Am I having a panic attack or anxiety attack? This question is more common than you might think. Often people get the two mixed up and even use them interchangeably. It’s okay if you do as well. But it’s important to know they are not the same. Indeed, this article sheds light on the difference between the two conditions, including giving you several tips to manage the overwhelm. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, an anxiety attack, or both, this article is for you.
Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack: What’s The Difference?
While both conditions share common symptoms, they are vastly different from one another. But how? The biggest difference is the varying intensity and length of symptoms. For example, panic attacks are sudden and often occur without a trigger. You may not know what caused your attack – it can feel like it came out of the blue. Furthermore, while the symptoms of a panic attack are intense, they only last for a few minutes. They accompany symptoms like fear of dying, a sense of detachment from oneself and the world around you. An anxiety attack, on the other hand, gradually builds in response to a specific threat with symptoms like muscle tension, irritability, and fatigue. It doesn’t occur with the same extreme fear, symptoms similar to a heart attack, or sense of detachment that a panic attack brings.
5 Tips to Manage a Panic Attack
1. Don’t ignore what’s happening
When you’re having a panic attack, you may feel tempted to ignore what’s happening. But this can cause you to feel more overwhelmed if your symptoms are longer than expected. Therefore, observing your symptoms as they come can help you reverse the overwhelm. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. So, the next time you feel one coming on, don’t try to turn it off. Instead, acknowledge each feeling and repeat, “This is my anxiety, and it will pass“.
2. Ground yourself
One of the best ways to overcome a panic attack is to connect to something outside yourself. Panic attacks can make you feel out of control, and practicing a grounding technique will help you counteract that feeling. For example, engage in the present moment by rubbing your feet or hands on a surface. Notice the texture, and ask yourself, “Is it warm or cold, rough or smooth?”. Allow yourself to really feel what you’re feeling to help release the panic.
3. Use your brain
You have panic attacks because your flight-or-fight response is out of sorts. In other words, you think there is danger nearby when there isn’t. Yet even though one part of your brain is spiraling, other parts of your brain are operating perfectly fine. This means verbally talking to yourself through the panic or engaging in a skill that activates your motor or cognitive skills will help ease the panic. For example, count backward, write a letter to yourself, or repeat, “Hey, I’m panicking again, but that’s okay. It will be over soon“.
4. Slow deep breaths
Panicking creates quick and shallow breaths that make your anxiety worse. Yet, shifting your attention to your breath and breathing slowly and lengthening your exhale will stop that feeling of detachment. It reminds you that you’re here and you’re okay. To practice this, count your inhales and exhales. For example, breathe in and count 1-2 and exhale and count to 6. Each time you exhale, try counting more and lengthening your breath a little longer each time.
5. Slowly embrace the fear
Panic creates avoidance, and avoidance creates more panic. Think of a situation that caused your panic attack. Perhaps you were at the gym – did you stop going? If you did, take baby steps towards going again. For example, if possible, complete the same routine at home. Then take a class with a friend. When you feel comfortable, maybe go for a run to your gym, then face the gym. Ease yourself by slowly embracing the fear and teaching your brain that no real danger exists.
5 Tips to Manage an Anxiety Attack
1. Get to know your anxiety
Knowing your triggers can provide helpful information and can help you reduce their frequency. To increase your awareness, bring attention to your body when you feel anxious and journal what comes up. Try to complete this every time you feel anxious and look for a pattern. When you’re aware of your triggers, you can start to manage your emotions before your anxiety controls you.
When you feel anxious, it can feel challenging to think of anything but what’s causing your anxiety. But one of the best ways to relieve your stress is to self-soothe. Watch a funny comedy, your favorite feel-good movie, call a friend and vent, pet your cat or dog, or take a bubble bath with aromatherapy candles – self-soothe with anything that makes you feel happy and relaxed.
3. Improve your internal dialogue
Your thoughts have a significant impact on your anxiety. If your thoughts are self-defeating or catastrophic, your anxiety can worsen. But if they’re supportive and calming, you can reduce your stress. So, the next time you feel anxious, talk to yourself in a loving way, “As I relax and slow my breathing, my anxiety releases – I am in control“. And if you notice you’re speaking to yourself badly, repeat the opposite of whatever your mind stirs up – this is a helpful tip for a panic attack or anxiety attack.
4. Create a routine
When you have a morning or night routine, it can be easier to manage your anxiety levels. For example, work on going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, complete a morning meditation, a quick yoga session, or repeat a few affirmations while listening to calming music. Familiar routines and practices train your body to know what to expect during stressful periods.
5. Take care of your overall health
Self-care doesn’t involve pampering yourself. It involves taking action that improves your overall emotional and physical well-being. Therefore, prioritize what makes you and your body feel good. Eat well-balanced meals, exercise consistently, get enough sleep, meditate, and reduce caffeine and alcohol. All of these behaviors will put you in a better state of mind to manage your anxiety attacks.
Seek therapy for a panic attack or anxiety attack
If you’re consistently experiencing panic attacks or anxiety attacks, seek help from a mental health professional. Through cognitive behavior therapy (a popular go-to for anxiety), you can learn what causes your stress, how to shift your thoughts, and improve your behaviors. While it can feel challenging to ease the overwhelm, it is possible. Be patient, love yourself through the process, and take it one day at a time. Whether you’re experiencing a panic attack or anxiety attack, you can make decisions that will help you feel better.
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