Anxiety can be a response to stress. Along with feelings of fear and anxiety, it often involves physical symptoms. People can also experience anxiety when there is no identifiable stressor.
This article examines the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. It also covers the causes of anxiety attacks and possible treatment options.
Fast Facts About Anxiety
- An anxiety attack usually involves a fear of a particular event or problem that may occur.
- Symptoms include anxiety, restlessness, and possibly physical symptoms, such as changes in heart rate.
- Anxiety is different from a panic attack, but it can occur as part of an anxiety or panic disorder.
Anxiety Attack Vs. Panic Attack
There is no set definition of an anxiety attack in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The definition of a panic attack is subjective and people may say they are having an anxiety attack when they are describing a panic attack.
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms, which people may describe as an anxiety attack. These include:
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- A churning feeling, or “knot” in the stomach
- Breathing fast
- Wash hot
- Pins and needles
- Headaches and backaches
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
The problem may be:
- There is a specific trigger, such as an exam, workplace problems, a health problem, or a relationship problem
- Be a reliable source of anxiety disorder, if it is persistent
- There are symptoms that are less severe than a panic attack.
- Usually develops slowly when a person feels anxious.
Panic attacks are a symptom and can occur in a variety of anxiety disorders. For example, people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) may experience high levels of anxiety until they have a panic attack.
- There are symptoms that can feel acute or severe.
- Can happen unexpectedly, whether a person is calm or anxious
- It involves physical symptoms and feelings of terror so intense that the person fears a complete loss of control or imminent death.
- Often occurs suddenly and usually peaks within 10 minutes before subsiding, although adverse effects may persist.
Repeated panic attacks can be a sign of panic disorder.
Difference in Symptoms
Both panic and anxiety can include:
- A pounding or racing heart
- Light headed
- Numbness or tingling
- Chest pain
- Irrational thoughts
In a panic attack, these are far more intense feelings. The person may genuinely believe that they are going to die.
Panic attack symptoms can feel like serious conditions, such as heart disease, which can prompt people to seek medical help.
Differences in How They Start
Anxiety can be a response to a particular worry, fear, or stressor. It develops gradually, and a person is usually anxious or worried at first. It can be mild, moderate or severe.
A panic attack can happen without warning and can make people feel out of control. A panic attack can happen whether a person is calm or anxious, and even during sleep. There may be no apparent reason, and the level of fear is out of proportion to the stimulus.
Difference in Duration
Anxiety can be related to a particular situation. It grows and continues for some time.
A panic attack starts suddenly, lasts between 5-20 minutes, and lasts up to 10 minutes. After that it will start to wear off, although the effects may last longer.
Anxiety doesn’t usually peak like this, but some people with anxiety can progress to panic attacks.
Can Anxiety Lead to Panic?
A panic attack is a symptom of anxiety.
A person who suffers from panic disorder may associate that they are going to panic breath. It is uncertain whether, or when, to be an aggressor, an assimilator may become between you. People can take steps to prepare for situations like the one they feel might trigger a panic attack.
For a person with a panic disorder, the analogy is a panic party dynamic. The fear of panic power behavior life can affect a person and daily functioning.
Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that panic disorder may have a genetic component, and it usually runs in families.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Along with the physical symptoms of anxiety, people may experience the following:
- Feeling stressed or nervous
- Unable to rest
- A sense of dread
- Fearing the worst
- Seeking too much reassurance from others
- Low mood or depression
- Rumination is when a person thinks about a situation or thought over and over again.
- Worry about what will happen in the future
- Worrying about anxiety, such as when a panic attack may occur.
Not every case of anxiety will include all of these symptoms. Anxiety can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the stimulus and how the individual reacts to it.
For example, when facing an exam, some people may feel mildly apprehensive, while others may experience all of the above symptoms. Usually, symptoms go away when the threat or perceived threat has passed.
Anxiety that lasts for a long time or has a specific trigger may be a sign of an anxiety disorder, such as social anxiety disorder.
Causes of Anxiety Attack
Anxiety is often the result of stress or being overwhelmed.
Causes of anxiety can include:
- Work or school stress
- Financial stress
- Family or relationship problems
- Divorce, separation, or bereavement
- Concerns about parenting or being a caregiver
- Worry about the environment or climate change.
- Changing living circumstances, such as moving house or changing jobs
- Decreased mobility or physical function
- Loss of brain functions, for example, short-term memory
- Being diagnosed with a chronic health condition
It may also be linked to another factor or health condition, such as:
- A phobia
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Genetic factors
- Greater stress or stress sensitivity
- History of drug or alcohol abuse
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Use of certain medications
- A recent or past traumatic experience
Triggers for anxiety can include:
- Public speaking
- Exposure to a phobia trigger
- Fear of having a panic attack
Anxiety may not always be rational. For example, a person may worry about losing their job without any evidence that this is going to happen.
Tips for managing stress and anxiety include:
- Knowing the signs: If people know how to recognize the signs of stress or anxiety, they may be able to take action. Headaches, insomnia, or overeating can all be signs that it’s time to take a break or seek help.
- Knowing personal triggers: If people can learn to recognize what makes them feel uncomfortable, they may be able to take action. Consider keeping a journal to track triggers.
- Eat a healthy diet: A busy lifestyle can lead to unhealthy eating habits. Try to find time to sit down for a healthy meal, or pack a homemade lunch with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help support mental health and increase a sense of well-being.
- Learning some relaxation techniques: Breathing, meditation, aromatherapy and other strategies can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Trying a new activity: music, gardening, choir, yoga, Pilates, or another group can reduce stress and take your mind off your worries for a while. People can meet others with similar concerns and experiences.
- Socialize: Spend time with friends and family, or find a group to meet others, such as volunteering or joining a support group. People can find others who can provide emotional and practical support.
- Setting goals: If people are feeling overwhelmed by financial or management issues, taking time to make a plan can help. Set goals and priorities and check them off once completed. A plan can also help people say “no” to extra requests from others that make them uncomfortable.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, or panic about a particular situation or event, and it can be a response to stress. People may feel restless, nauseous or have an upset stomach. An anxiety attack can feel like a sudden feeling of fear without any threat.
Frequent panic attacks can be a sign of panic disorder.
Panic attacks are more intense feelings of fear, dread, or distress. People may feel out of control or their lives are in danger. Panic attacks can also feel like a sudden feeling of fear when no threat is present.
If anxiety is interfering with daily life, or if people have symptoms of panic disorder, they may see a health care professional to discuss coping strategies or treatment options.