Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks: What’s the Difference?
Whether your family has a medical history of mental illness or you’ve developed constant stress related to work, anxiety can seemingly take hold of your life at the most inconvenient moments. While a stress reaction is normal in certain situations, constant feelings of tension and worry can do some serious damage to both your brain and body. Most don’t realize there are key differences between anxiety and panic attacks, and it’s important to recognize, and treat both, as separate conditions.
Knowing the difference between anxiety and panic attacks can help you accurately monitor your symptoms and help you and your doctor figure out ways to get your mental health back on track. So, it’s important to first note what anxiety is, and how it can present itself. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is characterized by persistent feelings of overwhelming worry and tension that cannot be tamed. It’s waking up in the morning and feeling dread that persists all day, and this unrelenting anxious feeling will also interfere with how you go about your everyday life.
While some level of anxiety is completely normal to experience, itbecomes an issue when your body constantly thinks you’re in danger when you’re not, which can result in an onslaught of physical and mental alarm reactions that are extremely uncomfortable. According to AnxietyBC, one in every four adults deals with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Physical symptoms can include rapid heartbeat and breathing, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, pain in the chest, and dilated pupils.
It’s also important to note how anxiety differs greatly from depression. While both of these conditions affect your mental health, those with depression will feel hopeless, discouraged, and will feel unable to complete daily tasks. To the depressed mind, there’s little point in continuing on with the drone of day-to-day activities, and this is where harmful or suicidal thoughts may also start to enter the mind. If you’re anxiety-ridden, though, you’ll want to complete the tasks, but you worry about the possibility of failure or something going wrong. This feelings can be so intense that they keep you from socializing or taking part in activities you once loved.
We should also mention anxiety is an umbrella term for a number of mental illnesses. Generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorders all fall under the category of “anxiety.”
So, where do panic attacks fit in? Think of it this way — anxiety is like the big brother to panic. Those who experience panic attacks may have an underlying anxiety disorder that’s causing them. The majority of the time, anxiety refers to the disorder and panic refers to a sudden and extreme “attack” on the psyche. You may have also heard some people use the terms panic attacks and anxiety attacks interchangeably, but there’s a core difference here as well. You can have an anxiety disorder and have an anxiety attack, or you can have an anxiety disorder and have a panic attack — but this isn’t necessarily the same.
MDJunction explains a panic attack is characterized by sudden, extreme symptoms that aren’t necessarily triggered by a series of events. These symptoms may feel as if they appear out of nowhere, and the attack usually lasts for about 10 minutes. There are times when these episodes can occur one right after the other, making the panic attack seem as if it’s lasting forever, but one bout of panic will peak within that 10 minute period. During a panic attack, it’s common to have an accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, fears of dying, chills, and worries of completely losing control.
Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are don’t tend to appear quite so suddenly. Cathy Frank, MD, tells ABC News an anxiety attack comes more as a reaction to a stressful situation. If you feel like you’re experiencing some of the symptoms of a panic attack and it’s after something scary or unexpected has happened, then it’s likely you’re having an episode related to anxiety. These attacks have a slower buildup, becoming more intense over time, whereas panic attacks come and go with more intensity.
Whether you’re feeling seized by unpredictable panic attacks or you feel mentally trapped and exhausted by constant worry, your mental health is more important than any deadline, house chore, or unhealthy relationship. Talk to your doctor about your options if you’re experiencing these symptoms today.