Anxiety vs. Panic Attack

More recently the term “anxiety attack” has been used when people begin to feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. While the term definitely expresses the intrusive nature the person has experienced, it unfortunately is not a clinically recognized term. Because of this, the use of term has led to misrepresentation and even misunderstanding of what the person is experiencing. When the term “anxiety attack” is used it often is interpreted as a “panic attack”.

There are definitely similarities amongst the two experiences. However it’s best to know what you are experiencing so you can make sure you get the best support from your friends, family, mental health professional and primary care physician.

Those experiencing moderate to severe anxiety often say they feel like they are spiraling where their thoughts are leading them down a path of worry and dread. They often feel paralyzed by the fear. Anxiety can also be experienced as:

  • Restlessness, feeling wound-up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or having your mind go blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling worries
  • Sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)

Those experiencing a panic attack on the other hand may feel as though they are having a heart attack as the person typically experiences 4 or more physical symptoms simultaneously. The symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  • Feelings of choking.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress.
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  • Chills or heat sensations.
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  • De-realization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  • Fear of dying

It’s always best to consult with you primary care physician to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues contributing to your symptoms.  

As anxiety can sometimes be a precursor to a panic attack, it’s best to try grounding techniques to keep you in the moment along with being aware of any negative self-talk that may make you feel like you are spiraling.