Plus expert tips on how to manage each of them.
If you experience anxiety, you'll understand that anxiety has a habit of rearing its ugly head when you least expect it. Just switching on the news these days can be enough to make your palms sweaty, have a general feeling of nausea in your stomach and feel as though the walls are going to cave in at any given moment. Other times, overwhelming, anxious feelings can come on suddenly and without provocation.
Some people casually refer to periods of intense anxiety as “anxiety attacks”; others may say they’re having a panic attack. While both may be correct, we wanted to tackle one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to anxiety: that the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” can be used interchangeably. The two do share some similarities (they’re both the result of a disproportionate fear response), but there are also a number of key differences which separate them.
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Whether you think you may be dealing with anxiety or panic attacks or just want to learn more about the two to help a friend or family member, we caught up with Dee McCormick, Pre-Accredited MIACP, to explain the difference between having a panic attack and an anxiety attack and how to manage each.
what's the main difference between anxiety and panic attacks?
Anxiety and panic attacks are two different things, although it can be hard to differentiate the symptoms.
"Panic Attacks, on the other hand, can be sudden and extremely unsettling. They can feel life-threatening although they aren’t," adds McCormick. "Your heart rate can spike rapidly, you can hyperventilate and you can sweat profusely. It can be very disturbing and can make you feel like you are totally disconnected from the world."
how can you spot a panic attack?
Anyone who has experienced one can tell you a panic attack can be terrifying. They’re also exceedingly common — and seemingly random. For example, you can still experience one without having panic disorder. According to the HSE, symptoms include:
- a racing heartbeat
- feeling faint
- sweating, hot flushes
- nausea, a churning stomach
- chest pain, shortness of breath
- trembling, shaky limbs
- a choking sensation
- numbness or pins and needles, a tingling sensation in your fingers
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- feeling like you're not connected to your body
Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes, but lingering effects may last hours.
how can you treat anxiety?
"Firstly, it's important to know that Anxiety is very common so don't be too judgmental on yourself if you have it," says McCormick.
"The ways that I find work most effectively for my clients are 'body-based'. Basically, that means that anxiety keeps you trapped in thoughts and ruminating about things. You can get stuck in a cycle of thinking that makes everything seem worse than it is. Getting back to your body and to your sensations can be very grounding."
To discover McCormick's 5 easy steps to calm anxiety, fast – click here.
how can you treat panic attacks?
"To deal with a panic attack in the here and now; I teach my clients to breathe slowly and deeply while using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, " says McCormick.
Here's how to do it:
- Name 5 things you see
- Name or touch 4 things you can feel
- Acknowledge 3 things you can hear
- Find 2 things you can smell
- Find 1 thing you can taste
"What this does is interrupt the stress response and gets you to re-wire the brain back to mindfulness and the present moment," explains McCormick. "Once you settle – you can say to yourself; 'Breathing in...there is only the present moment. Breathing out…it is a wonderful moment' that is from a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation."
Main image by Oladimeji Odunsi