Understanding the Differences Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks

Worry and stress are natural responses to difficult or dangerous situations. But when panic or anxiety are triggered without an immediate cause, you can find yourself experiencing a panic attack or anxiety attack. These are both mental and physical responses that are intense enough that they can interrupt daily situations.

Although there are some similarities between panic and anxiety attacks, they are not the same. Being able to tell which one you are experiencing can help you determine the best course of action to manage your symptoms.

Panic Attacks vs. Anxiety Attacks – How to Manage Them

An anxiety attack can occur after a long period of worry. The symptoms are generally minor enough that you can work through them, but they can last for hours or even days. During an anxiety attack, you may experience headaches, rapid breathing, nausea, changes in appetite, and insomnia.

A panic attack is an activation of your flight or fight response, although not usually in a moment when you are in danger. The response is severe and lasts for around 20 minutes to an hour. In addition to an overwhelming feeling of fear, you may also have a pounding heart rate, trouble breathing, nausea, dizziness, sweats, and trembling. The symptoms will often be severe enough that you must stop what you are doing.

Despite the differences in severity and length, anxiety attacks and panic attacks are deeply uncomfortable, but there are a number of ways you can get control of your fight or flight response during an attack and take steps to keep them from reoccurring:

  • Breathe Deeply – Both panic and anxiety attacks will cause shortness of breath. By making yourself take deep breaths, focusing on breathing into your belly, you force your heart rate to slow. Altering your physical response in this way can also shift your mental response.
  • Relax Your Muscles – Like breathing, relaxing the muscles that tense up during an attack helps you regain control over your body’s physical, and subsequently psychological, response.
  • Distract Yourself – Do something that distracts you mentally and physically, such as sucking on an ice cube. This interrupts the fight or flight response and can sometimes help stop the attack midway through.
  • Pay Attention to Your Surroundings – Because you are not actually in danger and an anxiety attack is purely about what is in your mind, start naming things that your five senses are currently experiencing as a way to make your physical surroundings more relevant than your body’s response.
  • Taking the Right Steps Before Panic Attacks – It is often easier to make changes when you are not actively experiencing panic. Incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine, at least 30 minutes a day, and establishing and sticking to a regular sleep schedule will help decrease the chances that you will experience an anxiety or panic attack. 

Another solution for preventing anxiety and panic attacks is to meet with a psychiatrist. At Aware Behavioral Health, a Dallas psychiatrist for anxiety, we can provide various treatment solutions, including medication and psychotherapy, that will assist you in reducing the number and intensity of anxiety attacks so that you feel calmer, more comfortable, and more in control of your emotional responses. Send us a message to get started with treatment for panic attacks and anxiety in Dallas.

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