The difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks

I realized about a year ago that panic attacks and anxiety attacks are different. Woah! Mind blown!

You'd think I would have known about this sooner, since, well, I write a mental health blog and I have anxiety disorder. But, no, I just labeled all my "attacks" as "panic attacks," even though many of my "attacks" were actually "anxiety attacks."

They have many similarities — like the fact that they both suck — but the main difference is actually pretty simple. An "anxiety attack" is caused by a stressor and builds gradually, while a "panic attack" is sudden and has no apparent cause. Anxiety attacks usually last longer, for hours, days or even weeks. Panic attacks are usually shorter, but the symptoms are much more severe.

Here are some of the symptoms:

Anxiety Attack
• Inability to focus
• Easily startled
• Increased heart rate
• Muscle tension
• Dizziness
• Fatigue
• Agitation
• Dry mouth
• Numbness or tingling of the extremities
• Restlessness

Panic Attack
• Pounding heart
• Chest pain
• Nausea
• Lightheadness
• Hot flashes or chills
• Shortness of breath/difficultly breathing
• Feeling like you're being choked or smothered
• Not feeling in control
• Sudden fear of dying
• Being detached from yourself and your surroundings

So, if you feel an anxiety or panic attack coming on, what can you do? For me, I usually take a Xanax.

For you, I would recommend, first and foremost, to get yourself a therapist to find a treatment that works best for you (whether that's medication, like in my case, or counseling). There's no better time like the present; several health insurances (shoutout to Blue Cross, where I work) are waiving the copay for virtual behavioral health appointments during the COVID-19 crisis.

Here are some other things you can do to help lessen your anxiety or panic attack:

  • Focus on your breathing. Breathe in for a count of four, hold breath for a count of four and then exhale for a count of four and repeat.
  • Drink water and also splash your face with cold water.
  • Keep your hands busy with something like a stress ball or fidget spinners, or paint your nails or color in a coloring book.
  • Ground yourself in the present. Focus on the concrete things around you that you can see, touch, taste, hear and smell.
  • Close your eyes and imagine a safe place.
  • Count backwards from 100.
  • Write down how you're feeling in a journal.
Mental health advocate Sarah Fader wrote on Better Help, "The first step in how to control a panic (or anxiety) attack is to acknowledge that you are having one. ... Tell yourself, internally or aloud, that this is just a panic attack. It is not life-threatening. You are not going to die. You are not going to lose control of yourself. It will pass, and you will return to baseline."

You Might Also Like