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How a Panic Attack is Different from an Anxiety Attack

Instructor: Michelle Hutton

Michelle has two master's degrees; one in Criminal Justice and the other in Psychology.

Though anxiety attacks and panic attacks share many of the same symptoms, they are actually quite different. This lesson explores general information on both anxiety and panic attacks, including core differences and common symptoms.

Similarities and Differences

Although it is common for people to refer to an anxiety attack and a panic attack as one and the same, they are actually quite different from one other. Because anxiety attacks and panic attacks do share many of the same symptoms, it is easy to understand the confusion between the two. In this lesson, we will discuss a few of the similarities between anxiety and panic attacks; however, the primary focus will be on understanding their core differences.

Before we discuss the differences between the two, let's discuss some of the more common similarities. Both panic and anxiety attacks can have physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, hot flashes, cold sweats, and feeling lightheaded to name a few.

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

An anxiety attack can be explained as a state of mind or being, and is the result of various environmental factors, usually stress related, that have built up over time. Have you ever heard someone say, 'she is so stressed she is going to blow a gasket?' Stressful circumstances over long periods of time eventually take their toll, and an anxiety attack is often the result of that stress. Not only is an anxiety attack the result of stress over a long period of time, the actual anxiety attack itself tends to last long term as well, covering days, weeks, and sometimes months. Because stress affects people differently, there is no exact period of time as to how long an anxiety attack will last, but as a general rule, it is considered a long-term state.

People who suffer from anxiety attacks are generally aware of the stress they have been experiencing; therefore, the presence of the anxiety attack is not a surprise to them. Additional symptoms often seen with anxiety attacks include feeling flushed, fatigue, agitation, irritability, mood swings and headaches. Though not all stress is necessarily bad, it can still contribute to an anxiety attack. For example, a woman who is about to get married could suffer from an anxiety attack. She may love the process of planning her upcoming wedding and be very excited about the event; however, the planning process as a whole can create enough stress to result in an anxiety attack.

Panic Attack Symptoms

While an anxiety attack can be explained as a state of mind, a panic attack is best explained as an event. Unlike anxiety attacks, panic attacks generally occur very quickly, without warning and elicit just as the name says: panic. Although stress can attribute to the onset of a panic attack, many people report their panic attack came out of nowhere. Panic attacks are also short in duration, lasting 30 minutes or less. In some cases, panic attacks can last in excess of an hour or more; however, as a general rule, they average about 30 minutes in duration.

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