There are very different schools of thought on this. I’ve talked to my GP on this, and she seems to think that anxiety attacks and panic attacks are one in the same. Well, they’re not.
If you have an anxiety or panic disorder, you know what symptoms are particular to you when you have an attack. Attacks when you have an anxiety disorder are much different than ones you would have if you had a panic disorder. The feelings are different, the levels of anxiety are different… the only thing that is for sure the same during both of them is that you have anxiety.
So what are the differences between anxiety attacks and panic attacks?
An article from 2008 on ABC News‘ website says this:
“An anxiety attack often comes in reaction to a stressor… people may feel fearful, apprehensive, may feel their heart racing or feel short of breath, but it’s very short lived, and when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack.
[A] panic attack on the other hand doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable… during a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear, or apprehension. They may feel that they’re going to die, or lose control or have a heart attack. They have a host of physical symptoms which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea.”
Now while the article does acknowledge that there is a difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks, I can assure you their definition of the “timing” is wrong. I have anxiety attacks, and they are not limited to being short-lived. They can go on for days. They are, however, less intense than panic attacks (which I have also had; I can definitely tell a difference).
I found an article on About.com that explains the difference a little bit better and is more accurate about timing:
“During a panic attack, the symptoms are sudden and extremely intense. These symptoms usually occur “out of the blue,” peak within 10 minutes and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.
Anxiety, on the other hand, generally intensifies over a period of time and is highly correlated to excessive worry. While some… symptoms are similar to many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks, they are generally less intense. Another important distinction is that, unlike a panic attack, the symptoms of anxiety may be persistent and very long lasting — days, weeks or even months.”
Now that sounds more like it. The article lists symptoms for each attack type, and though many are the same, panic attacks have more intense symptoms. The intensity and timing is what separates the two.
A lot of times, when I have anxiety attacks, they’ll last quite a long while. My most recent one lasted all day, and my chest really started hurting from it. My muscles tensed up and I was just shaky all day long. It sucked. I’d say that I’d rather have a panic attack and get it over with, but those suck just as much.
When I have these attacks, I try my best to clear my head and think about why I’m having the attack. Why am I anxious? Did anything in particular happen that would have caused it? What would help me calm down right now?
I try to focus on getting my breathing back to normal. A lot of times, it’s darn near impossible to do. But I have to try nonetheless. If I have to, I take my prescribed medication for panic attacks. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. As it’s diagnosed for panic attacks, that might have something to do with it. I don’t know for sure.
Well, you may be asking yourself, what can I do to help someone having a panic or anxiety attack? Here’s a few things that are imperative to do when someone’s having an attack:
- Keep calm. You’re not going to help anyone by freaking out too.
- Don’t assume what the person needs. Ask. If they don’t know what they need, continue to ask using suggestions like “Do you need to go somewhere quiet?” “Do you need me to help you by [insert action here]?”
- Ask if they have medication for panic/anxiety attacks. If they do, offer it to them.
- Don’t try to downplay the situation. Telling them that it’s “not so bad” or that they’re “overreacting” is the worst thing you could possibly do. Instead, be positive, encouraging and accepting of the situation. “I know this is really scary for you. I’m here. You’re going to get through this. You’re doing great.”
The Tumblr account Confessions Of Anxiety Girl also has some great tips for helping someone through an anxiety attack.
If you think you may have symptoms of anxiety or panic, talk to your doctor about it. It’s nothing to mess around with. Anxiety and stress are really hard on your body, especially your heart. If you know anybody that may be experiencing these symptoms, encourage them to get it checked out. You may just save a life.