Panic Attack Vs. Anxiety Attack: How They Aren’t The Same Thing

Breathlessness. Tightening of the chest. Rapid heartbeat. You might be confused as to what is happening to you. Is it a panic attack or an anxiety attack? 

Most people don’t know the difference. 

When it comes to anxiety and anxiety disorders, there is a myriad of misinformation and confusion in the common narrative. One such confusing aspect is understanding and deducing panic attack vs. anxiety attack. 

Despite sharing certain symptoms, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are two different conditions. They have different intensities and durations. The confusion among people is incredibly damaging to those suffering from the two conditions. A clear distinction between anxiety and panic attacks is required to help people in need.

To help you understand these differences, let us deduce panic attacks vs. anxiety attacks by first understanding the conditions individually.

Panic Attack Vs. Anxiety Attack

What Is A Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are classified in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual-V (DSM-V) under a larger category of disorders termed panic disorders. Panic attacks are extremely sudden and triggered as an immediate response to a situation. They bring along feelings of fear and worry and occur for short durations, sometimes just minutes. However, their intensity can cause immense mental stress to the person even in that short duration.

In the DSM-V, a panic attack is classified with four out of any of the following symptoms:

  • fear of dying,
  • depersonalization or feeling disconnected from one’s self,
  • feeling out of control,
  • hot flashes,
  • heart palpitations,
  • excessive sweating,
  • shortness of breath,
  • chest pain, and
  • chills.

What Is An Anxiety Attack? 

Contrary to panic attacks, anxiety attacks are more generic in nature because they do not arise due to a specific life situation. Anxiety attacks are caused to a threat or fear that might be genuine or perceived by the person. 

Anxiety attack does not occur suddenly. It builds up slowly with time as the fear or worry is not taken off. The stress continues to build inside a person until it starts bubbling. This end stage is where you will generally see a person having an anxiety attack. 

Anxiety attacks are not classified in the DSM-V. However, scientists and mental health professionals classify the following as symptoms of an anxiety attack:

  • irritability,
  • rapid heartbeat,
  • restlessness,
  • insomnia or lack of sleep,
  • muscles tension, aches, and pains, and
  • poor attention span.

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Panic Attack Vs. Anxiety Attack

Even though the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks look the same on the surface, they are different in subtle but important ways. Some key differences set the two conditions apart. 

1. Severity

Panic attacks are frightening and sudden because they occur suddenly and without warning. The symptoms can be exhausting, and one might feel like losing touch with reality. 

Anxiety attacks are a response to a trigger that might be less startling for some people. The symptoms occur on a spectrum from mild to severe.

2. Onset

A panic attack often comes out of the blue, with no clear warning or apparent triggers. In contrast, the symptoms of an anxiety attack develop gradually over time.

3. Duration

The symptoms of anxiety attacks might persist for a longer time. In the case of panic attacks, the symptoms peak around ten minutes and then subside. 

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Panic attacks and anxiety attacks, despite being used interchangeably, are two different conditions. Therefore, it is essential to understand the distinction between them in order to provide or find the right help. Both conditions are treatable. Treatment options might include therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.

Now that you can hopefully deduce panic attack vs. anxiety attack, let us take you a step further. To learn more about the differences between a heart attack and a panic attack, click here.

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