24 Sep by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

For the millions of people struggling with excessive worry, fear, and anxiety, it can be helpful to understand what constitutes general anxiety vs a panic attack. At HPA/LiveWell, in Albany, New York, we support individuals with many different types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder (SAD). With any of these disorders, there is the possibility a person may experience different levels of anxiety or, in some cases, panic attacks. Both are quite uncomfortable, and for some, it is difficult to discern anxiety vs panic attack.  Some similarities between the two include:

  • Fear
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Chills and/or hot flashes
  • Numbness or tingling sensation

So, with all the parallels, how does one distinguish anxiety vs. panic attack symptoms?

Anxiety Vs. Panic Attack: How to Know the Difference

If you are struggling to identify whether you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, it is helpful to know the difference.  Anxiety is a feature of many common psychiatric disorders, the most common being GAD.  Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include excessive worry regarding everyday things/events, worry that interferes with everyday functioning, irritability, and trouble sleeping. While panic attacks have many of the same physical symptoms of anxiety, panic attack symptoms tend to come on quicker, hit a peak within 10 or 20 minutes, and then dissipate. Ongoing panic attacks likely indicate the presence of panic disorder. Individuals with panic disorder not only have panic attacks but also may undergo other difficult symptoms including:

  • Feelings of depersonalization and/or derealization
  • Fear of going insane
  • Fear of losing control
  • Accelerated heart rate and/or heart palpitations (which is why it is so common for some people to think they are having a heart attack instead of a panic attack)

Anxiety Vs Panic Attack: Having Both at Once

In some cases, people experience anxiety and a panic attack simultaneously. Yet what is more common is feeling anxiety first, and that anxiety contributing to the onset of a panic attack.  Many who have had a panic attack in the past worry about having another; that worry builds into anxiety, which then leads to the panic attack.  Essentially, worry and anxiety about the possibility of having another panic attack can actually cause another panic attack.  And while it is good to know this, what’s more important is learning how to manage that initial worry and anxiety.

Managing Anxiety

Everyone experiences worry and fear from time to time.  Yet if your worry/fear is impacting your daily functioning, detracting from your overall wellbeing, and/or contributing to panic attacks, you may have be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Seeking mental health support is always advisable, but there are also things you can do to start to manage your symptoms.

To learn more about anxiety vs panic attacks, or to find out more about how we treat anxiety disorders at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, contact us at 518-218-1188.