The short answer is “yes.” But it’s far more complicated than that. You see, anxiety is a diagnosable condition. One form of anxiety disorder is called “Panic Disorder.” All anxiety disorders can cause what is commonly called an anxiety attack but it’s really just a surge of common anxiety symptoms.
A panic attack is most often related to Panic Disorder. It can have many similarities to an anxiety attack but is considered distinct and diagnosable. To the person going through either issue, the differences may not seem to matter. But they do. Knowing the difference is how a professional can discern how to best help you. It also empowers you to better help yourself.
What is an Anxiety Attack?
This term is used to describe when an anxiety disorder or a specific phobia flares up and becomes more intense. An anxiety attack builds slowly and can last for months.
What is a Panic Attack?
Again, it’s usually connected to a Panic Disorder and such an attack is sudden, frequently unexpected, but only last for minutes.
Based solely on symptoms, it can be difficult to differentiate between panic attacks and anxiety attacks. Both will usually feature physical signs like:
- Racing heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Either chills or hot flashes and sweating
- Tight throat
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Stomach disturbances, e.g. pain and nausea
- Trembling or shaking
- Bodily numbness or tingling
- Dizziness (even to the point of fainting)
Common emotional symptoms are:
- Intense worry to the point of dread
- General mental distress
- Feeling out of control
- Detachment from your surroundings and/or yourself
- Extreme fear of dying
Since the signs and symptoms dovetail so closely, it’s best to consider both the speed of onset and the duration. Generally speaking, if it’s sudden and doesn’t last more than a few minutes, it’s a panic attack.
Causes and Risk Factors
Guess what? These are also virtually similar.
What stressed you out? Like most people, you share universal triggers and surely have some personal causes. Here are just a few of the many factors that can lead to either an anxiety or panic attack:
- Too much driving, especially if it involves traffic, etc.
- Caffeine consumption
- Job-related stress
- School-related stress
- Relationship-related stress
- Painful or traumatic memories
- Chronic pain
- Certain medications
- Different types of phobias
- Thyroid problems
Panic and/or anxiety attacks are more prevalent in people who:
- Experienced trauma (especially as a child)
- Are grieving the loss of a loved one
- Already have another mental health condition
- Use or abuse drugs or alcohol
- Have close family members who experience anxiety or panic attacks
Basically, when you’ve had a history of stressful times, panic and anxiety are common results. Left unchecked, you may experience the attacks described herein.
Treatment and Self-Help
Both anxiety and panic attacks can be addressed and managed via counseling and psychotherapy. In some instances, medication may be suggested. In addition, there are a variety of effective self-help techniques you can employ to complement your treatment. These can include skills you develop for use when you feel an attack coming on:
- Slow, deep breathing
- Practicing mindfulness
- Relaxation techniques like aromatherapy
Mostly, through therapy, you can cultivate an awareness of what’s going on and why. If you know your triggers and symptoms, you can pre-empt such attacks or, at least, reduce their impact.
Anxiety disorders and panic disorders are common, treatable, and manageable. If you need some help dealing with these issues, it is vital that you ask for the help you need. I invite you to reach out and schedule a free and confidential consultation to get you started on the road to recovery with anxiety therapy.
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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret which offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California.