What is the Difference Between an Anxiety and a Panic Attack?

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We all become anxious or nervous from time to time–when preparing for an important meeting with a boss, speaking in front of a large group, or going through a challenging life transition. For some people, overwhelming thoughts and behaviors become so frequent and forceful that they begin to overtake their lives.

So, how do you tell if your everyday anxiety has crossed the line or maybe even developed into a panic disorder? The differences between panic and anxiety are best described in terms of the intense symptoms and length of time the predominant symptoms occur.

Panic Attack

A Panic attack typically doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable. And during a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear, or apprehension. They may feel that they’re going to die, or lose control or have a heart attack. These symptoms usually occur “out of the blue,” peak within 10 minutes and then subside.

 
During a panic attack, the symptoms are sudden and extremely intense. They have a host of physical symptoms which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea. And in addition to these terrifying panic attacks, people start worrying about having the next one. Additionally, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.

There’s also a lot of what’s called anticipatory anxiety. So, following an attack, it is not unusual to feel stressed, worried, out-of-sorts, or “keyed up” the remainder of the day.

 
Anxiety Attack

While some of the symptoms of an anxiety arrack are similar to many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks, they are generally less intense. During an anxiety attack, people may feel fearful, apprehensive, may feel their heart racing or feel short of breath, but it’s very short lived, and when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack. Anxiety is highly correlated to excessive worry. Another important distinction is that, unlike a panic attack, the symptoms of anxiety may be persistent and very long-lasting — days, weeks or even months.

Treatment

Anxiety and panic disorder treatment may involve therapy or medication or a combination of both. Lifestyle modifications such as avoidance of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, being aware of anxiety levels to avoid panic attacks, proper control of feelings and relaxation techniques ( breathing, meditation, Yoga) will help to cope up with anxiety and mild panic attacks whereas severe recurrent episodes will be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy with or without drugs like anti-depressants or Benzodiazepines.

 
The good news is that with time and patience, up to 90 percent of people who obtain proper care from a mental health professional will recover and live full and productive lives.

The Benefits of Meditation

The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years. Recent studies show meditation and mindfulness can have a positive impact on stress, anxiety, focus, creativity and even relationships.

 

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The psychological benefits of meditation are wide ranging: heightened creativity, decreased stress and anxiety, decreased irritability, improved memory and even increased happiness and emotional stability. Regular meditation can also help you to be a better problem solver, with a more focused mind, leading to greater overall productivity. In addition, psychologically speaking, meditation can increase awareness, while making self-actualization more probable, help with mood swings, boost confidence, increase self-acceptance & empathy.

Investigators from the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital found that practicing meditation causes what is called the “relaxation response,” the opposite of the “fight-or-flight” response—what happens to our bodies when we get stressed. Their studies showed that the relaxation response alleviates anxiety and also has positive effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating studies published on meditation is one from several years ago — but one that is good to keep in mind if you’re interested in mental health and brain plasticity. The study, led by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), found that meditating for only 8 weeks actually significantly changed the brain’s grey matter — a major part of the central nervous system that is associated with processing information, as well as providing nutrients and energy to neurons. This is why, the authors believe, that meditation has shown evidence in improving memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress relief.

Another recent study examining the health benefits of positive thinking found that mindfulness exercises like meditation or yoga actually changed the length of telomeres in breast cancer patients — which works to prevent chromosomes from declining. And in the past, researchers have found that people who practiced meditation actually had different brain structures than people who didn’t.

As you can see, when you meditate you build up your psychological resilience, giving you greater and greater ability to weather mental and emotional storms as they pass through, with the effects compounding and enabling you to calmly pass through ever greater issues.

If you would like to have some assistance as you begin the practice of meditation, the following apps might prove helpful to get you started:

Calm
Simply Being
Stop, Breathe and Think