Anxiety attacks occurring at different times of the day are common among those with this mental illness. For many years, this term has been loosely associated with a “panic attack,” to the point that they were even interchanged.
However, while there are similarities between anxiety and panic attacks, they aren’t actually the same.
Anxiety Attacks Versus Panic Attacks
Anxiety attacks happen when a patient doesn’t just experience negative feelings on a simple scale, but often feels like there is an immense and impending doom on the horizon. As CalmClinic puts it, people who have anxiety attacks “feel that they are about to die or that everything around them is breaking down.”1
However, the phrase “anxiety attack” isn’t a formal clinical term, but is used to describe periods that, when compared to “traditional” instances of anxiety, are more intense.
Even the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition” or DSM-5 (often used to diagnose mental conditions) doesn’t have a definition for anxiety attacks, but instead refers to this as “a core feature of several illnesses.”3,4
On the other hand, a panic attack happens when there is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions, even if there is no danger or apparent cause.5
Panic attacks are very frightening and can significantly affect your life, although they aren’t considered life-threatening. People who experience panic attacks often feel like they are losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.6 This is why panic attacks are said to be more severe anxiety attacks.
Most people usually have one or two panic attacks in their lifetime. If they are recurrent and unexpected, and there are long periods spent fearing another attack, these are signs of panic disorder.7,8 The symptoms of panic attacks are sudden, extremely intense, occur out-of-the-blue and often peak for 10 minutes and then subside. However, some attacks may last longer or happen in succession.9
Indicators of Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Typical anxiety attack symptoms that you should watch out for include:10
✓ Rapid and pounding heartbeat
✓ Feeling like the heart is being squeezed or pressured
✓ Sharp chest pains
✓ Difficulty in deep breathing
✓ Weakness, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs
✓ Intense feeling of doom or that something terrible is will happen
✓ Difficulty in concentrating or focusing on anything else than the symptoms
✓ Burning sensations that travel through the skin and the muscles
✓ Stomach discomfort
✓ Head pressure, like your head is being squeezed
On the other hand, the signs of panic attacks include:11
✓ Sense of impending doom or danger
✓ Fear of loss of control or death
✓ Rapid and pounding heart rate
✓ Trembling or shaking
✓ Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat
✓ Hot flashes
✓ Abdominal cramps
✓ Chest pain
✓ Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
✓ Numbness or tingling sensation
✓ Feeling of unreality or detachment
Whether you have an anxiety or panic attack, it’s important that you consult a physician or mental health professional to help you get to the bottom of your anxiety disorder. This would also prevent the attacks from cascading into more devastating conditions.