“What Is The Difference Between Anxiety and a Panic Attack?”
When people talk about anxiety attacks and panic attacks, they typically use the phrases interchangeably. Many people are even entirely unaware that the two are actually clinically distinct with their own unique signs and experiences.
Panic attacks are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM 5), where it is used to describe classic features of panic disorder.
“Anxiety attacks”, however, are not mentioned in the DSM 5. Instead, they can be seen as a symptom of any of the most common panic disorders – including Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia without History of Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The two conditions both differ in symptomology and length of time, as the root cause of the attack is not the same.
Panic attacks are characterized by their sudden onset and extreme intensity. A person can go from feeling absolutely normal to feeling intense fear, stress, or physical symptoms like heart palpitations and shaking.
The length of a panic attack can vary or may be experienced in “waves”, however, they are generally relatively short. In some cases, a panic attack can develop and subside within half an hour or shorter.
According to the DSM 5, panic attacks are characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
- Chills or hot flushes
Anxiety or “Anxiety Attacks”
In comparison to panic attacks, anxiety typically intensifies over a longer period of time. The symptoms of anxiety can last days or weeks – even months. The symptoms of anxiety include:
- Muscle tension
- Disturbed sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased startle response
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms can be similar to those felt during panic attacks, however, they are generally less intense and more persistent. In cases of “anxiety attacks,” feelings of anxiety can develop more quickly than typical and may seem more severe, but do not meet the typical criteria for panic attacks. The experience is also more defined by feelings of excessive worry than panic attacks.
Whether you are experiencing panic attacks, excessive anxiety, or both, you can be rehabilitated with counseling and medication in some cases.
Are you struggling with anxiety or panic attacks? Give us a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is the right choice for you.