Maybe you find it hard to understand the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. After all, aren’t they the same thing?

Actually, not as much as you would think.

While people can struggle with either—or both—the reality is that these are two separate problems with distinct differences. Understanding these differences and how and why panic and anxiety attacks happen can be useful when you’re looking for ways to manage these problems day-by-day.

Let’s take a closer look.

anxiety attackWhen You Feel Panic

The key thing to keep in mind when it comes to panic attacks is that there is an immediate sense of danger, doom, or otherwise feeling threatened. This happens suddenly and probably without warning.

For example, let’s say that you worked really hard to prepare for your presentation at work. You have all of your materials arranged correctly, and you know what you are going to say. But just as you are about to begin, you notice that you forgot the handouts you meant to provide to the rest of the team.

What happens next may play out like this: You start to have racing thoughts about how you are going to fail at this presentation. Your heart starts beating faster, your breathing quickens, and you begin to sweat. You may even feel pain in your chest, as if you’re having a heart attack, and begin to tremble. In your head, you hear a voice saying that it’s “game over” and that your career is finished.

These are symptoms of a panic attack. They are immediate, intense, and can be frightening, to the point that you may fear you’re dying. But they usually only last for minutes and then quickly subside.

When You Have an Anxiety Attack

An anxiety attack is different from a panic attack for several reasons:

  1. You already have an idea about why you are anxious; for instance, you’re afraid of getting sick.
  2. When you do have an anxiety attack, it’s because you are put in a situation that triggers your anxiety.
  3. It takes longer to build up to an anxiety attack as opposed to a panic attack, which is more sudden.
  4. And an anxiety attack can also last longer and its symptoms usually subside slower in comparison to a panic attack.

Perhaps the biggest reason why anxiety attacks and panic attacks get confused is because of the similarity of physical symptoms.

For instance, sweating, feeling nauseated, headaches, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath are all physical symptoms the two have in common. However, such things as chest pains, trembling/shaking, and feeling detached from yourself are more related to panic attacks; while muscle tension, sleep issues, and irritation are more connected to anxiety.

Finding Solutions that Work

An anxiety or panic attack can be scary and distressing. And it can be difficult to know what to you on your own. But there’s help available to deal with panic and anxiety attacks.

Two natural treatments that don’t require medication include neurofeedback therapy and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). However, successful intervention depends on the guidance of a therapist trained to use these techniques.

Both methods utilize the neuroplasticity of the human brain—its ability to change and adapt—to promote healing. During neurofeedback therapy, a therapist will use data from sensors to understand how your brain responds to stress and to help you make changes that allow it to better cope. For EMDR, a therapist has you follow their hand or a light with your eyes to help you process distressing memories that might be triggering anxiety or panic attacks.

Knowing the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is useful for getting the right help. If you are struggling with the symptoms of panic or anxiety, reach out to a therapist who specializes in anxiety therapy. Please, contact me to find out how I can help.