It can seem like anxiety and panic attacks go hand in hand. After all, someone who suffers from a panic attack may feel increasingly anxious leading up to it. And someone who deals with anxiety daily might worry that they will eventually have a panic attack.
Both generalized anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating. And some people suffer from both conditions. But these two conditions are not synonymous, although they are often talked about in conjunction.
What are the differences between panic attacks and generalized anxiety? Let’s discuss what sets these conditions apart and how you can differentiate between them.
Acute vs. Ongoing
A panic attack can occur in a matter of minutes. For a few moments, someone suffering a panic attack can feel like they’re dying. But despite the overwhelming sensations that come on so strongly, the attack may end shortly after it begins. However, the person might experience ongoing anxiety afterward for some time.
On the other hand, generalized anxiety can be chronic. Someone might experience anxiety for weeks, months, or even years on end with little respite. Their symptoms will be less intense than someone experiencing a panic attack, but they will experience anxiety for a longer period of time.
Physical vs. Emotional Symptoms
Someone who is struggling with generalized anxiety may experience physical symptoms in addition to mental health symptoms. In fact, this is relatively in common. But it is not a hard and fast rule. Some people with generalized anxiety do not notice any physical symptoms.
However, panic attacks involve serious physical symptoms. In fact, some people who experience panic attacks experience such severe chest pains they assume they’re having a heart attack. They might even believe that whatever is happening to them will be fatal.
While generalized anxiety can be overwhelming, and someone with anxiety might have such deep-seated fears of a particular situation that they assume the worst possible outcomes, it does not involve such a physical sensation of impending doom.
Depersonalization and Derealization
Depersonalization leaves a person feeling completely disconnected from their sense of self. Derealization refers to a feeling of disconnection and separation from your surroundings. Both sensations can be completely disorienting.
A person with generalized anxiety may occasionally experience depersonalization or derealization. But this does not always happen. In contrast, a panic attack almost always involves intense feelings of depersonalization and derealization, which is why it can be so terrifying. These are hallmark symptoms of a panic attack.
Unknown Causes vs. Specific Worries
There are many factors that make panic attacks so frightening. For example, panic attacks often seem to come on out of the blue. While someone might have a panic attack because of a specific trigger they recognized, panic attacks can often feel completely random.
While generalized anxiety can also seemingly occur out of nowhere, someone with anxiety can generally pinpoint what is making them anxious. Their anxiety might be nonexistent in the absence of this root cause.
Severity of Symptoms
Finally, one of the primary differences between anxiety and panic attacks is simply the severity of the symptoms. The symptoms of a panic attack can make it temporarily impossible to function. Somebody with generalized anxiety might be able to make it work and go through the motions of their day, even when they’re struggling.
But a person who is suffering through a panic attack may feel completely paralyzed. It is this acute severity that separates panic attacks from anxiety.
Are you struggling with generalized anxiety, panic attacks, or both? Therapy can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.