What is the Difference Between Panic and Anxiety Attacks?

Mental health issues can be complicated, and for many, confusing as well. One of the most common questions is “what is the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks?” While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there are some critical differences between them, and understanding these differences between panic attack and anxiety attack can help you more readily identify which one may be occurring to you or someone you care about. 

More importantly, understanding the difference can help you get the right help. That’s why we’re going to dig into the difference between panic attack and anxiety attack, even the specific symptoms of each. We’ll even cover a list of the biggest differences between the two, and where you can find the leading local treatment for both.

What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are sudden, intense spikes in feelings of fear, which are often accompanied by physical or psychological symptoms. They are most often characterized by their intensity, onset speed, and short duration.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • The feeling of losing control or even dying

What are Anxiety Attacks?

Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are characterized more by a heightened sense of worry or unease that builds up slowly over time much more gradually than a panic attack. The symptoms of an anxiety attack are very similar to those of a panic attack, but they are generally less intense and often don’t reach the same level of fear. Anxiety attacks often have an identifiable trigger, like the stress of a specific situation, and can last much longer than a panic attack.

Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

  • Restlessness or the feeling of being “on edge”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Disturbances in the sleep cycle
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration challenges
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Digestive issues

Key Differences Between Panic and Anxiety Attacks

  1. Suddenness: Panic attacks often come on very suddenly and without warning, while anxiety attacks tend to build in intensity over time.
  2. Intensity: The intensity of panic attacks is much higher, and is often accompanied by a sense of imminent danger or even impending doom. Anxiety attacks, while distressing, generally don’t approach this level of peak fear.
  3. Duration: Panic attacks, while far more intense, are also much shorter than anxiety attacks, often lasting just a few minutes before subsiding. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, can continue to persist and grow over the course of hours or even days.
  4. Triggers: Anxiety attacks will generally have a specific, identifiable trigger, or ongoing worry or stressor. A panic attack can occur without a trigger, or after being triggered by a specific situation or fear.
  5. Diagnostic Criteria: In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), panic attacks are a clearly defined clinical feature of panic disorder, which is a recognized mental disorder. Anxiety attacks are not a specific term but are often considered one of the features of generalized anxiety disorder, or other similar anxiety-related conditions. 

Seeking Help at Casa Recovery

Recognizing the difference between panic attack and anxiety attack is important to finding the right kind of professional help. Even if you still aren’t sure which one you or a loved one may be experiencing, the experienced mental health professionals at Casa Recovery will be able to help you determine that, as well as where to go from there. They’ll help you create an individualized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. Reach out today to have a private discussion about your needs with a localmental health specialist.

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