Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack

Overcome with fear, heart pounding and stomach churning? You may be suffering from either an anxiety attack or panic attack. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are two different things, and require different approaches to treatment. Here’s is how to know the difference.

Anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks typically occur in response to a stressor or trigger, and subside when it is removed, successfully avoided, or the individual rides out the anxiety. For example, a person who must speak in front of an audience might have shortness of breath, a pounding heart, and feel like they are going to be sick before stepping onstage. Once their speech is over (or they avoid it), these feelings abate.

Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  •     Rapid and pounding heartbeat
  •     Chest constriction
  •     Shortness of breath
  •     Feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
  •     Shaking or trembling
  •     Nausea
  •     Dry mouth
  •     Head pressure, like your the is being squeezed
  •     Weakness, tingling and numbness in the hands, arms and legs
  •     Burning sensations that travel through the skin and the muscles
  •     Feeling of doom or that something terrible is will happen

These symptoms are characteristic of the Fight or Flight response, when the body prepares to escape a frightening situation — precisely what is occurring during an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks, although frightening, are manageable, as we can still reason with ourselves when facing stressful situations.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks may begin suddenly, without warning. They can strike anywhere and anytime: in the middle of the night, at work, or when you are riding the bus. They are intense and overwhelming, lasting between 10 and 20 minutes. Recovering from a panic attack may take several hours. Panic attacks can occur back to back as well.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  •     Shortness of breath, or a sensation of being smothered or choked
  •     Trembling or shaking
  •     Sweating
  •     Racing or pounding heart
  •     Chest pain or discomfort
  •     Nausea or abdominal discomfort
  •     Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
  •     Numbness or tingling sensation
  •     Chills or hot flashes
  •     Fear of losing control or impending doom
  •     Feeling of unreality or detachment
  •     Fear of insanity or dying
  •     Feeling like the episode will never end   

Initially, panic attacks may come on suddenly and without warning. But over time, they are triggered by certain situations, usually those associated with where the attacks first began. If a person had a panic attack in a grocery store, they might avoid going to grocery stores. Furthermore, the terror of having another panic attack is so overwhelming, that actually going to a grocery store — or even thinking about it — may precipitate another attack.

What started as a seemingly random experience can evolve into Panic Disorder: a persistent concern or worry of having a panic attack, and developing behaviors to avoid situations that are believed to trigger the attacks. Actual attacks include at least four of the symptoms listed above.

Do you have anxiety or panic attacks?

If you suffer from anxiety attacks or panic attacks, take heart. Both respond well to therapy with a qualified professional. If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact the BFDC. We can help.