Anxiety and panic attacks are related but distinct experiences. Both can be incredibly uncomfortable and distressing. Here are the key differences between the two so you know how to explain what you are feeling to your healthcare provider.
1. Duration: Anxiety is a more prolonged state of unease or worry that can last for an extended period, ranging from hours to days, weeks, or even months.
2. Intensity: Anxiety is generally less intense than a panic attack. It involves a sense of apprehension, nervousness, and worry but doesn't typically reach the extreme levels of fear and physical symptoms seen in panic attacks.
3. Triggers: Anxiety can be triggered by specific stressors, life events, or ongoing concerns. It often relates to identifiable sources of stress or worry, such as work, relationships, or health.
4. Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms of anxiety may include muscle tension, restlessness, irritability, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and gastrointestinal discomfort. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration.
5. Cognitive Symptoms: Anxiety is associated with excessive thinking, rumination, and worry about future events. It can lead to difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances.
6. Response to Stress: Anxiety often serves as a natural response to stress and can be adaptive in certain situations, helping individuals prepare for challenges.
1. Duration: A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of extreme fear or discomfort that typically peaks within minutes and usually lasts for a short duration, typically 10-20 minutes. Panic attacks do not last for hours, days, or weeks on end.
2. Intensity: Panic attacks are characterized by a high level of intensity, often described as a feeling of terror or impending doom. They involve a surge of physical and emotional symptoms that can be overwhelming.
3. Triggers: Panic attacks can occur seemingly out of the blue, without an obvious trigger or in response to a specific phobia or situation. They can also be related to underlying anxiety disorders.
4. Physical Symptoms: Panic attack symptoms often include rapid heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, trembling, nausea, and a feeling of choking or suffocation. These symptoms are typically more severe and sudden than those experienced in general anxiety.
5. Cognitive Symptoms: During a panic attack, individuals may experience a sense of unreality or detachment from themselves, known as depersonalization, or a fear of losing control, known as derealization. They may also worry that they are having a heart attack or going crazy.
6. Response to Stress: Panic attacks are not considered adaptive responses to stress. They are more likely to be associated with specific anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or social anxiety disorder.
In summary, while both anxiety and panic attacks involve feelings of fear and discomfort, anxiety is typically a more prolonged and less intense state of worry, while a panic attack is a sudden, intense episode with distinct physical and cognitive symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing frequent panic attacks or severe anxiety, it's essential to seek professional help, as these conditions can be effectively treated with therapy and, in some cases, medication.