Anxiety or Panic Attack: Understanding the Difference

March 25, 2021 3:35 pm Published by

It can happen without warning. One minute you feel calm and collected, and in the next you feel overcome with a feeling of intense anxiety or fear. You might even have symptoms such as shortness of breath and sweating. What is going on? Is this just anxiety, or are you having a panic attack?

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

While many people use the terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably, this isn’t quite the case. Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of life, and for most people it is temporary. For example, you might feel anxious and worried about specific factors, like work or finances, or when faced with a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, like giving a big presentation. But once the cause of the anxiety has passed, the anxiety passes with it.

However, for some people, anxiety can be much more serious. If you feel scared, anxious or worried more often than not, you might have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The signs of GAD include:

  • Experiencing sleep problems
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having excessive anxiety or worry on most days for at least six months
  • Worrying about many different things, such as health, work, money, social situations and the safety of loved ones

How Do I Know if I’m Having a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is different from anxiety. Panic attacks come on suddenly, and while some panic attacks are triggered by an immediate situation, they sometimes occur for no apparent reason. Symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control
  • Heart palpitations and/or racing heart
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Some people describe feeling like they are having a heart attack or feeling like they are detached from their surroundings.

Most panic attacks last for 20 to 30 minutes or less, peaking within several minutes of onset. Some people have one and never have another, while others experience repeated episodes. If you have frequent panic attacks that affect the quality of your life, you might have a panic disorder.

What Can I Do About My Anxiety or Panic Attacks?

While anxiety and panic attacks are not dangerous in and of themselves, they can be scary, and frequent episodes can put stress on the heart and have a negative impact on your life and relationships.

Your primary care provider at Magnolia Regional Health Center can help you learn about medications and other ways to manage your anxiety. Schedule an appointment today.

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This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center

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