoms may last for weeks in worse cases.
Different people feel different body sensations
Although there are some common symptoms that one may feel during anxiety or panic attacks, their intensity and nature may differ. Some common symptoms include shortness of breath, racing heart, chills, trembling, choking, numbness, chest pain, fear of dying, fainting, headache, nausea, sweating, and fatigue.
Anxiety may lead to sudden panic attacks with similar symptoms
People with anxiety issues may get panic attacks, resulting in a burst of all the symptoms that the latter is known for. For instance, someone who gets anxious about enclosed spaces may deal with a sudden and sharp panic attack when inside an elevator. Just like panic about stressful situations leads to panic attacks, so can anxiety if not dealt with in time.