Anxiety Vs Panic Attacks – Is There a Difference?
I am often asked anxiety vs panic attacks, is there really a difference? Well, let’s start by talking about anxiety. Anxiety is actually a generalised term that is used to cover six different elements of the problem. These are:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Fears and Phobias
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress
Anxiety is a common symptom in all these areas six issues. So you can have OCD or panic attacks and still be described as feeling anxious.
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Symptoms of Anxiety
When you suffer from anxiety you may experience:
- Feelings of worry or fear
- Fast Heart Beat
- Muscle Tension
- Inability to Relax
- Difficulty Breathing
In fact, these anxiety symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg but they are some of the most common ones that people experience. If you have anxiety you may not necessarily experience all of these but perhaps just one or two. Every single person will experience anxiety differently.
As anxiety gives physical symptoms as well as psychological ones it is always important to check to see if there is an underlying medical issue first with your doctor before a diagnosis.
So What Makes Anxiety Different?
If the symptoms for both problems are similar how are you going to tell the difference between anxiety vs panic attacks?
Well, I like to get my clients to imagine a scale from zero to ten. Zero means absolutely no anxiety and ten is the most anxiety you could ever possibly think of. When people suffer from anxiety they usually are experiencing feelings on the scale which range from level zero to say eight. If a client is having a panic attack their symptoms increase to nearer a nine or a ten. Obviously, this is a rough guide but it helps my clients to differentiate one from the other.
Most anxiety clients resonate on a lower level of intensity most of the time but this level will usually be higher than that of a person with no anxiety. To illustrate this I do not suffer from day to day anxiety so most of the time I feel around a level one out of ten (unless of course, something very significant happens to me). A person with anxiety may feel nearer a level four or a five even if there is nothing much that immediately seems to be a problem in their life. Generally, they feel a little bit more on edge all the time as if something bad is waiting to happen.
This anxiety scale number can rise or fall depending on how near a person is to their triggers or how much stress they are experiencing. So a person with a spider phobia may have a worry about coming across one at say a level 3 but when they actually see one this may jump to level 7.
Panic Attacks Definition
Now let’s define what a panic attack is and how can it differ from feelings of background anxiety. Panic attacks tend to occur unexpectedly and in many cases seem to appear out of the blue. They give really intense feelings of fear to the person experiencing them and many people feel like they are dying or having a heart attack when they first experience one. Other symptoms include:
- Chest Pains
- Feeling out of Control
- Choking feeling
- Worry about Dying
When my anxiety clients ask how will they know if they have had a panic attack I say it is impossible not to know. The feelings that a person experiences when they are having a panic attack are so profound and come on so quickly you can’t ignore them. In general panic attacks do not last for long, usually no more than twenty minutes to half an hour and then they subside as quickly as they started.
To illustrate if a person with a background level of anxiety level four started to have a panic attack this would rise in a minute to level nine or 10 before eventually dropping back down again.
Panic Attacks for No Reason
I often see some professionals say that a panic attack can be differentiated from anxiety because there will usually be no obvious reason for the attack. This is absolutely not the case!
In every incident of panic or anxiety that I have seen with a client, there has been a reason for their problem. That reason could be something that is occurring right now in their life or could be something that has re-triggered related to past events. The key to any therapy is helping the client to understand why they are experiencing the problem.
During therapy, it is important to look for clues to explain why the problem is there. Usually with questioning the issues start to emerge. Here are some common reasons for panic attacks that are often missed by my clients:
- High Stress Levels
- Recent Bereavement
- Problems at Work
- Relationship Issues
- Repressed Feelings
- Fears and Phobias
- Negative Thoughts
- Low Self Esteem
Just as panic attacks have a reason for happening so does anxiety and often the underlying causes are very similar. This means that when we look at anxiety vs panic attacks the reactions may be different but the root causes can be the same.
Want to start tracking your anxiety triggers? Why not get a copy of our self-help anxiety tracking printables. They can help you to understand where your anxiety is coming from and give you some tools to challenge any negative thoughts or feelings.
Panic Attacks Vs Heart Attack
As many of the symptoms of a panic attack can also be similar to a heart attack is it very important that you see a medical professional about your problem. They will conduct the necessary tests to make sure that there is no underlying health problem attached to your symptoms. When your Doctor has given you a diagnosis of Panic Disorder or Panic Attacks then you can seek out therapy or use self-help methods to reduce the feeling.
Panic Attacks in Sleep
Did you know that panic attacks can even occur when you have been asleep? Nocturnal panic attacks can be caused for the exact same reasons as ones during the day.
High-stress levels, for example, may be able to trigger the attack during the night. Alternatively, imagine that you have a fear of public speaking and the following day you have been asked by your boss to do a big speech to a hundred people. The night before that fear about the speech is still on your mind. In the middle of the night, a part of your brain thinks about what is happening the following day and the attack occurs.
Anxiety also causes problems for many people at night but in a different way. My anxious clients have a bigger problem getting to sleep at night because of what is on their minds or they fall asleep but then wake up in the middle of the night. They still experience disruption and negative thoughts but not in such as an extreme way as a person with panic disorder.
Anxiety Vs Panic Attacks Therapy Solutions
If you are suffering from anxiety or panic disorder then it is possible to resolve the problem with therapy or even self-help solutions. I have written an extensive online course to help my clients with both of these anxiety conditions.
My online self-help course guides you through the reasons why you may be experiencing the problem and then gives you practical tips and strategies you can use to change the feelings.
The course is split into video modules. Each one discussing one aspect of the anxiety problem. In addition to the self-help strategies, you are also given audio downloads to listen to which can help to promote feelings of relaxation and calm. You can take your time over each module in the course and repeat the most relevant sections multiple times to get the best results.
My clients who have experienced the course report back feeling happier, more relaxed and are able to sleep better.
Want to get a copy? Just follow the link to get instant access to my Blitz Anxiety online course and materials.
Alternative Therapy for Anxiety
When you understand more about anxiety vs panic attacks they become less frightening and easier to control. Part of the work in our Blitz Anxiety course is educating our clients and helping them identify their triggers. Once our clients recognise what is behind their problem the intensity of their symptoms often reduces.
My Blitz Anxiety course gives you a natural alternative to anxiety medication which may not be suitable or work for everyone. It is also easy to follow and incredibly practical. There are generally no mysteries when it comes to anxiety it just takes a little work to figure out what exactly is going on. When you do and take steps to mitigate your stressors and thoughts the anxiety and panic attacks are better managed and in many cases just fade away.
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