Panic and Anxiety are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two that are worth exploring. Understanding the core differences between panic and anxiety attacks is essential for recognizing the signs and symptoms and for knowing how to cope if you or a loved one struggles with either. Here, we look at the key distinctions between panic and anxiety and how to approach them.
Panic Versus Anxiety: A Closer Look
At the most basic level, panic and anxiety are related, yet they are two distinct types of emotional responses. They share some common symptoms, but they each have their own underlying psychological elements that make them quite different experiences. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly, with intense bodily sensations and emotions of fear, dread or horror. Anxiety is different in that it is a more chronic form of distress. It is sustained over time and tends to manifest in a more muted form, though it can still have real physical and emotional impacts.
The Core Differences: What Sets Panic & Anxiety Attacks Apart
One of the key difference between panic and anxiety is the intensity and duration of symptoms. Panic attacks tend to come on swiftly and sharply, whereas anxiety is more of a gradual process. With a panic attack, the physical sensations such as rapid heart rate, sweating, shaking and hyperventilation can be extremely intense to the point of becoming incapacitating. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms, but they are generally more manageable and easier to control. Emotionally, panic attacks involve feelings of fear, dread and even terror which can quickly escalate, whereas anxiety is characterised by feelings of unease, worry and apprehension.
Causes of Panic Versus Anxiety Attacks
The exact causes of panic and anxiety attacks can vary depending on the individual. Generally, they are associated with a stressful or frightening event, or even an ongoing situation. In some cases, there may not be an obvious trigger at all. Panic attacks can sometimes be brought on by specific things, like when someone is in a claustrophobic situation or feels trapped. Anxiety, however, is more likely to be triggered by general stress and tension.
Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Panic and Anxiety
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of both panic and anxiety attacks is essential. Panic attack symptoms include:
- Racing or pounding heart
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Trembling or shaking
- A feeling of impending doom
Meanwhile, anxiety symptoms are somewhat milder and include:
- Constant worrying
- Difficulty sleeping
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling stuck and powerless
Coping with Panic and Anxiety Attacks
If you or someone you know is experiencing panic or anxiety attacks, it is important to seek professional help. Therapy, counselling and medication can all be useful in managing the symptoms and helping to reduce the possibility of future attacks. There are also a few lifestyle changes you can make to try and manage episodes of panic or anxiety. Exercise, yoga, and meditation can all help to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing, as can cutting out or minimizing drug and alcohol use. In the case of a panic attack, it can also help to focus on your breathing. Taking deep breaths can help to slow down your heart rate and reduce hyperventilation. This can help to bring you back to being in the present moment.
Moving Forward in the Face of Anxiety & Panic
Understanding the core differences between panic and anxiety can be a huge help to those dealing with either of these conditions. It is also important to remember that there are always ways to manage and cope with either panic or anxiety attacks. Remember that you are never alone in this and that asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness. This can be a difficult and vulnerable process, but with the right support, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
At first glance it might be assumed that panic and anxiety are closely related, yet they are distinct experiences with different root causes and symptoms. Recognizing the core differences between the two is a key step in understanding how to deal with them. Whether it’s panic or anxiety, there is help available and support to be found. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to recognize when help is needed and ask for it. People don’t have to go through this alone. There is hope and there are solutions to be found.