Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks

While panic and anxiety attacks can produce similar physical symptoms, including an accelerated heart rate, chest pain, and shortness of breath, they are not the same. 

An anxiety attack, which usually occurs in reaction to a stressor, is short-lived and marked by feelings of apprehension, restlessness, and distress. Once the stressor is removed, the anxiety attack ends.  

A panic attack, on the other hand, does not occur in reaction to a stressor. Rather, it’s an unpredictable condition that results in an intense burst of fear that can peak within minutes. And while anxiety is often a symptom of a panic attack, other symptoms, such as chills, a pounding heartbeat, dizziness, trembling, and chest pain, often cause a panic attack to be mistaken for a heart attack. 

The biggest distinction between a panic attack and an anxiety attack is the intensity and duration of the symptoms.   

Cause of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

When you worry about a future event, like a job interview or a high-stakes business meeting, the possibility of a bad outcome can often lead to anxiety. With that anxiety might come the gradual onset of an anxiety attack.

A panic attack, however, can strike at any time (even while you’re sleeping), and for no real reason, causing you to experience an abrupt fear that sets off a fight-or-flight response. 

In some instances, it’s possible to experience both an anxiety and a panic attack at the same time.

For example, you may experience anxiety over a potentially stressful presentation you have to give. When the day of the presentation arrives, that anxiety may culminate in a panic attack. People who suffer from anxiety disorders are more susceptible to panic attacks. 

How Can You Stop A Panic Attack?

The first step in stopping a panic attack is simply noticing the symptoms and recognizing the condition.

In addition, the following strategies can lessen the duration and severity of the attack: 

  • Close your eyes: Because panic attacks are overwhelming, it can help to block out any extra stimuli. 
  • Breathe deeply: A panic attack can cause hyperventilating, which can increase fear and exacerbate the attack. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out of your mouth for a count of four, letting air slowly fill and leave your chest and belly.  
  • Relax your muscles: Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation can help control your body’s response to a panic attack and therefore lessen the symptoms.  
  • Use a mantra: If you experience frequent panic attacks, repeating a phrase in your mind can help relax and reassure you and provide a focus point during an attack.  
  • Meditate: Brief meditations are available online and via iPhone apps. These can help provide instant relief from a panic attack.  

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders 

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, there are five major types of anxiety disorders

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 

People with GAD experience excessive anxiety or worry on most days for at least six months. 

This worry is usually about everyday things, such as personal health, work, and social interactions, and can cause anxiety in many areas of daily living.  

2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder that includes recurrent, unwanted thoughts or obsessions/preoccupation with these thoughts, followed by compulsions or repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning to prevent bad things from happening.

These symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships. 

3. Panic Disorder

This disorder is marked by recurrent unexpected panic attacks, or sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes.  

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This anxiety disorder often develops after exposure to a terrifying event. 

PTSD can be triggered by military combat, a personal assault, an accident, or a disaster. 

5. Social Phobia

Previously called Social Anxiety Disorder, social phobia includes a general, intense fear of social or performance situations.

People with this disorder worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed and causing them to avoid social situations.  

How GoHealth Urgent Care Can Help 

Everyone feels anxious at times, especially during difficult circumstances. Although worry doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to see a doctor if you experience anxiety with any of the following symptoms: 

  • You feel depressed and anxious at the same time or feel you’re losing control  
  • Anxiety begins to affect your work and/or personal life 
  • You’re anxiety is causing you to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to cope. 

If anxiety turns toward suicidal thoughts, call 9-1-1 immediately or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  

If you are suffering from chronic anxiety, visit a GoHealth Urgent Care near you. Our board-certified mental health professionals are available without referral and can treat your anxiety symptoms.