Anxiety versus Panic – Know the Differences and How To Deal with Both
Mridu Walia – Mechanical
Posted on: February 20, 2019
Today I will be mainly be talking about the differences between an anxiety attack and a panic attack because more often than not, people talk about it as if they are the same thing and use the terms interchangeably in a conversation. However, that is not the case as even though the symptoms for both anxiety and panic are kind of overlapping, they have key characteristics that distinguish one from the other. Therefore, we will be beginning with an overview of the symptoms experienced during an anxiety and panic attack respectively, and then go on to outline the main differences between them. We will also discuss some ways to deal with both anxiety and panic attacks, including home remedies and simple lifestyle changes you can implement, as dealing with these issues can be both difficult and disruptive.
Anxiety attacks are more gradual and less intense as compared to panic attacks. Some of the emotional symptoms for an anxiety attack include – stress, restlessness, nervousness, fear, irritation; whereas some of the physical symptoms would include: shortness of breath, muscle tension, disturbed sleep, headache, sweating etc. However, these symptoms do overlap with the emotional and physical symptoms experienced during a panic attack along with some key ones that include: chest pain, heart palpitations, shaking/trembling, abdominal pain, intense pangs of fear, nausea etc. In the moment, it can often feel like you might be dying from a heart attack. Panic attacks are generally unexpected and sudden and bring on a sense of overwhelming and intense fear. Sometimes, an anxiety attack can lead to a panic attack too. Allow me to draw on my personal experiences and share this with you.
It was my first year at the university and I was supposed to participate in a presentation on our team project. The entire week I spent preparing for it, I remember being constantly anxious, eating lots of ice-cream (oh common? It was summer, and I was really stressed) and just pacing back and forth as I was trying to remember the lines for this presentation. I could not stand still in one place, I was so nervous. But I practiced a lot and finally began feeling confident that I might be able to pull this off. So, fast forward to the day of the presentation, my team and I have been watching our classmates present their projects. When it’s our turn to present, I get so majorly anxious as I walk towards the podium. My anxiety attack had turned into an intense panic attack because I have stage fright. I remember feeling nauseous, dizzy and light-headed as I waited for my turn to speak, and then when it was finally my turn to present, I remember my legs going numb and feeling this blinding abdominal pain. I wanted to sit down to catch my breath because I literally could not breathe. Needless to say, I didn’t do a great job presenting that term. So, just wanted to share this little anecdote before I continue talking about the differences between anxiety and panic attacks. But don’t worry, I will be sharing another incident that happened with me later on, so keep reading!
So, we now know how the symptoms can align as well as differ between anxiety and panic attacks. But what would also help, is to look at the clinical differences between these two terms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 5th edition or DSM-5, acts as a standard and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental illnesses. According to VeryWell Mind, the DSM-5 uses the term “panic attack” to describe the hallmark features associated with the condition known as panic disorder, which is categorized as an “anxiety disorder”. The term “anxiety attack” is not defined in the DSM-5. Rather, “anxiety” is used to describe a core feature of several illnesses identified under the headings of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) etc.
Alright, Ms. Walia, why don’t you Hakuna Matata? Well, if you have made it so far, thank you for being so patient. So that was a lot of information, right? Let’s give you a breather and discuss easy home remedies and lifestyle changes along with treatment options. I have GAD and here are a few things that have worked out for me and some people I know. Again, I am not a mental health professional, however, I would definitely like to share things that helped me deal with anxiety and panic attacks, in the hopes that it would help someone else out there.
I found out that drinking cold water or taking a walk in the cold really helps me to calm down and reconnect with my body. Deep breathing, I know it sounds cliché, but trust me when I say, it works! Panic attacks are commonly characterized by hyperventilation, which can amplify emotions such as fear, making it worse. By practising deep breathing, you are teaching your body how to control your breathing which can significantly reduce the hyperventilation. According to Healthline, focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four. I know we have very busy lives, however, try and exercise on a regular basis. I am sure you all know the benefits to exercise, however, a quick recap: Having an active lifestyle not only keeps you fit (Confidence++) but also, releases endorphins in our systems. According to mindbodygreen, even moderate walking helps boost cognitive functions like reasoning, memory, attention span, and the expansion of information and knowledge.
I find that taking a hot shower or drawing myself a luxurious bath with salts really helps me deal with stress. If you are prone to panic attacks, have a travel size bottle of lavender oil on you. When you feel like you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or it feels like the onset of a panic attack, rub a few drops on your arms and just breathe in the scent. Lavender scent has stress-relieving and soothing qualities which, according to research, lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
Enforce positive thinking by recognizing behaviours that affect you negatively. For example, consider this: you stepped on black ice, slipped and sprained your foot. Instead of saying, “Why does this happen to me?”, consider saying, “Okay, remember to walk like a penguin next time!”. Lastly, and this one is important, be forgiving of yourself. I strongly believe that things happen for a reason. Yes, when your life starts falling apart like dominos tiles, it’s difficult to believe that. I was very self-critical of myself and would internalize everything that happened in my life. But with time, I would realize, well this wasn’t really my fault now, was it? So, I am pretty new to this myself, but I try and forgive myself if something is not going the way I anticipated it to go. I tell myself: okay, take a minute and analyze what did you that was wrong and how could you do it better the next time? I know it is not as simple as that sounds, but if you get in the habit of thinking positively, it will become a behaviour eventually. I know I am going to try and implement this in my life, and I strongly encourage you all to try the same, because if you don’t love yourself, then who will? Forgiveness is a big part of loving someone, so answer me this: Do you love yourself enough to forgive yourself?
Alright! So, remember that other incident I mentioned about 750 words ago? Here it goes: I gave a presentation last term as part of my work term experience. I am proud to say it went very well! Naturally, I was anxious, but because I had been implementing positive behaviours and my coping mechanisms, I prevented that anxiety from turning into a panic attack. End result? I delivered a great presentation in front of the entire staff and 26 other coops and got a great evaluation from my supervisor too. It was an amazing experience altogether! Which brings me back to the conclusion: anxiety and panic attacks are different based on the intensity and longevity of the symptoms, but with the correct combination of treatment i.e. coping mechanisms and therapy etc, it can be a lot easier to deal with. To my readers, I hope you enjoyed reading this article and had a good reading break. Also, if you have midterms coming up, I wish you good luck!
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