What Are the Differences Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

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Anxiety and panic attacks are no joke. But when you’re in the middle of an anxious episode or feeling stressed, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.

Knowing the difference between anxiety and panic attacks is important because they’re often brought on by different things and can look very different from person to person. Here’s what you need to know about what they tend to look like and how they differ from each other.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is intense, persistent, or excessive fear. It can also look like worrying about everyday situations more than they logically warrant. Feeling anxious is a normal response to stressful situations, but it can indicate an underlying condition or become a chronic problem if it interferes with your daily life

Symptoms of anxiety

  • A sense of impending danger, dread, or crisis
  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense for no particular reason (or for a reason that doesn’t warrant these feelings)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hyperventilating
  • Difficulty concentrating

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a wave of intense, overwhelming fear that comes on suddenly, often without warning. It can include frightening physical symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, or a racing heart. 

Sometimes, people mistake the physical symptoms of a panic attack for a heart attack. They may think they’re dying or losing control. They may also feel detached from the world (derealization) or detached from themselves (depersonalization).

Panic attacks can happen without an obvious cause, seemingly completely out of the blue. But they can also be brought on by an external stressor, like a phobia or a specific trigger.

Differences between anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety typically happens in anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event. It can come on gradually and fade gradually as well. 

Panic attacks are specific episodes of spiked anxiety that tend to come with specific physical symptoms. With a panic attack, the physical symptoms of stress may be more prominent and apparent than the internal feelings of anxiety, which can be confusing and frightening. Sometimes, someone having a panic attack can experience all the physical symptoms without even realizing they feel anxious.

Whether you’re suffering from panic attacks or regular anxiety, they can both be frightening. Both can get in the way of your life. It’s important to talk to a mental health professional to help you identify exactly what you’re experiencing. After you’ve pinpointed exactly what you’re dealing with, your provider can suggest ways to manage your symptoms and, over time, reduce the amount of anxiety or number of panic attacks you’re experiencing.

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