Many people feel occasional anxiety in their lives when something comes up that precipitates it. It could be a major presentation for your job, a final exam at school, a social meeting, like a first date, or some other event that causes nervousness and anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states 40 million people are affected by anxiety every year. That amounts to 18 percent of the population. But how many people have an anxiety attack, and what is the difference between that and a panic attack?
We must first understand what anxiety and anxiety disorders are and how they differ from occasionally felt anxiety.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety does not disappear and may get worse for the person with anxiety disorders. Their symptoms could interfere with regular activities, such as a job or school performance, and relationships. Those affected may be diagnosed with one of the following types of anxiety disorder:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with GAD may show signs of excessive worry for most days of the week and for at least six months about a variety of things like their health, social relationships, work, school, and regular life circumstances. Their anxiety and fear can cause serious problems in their life.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling on-edge, restless, or wound-up
- Tiring easily
- Feeling irritable
- Experiencing muscle tension
- Trouble controlling feelings of worry
- Trouble with sleep, such as falling asleep, staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfied sleep
People affected by panic attacks experience sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach a peak within minutes. The attacks can be recurrent and unexpected or come about by a trigger, like a feared situation or object.
Symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
- Shaking or trembling
- Shortness of breath, feeling smothered or choking
- Feeling out of control
- Feelings of impending doom
People with panic disorder usually worry about when the next attack might happen and try to prevent future attacks by avoiding the situations, places, or things that can bring on a panic attack. This constant worry may likely cause serious problems in the person’s life and might lead to the development of agoraphobia.
People with phobia-related disorders have an intense fear or aversion to specific situations or objects. While it is normal to feel some fear in some circumstances or to some objects, the fear felt by someone with a phobia disorder is “out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object,” the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) notes. Those affected by phobias:
- Have an excessive or irrational worry about the feared object or situation
- Take active steps to avoid it
- Feel intense and immediate anxiety when encountering the feared situation or object
- Deal with unavoidable situations or objects with intense anxiety
Below are some of these types of phobias:
Simple phobias: Heights, flying, certain animals or insects, blood, getting an injection
Social anxiety disorder: A general intense fear of or toward social or performance circumstances. People with this disorder worry that their actions or behaviors related to their anxiety will be perceived negatively, so they actively avoid situations where this can occur.
Agoraphobia is an intense fear or two or more of the following situations:
- Being in open spaces
- Being in enclosed spaces
- Using public transportation
- Being in a crowd or standing in line
- Being outside of your home and alone
Agoraphobic people will avoid these situations because they think it will be hard or impossible to leave should they experience panic symptoms.
Knowing what you read from above, we will divulge into anxiety and panic attacks, what they are, and how they differ from each other.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
Anxiety can be a symptom of panic, but an anxiety attack has its own symptoms and circumstances. It is also not a formal term but a term used more casually to describe all sorts of anxious responses. The term is used to describe a variety of circumstances that cause anxious feelings and symptoms.
What Happens During an Anxiety Attack?
You may wonder what you may feel if you have an anxiety attack. Here is what you might experience if you think you are having an attack. It is essential to note that some people may feel a few symptoms, while others may experience a wider variety of them, as reported by Verywell Mind.
- Trouble concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Trouble sleeping
- Rapid heartbeat
- Tense muscles
- Tightness in chest and throat
How Do You Calm An Anxiety Attack?
When you have an anxiety attack or feel panic rising, you can take to calm an anxiety attack. Healthline shares some excellent calming suggestions. Here are a few:
Control Your Breathing
If you can control your breathing, practice deep breathing. This could decrease the chance of hyperventilating, which can make the attack seem worse than it is. Focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly to the count of four, and then exhale slowly to the count of four. Fill your stomach and chest full of air when inhaling.
Close Your Eyes
Closing your eyes can block out excessive stimuli that can come from fast-paced environments. When you close your eyes, you can focus on calm breathing instead of on the trigger that caused anxiety or panic-related feelings.
Find a Focus Object
Pick an object in your sightline and focus solely on it. Notice every bit of detail about it. When all of your energy is on this one thing, your symptoms may subside.
Picture Your Happy Place
If there is one place where you feel calm, at peace, and happy, that is the place to focus your mind on when feeling panic rise. This place can be a warm, sunny beach, green, cool meadow, or even a favorite chair or spot in your home. Again, picture yourself here and notice every little, fine detail about it.
Try Light Exercise
Light exercise, like walking, can ease stress and feelings of anxiousness. When you move, your blood moves, and you begin to feel the effects of endorphins kicking in. Get outside and start walking when you feel stress or anxiety mounting.
Can Alcohol Trigger an Anxiety Attack?
Alcohol can be quite harmful to many people and people with different disorders. It is not a direct trigger of anxiety or panic attacks, though. Nonetheless, there are circumstances in which alcohol can exasperate anxiety or panic attacks.
Dehydration: This is a common problem for people with anxiety and panic disorders. Alcohol can worsen dehydration as it is a known diuretic that causes excessive urination and water expulsion. For each drink you have, you will urinate 50 to 100 percent more water that is expelled from other parts of the body. When your organs and bodily functions are affected by dehydration, it can cause physical sensations that can trigger panic attacks.
Dizziness and Rapid Heartbeat: Alcohol can cause feelings of dizziness, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, and other symptoms, whether you are drinking or have stopped drinking. These symptoms can trigger feelings of anxiety or panic attacks for some.
Withdrawal Symptoms from Alcohol: Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol put the mind and body in a state of physiological and psychological stress. The symptoms can cause you to feel stressed, physically and mentally, which, in turn, could lead to feeling anxious or having a panic attack.
Alcohol itself does not cause panic attacks. It does, however, affect your body and mind, which can lead to the development of an anxiety or panic attack.
Is There a Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks?
You might be wondering what the difference is between anxiety attacks and panic attacks. There are distinct differences between the two. Below, Medical News Today outlines them:
- May have a specific trigger, such as job or school issues, health issues, relationship situations.
- It is not a diagnosable condition. It is not listed in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).
- It is less severe than a panic attack.
- It may develop gradually when you feel anxious.
- Physical symptoms can be a racing heartbeat or the feeling of having “a knot in your stomach.”
- It does not have specific triggers.
- It can be a panic disorder symptom, which is diagnosable.
- It has severe symptoms.
- It can occur when you feel calm or anxious.
- Physical symptoms and feelings of terror are so intense that you feel a total loss of control or imminent death.
- It happens suddenly and unexpectedly and may last between a few minutes to an hour. The negative impact of a panic attack can continue after that.
Anxiety attacks and panic attacks both have relatively the same symptoms, but with a panic attack, the symptoms are more severe.
It is not known if panic attacks can be cured. However, treatment is available for anxiety and panic attacks. Panic attacks can be chronic and may worsen if not treated. Cognitive behavior therapy is one of the most used and most effective forms of treatment for panic disorders.