Anxiety can occur when a person fears that something bad is going to happen. It is a non-medical term that refers to a feeling of fear or worry that often relates to a particular issue or concern.
Anxiety has been linked to stress. As well as feelings of fear and worry, it often involves physical symptoms, such as muscle tension.
It is different from a panic attack, which is a symptom of panic disorder. Anxiety often relates to a specific event or situation, although this is not always the case.
A panic attack, meanwhile, can happen without any specifiable trigger, and the symptoms are far more severe than the symptoms of anxiety.
However, if levels of stress and anxiety continue for a long time, further problems may develop.
Fast facts about anxiety
- An anxiety attack usually involves a fear of some specific occurrence or problem that could happen.
- Symptoms include worry, restlessness, and possibly physical symptoms, such as changes in heart rate.
- Anxiety is different from a panic attack, but it can occur as part of an anxiety or panic disorder.
Anxiety attack versus panic attack
Anxiety can be a symptom of panic, but it is different from a panic attack.
What are the differences?
Here are some of the features that distinguish them.
An anxiety attack, or anxiety:
- can have a specific trigger, such as an exam, workplace issues, a health issue, or a relationship problem
- is not a diagnosable condition
- is less severe than a panic attack
- usually develops gradually when a person feels anxious
- involves physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or “knot in the stomach“
A panic attack:
- does not have a specific trigger
- can be a symptom of panic disorder, a diagnosable condition
- has severe symptoms
- can happen whether a person feels calm or anxious
- involves physical symptoms and feelings of terror so intense that the person fears a total loss of control or imminent death
- often occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and last between a few minutes and an hour, although the negative impact may continue
The term “anxiety attack” is not listed in the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-V).
Panic attacks, however, are a symptom of panic disorder in the DSM-V. Only a licensed professional can diagnose panic disorder.
Difference in symptoms
Both panic and anxiety can involve fear, a pounding or racing heart, lightheadedness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and irrational thoughts.
However, in a panic attack, these are far more severe. The person may genuinely believe they are going to die.
A person is more likely to require medical attention if they have a panic attack versus an anxiety attack.
Differences in how they start
Anxiety can be a response to a specific worry or fear. It tends to develop gradually, and a person is usually worried or concerned at the outset. It can be mild, moderate or severe. There may be a sense that if only this problem can be solved, everything will be all right.
A panic attack can happen without warning, and there is no way to prevent it. It can happen whether a person feels calm or anxious, and even during sleep. There is often no obvious cause, and the level of fear is out of proportion to the trigger. In fact, according to the APA, the reaction is unrelated to the situation.
Differences in duration
Anxiety is often related to a specific situation. It tends to build up and continue for some time.
A panic attack starts suddenly, symptoms peak after 10 minutes and usually abate after 30 minutes or so, although the effects may last longer. Anxiety generally does not peak in this way, but some people with anxiety can progress to panic attacks.
Can anxiety lead to panic?
A person who has panic disorder may experience anxiety that they are going to have a panic attack. The uncertainty about if or when an attack is going to happen can lead to anxiety between attacks.
For a person with panic disorder, anxiety may trigger a panic attack. The fear of having a panic attack can affect the person’s behavior and ability to function in daily life.
The APA suggest there may be a biological factor underlying panic disorder, but scientists have not yet identified a specific marker.
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