The Difference Between Anxiety And Panic Attacks, And What To Do About Them


A job interview, a major financial decision, a 2 a.m. phone call — all can set the heart racing. This response to stress isn’t always bad. The rushing hormones raise our level of alertness, priming our bodies to react to possible dangers. Anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes persistent, excessive and uncontrollable. Unfortunately, many fail to recognize their anxiety is excessive and requires treatment. Some may understand they have a problem but fail to seek treatment because there is a stigma attached to mental illnesses.

Young adults fail to acknowledge their anxiety disorders

The London-based mental health advocacy organization Mind surveyed 2,063 adults in Great Britain about their personal responses to anxiety. The results were revealing: Four out of five 18 to 34 year-olds felt they had to mask their anxious feelings; a quarter of respondents in this age group said they felt showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Slightly less than half of poll participants consider anxiety a mental health issue, yet failure to seek treatment can seriously affect daily life, putting psychological and physiological health at risk.

How is anxiety disorder different from everyday stress?

Anxiety, as a clinical term, is the main characteristic of several illnesses that fall under the anxiety disorder category. Simple phobias and social anxiety are the most common. Anxiety becomes pathological when anxious feelings rise when there appears to be no threat. Inability to control worry, a feeling of being on edge, muscle tension and sleep problems are all symptoms. An incident when these types of symptoms come to a head is often referred to as an anxiety attack, although this isn’t a clinical term.

Treating Anxiety

Psychotherapy, either alone or combined with medication, is effective. Types and symptoms of anxiety vary among individuals and treatments are tailored to individual needs. With the help of a mental health care practitioner, most people suffering an anxiety disorder can find relief from symptoms and function normally.

What is a panic attack?

Panic disorder, which falls under the Anxiety Disorders group, is identified by unexpected panic attacks, followed by intense fear of experience another attack. With a panic attack, your nervous system responds as if it is physically under attack. You lose control of your body for several minutes to a few hours. It is frightening, intense and seems to come from nowhere. People who have experienced them dread a reoccurrence. This fear of having another attack can be debilitating, causing sufferers to avoid public places.   

Breaking the cycle of panic

You do not have to live in a continual state of fear. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) uses techniques such as applied relaxation, exposure therapy (the patient is exposed to the specific thing, place or situation that triggers panic) and exercises that help patients adjust their thinking. These therapies are effective in treating panic disorders. CBT may also be self-directed. Controlled studies have found symptom can be improved with CBT books and videos, although it is still important that a patient maintain contact with a therapist. Antidepressants may also be prescribed in conjunction with CBT or as the sole treatment.

One interesting revelation that came out of the Mind survey is the large percentage of respondents that said they rarely cry in response to anxiety. Crying, according to the study’s authors, is a “common and useful response” to stress. Women were more likely to shed tears than men, and 63 percent of women said they found crying helped relieve their anxiety. Mind CEO Paul Farmer sums it up saying, “It’s time for us all to stop holding back the tears and reach out for support. Responding to symptoms early is vital so that they don’t become more serious and complicated.”