In recent years, the United States has really started to understand and be able to identify different types of mental and mood disorders. The appreciation for the severity of these mental disorders has to lead to an increased recovery rate for those people who suffer from them.
One example is the understanding and diagnosis of both anxiety and panic disorders. In the past, people who suffered from anxiety and panic were often thrown into psych wards, never to be seen again. However today, through extensive research and studies, the world is now much more acquainted with just what these types of disorders look like, and how we can treat them.
The Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Disorders
Although there are many similarities between anxiety attacks and panic attacks, the main difference centers around the presence of a stressor, the length and severity of episodes, and the depths to which the disorder affects day to day life. For example:
- Anxiety attacks occur from the presence of a stressor.
- I.e., if a person is walking alone at night and they hear a noise or if they are in an elevator which makes lurchy motions
- Anxiety attacks are short-lived and when the stressor is removed, the anxiety fades as well.
- Many people who suffer from other mental disorders can often experience anxiety and extreme anxiety, but these episodes are usually shorter and consist of only a few of the panic attack symptoms.
- Panic Attacks occur on there own, without a stressor.
- They can occur anywhere, in any situation to people who have panic disorders.
- They can cause the person to feel like they are dying or having a heart attack.
- When anxiety attacks do not de-escalate and become more severe, they can turn INTO panic attacks, but it usually does not work the other way around.
Another major difference between anxiety and panic attacks is the severity and length of the symptoms. Most people find that the confusion between an anxiety attack and a panic attack occurs when it is the first time they are having one, and they haven’t experienced the symptoms before.
For anxiety attacks, when the stressor is removed from the person, and the anxiety is over, the person doesn’t usually feel the need to avoid that situation altogether. However, for panic attacks, the symptoms can sometimes be so severe that the person can start to avoid places where they have had panic attacks in the past.
Around 2-3% of Americans experience panic disorders annually, and the rates are higher in women (about twice as common) than in men. The diagnosis of a panic disorder occurs when a person has experienced multiple panic attacks throughout their life.
For people who suffer from panic disorders, their lives can begin to change to better cope with their panic attacks, and this change can often be a hindrance to their normal daily activities. It is very common for people to begin to avoid places where they have had previous panic attacks, such as on an airplane, in school, at the grocery store, etc.
Misunderstanding Panic Disorders
Many people will suffer from the symptoms of panic disorder and will keep it a secret from their loved ones, for fear of misunderstanding, or often for fear of being considered “dramatic” or a hypochondriac. This causes people to isolate themselves from their daily lives, from their families and loved ones, because they feel misunderstood.
However, research has been shown that with proper diagnosis and treatment, many people find that their panic disorder can be well maintained, with fewer and shorter episodes.
On a positive note, panic disorder is now much better understood and is actually extremely responsive to treatment.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Many people can experience panic attacks who have never had one before, and not know what it is that is happening to them. Some of the most common physical and mental symptoms that take place are:
- Abdominal and chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheaded
- Feeling of Choking
- Shortness of Breath
- Hot Flashes and Heart Palpitations
- Trembling, Shaking, and Excessive perspiration
- Fear of “going crazy”
- Fear of losing all control
- Fear of Impending Doom or Death
The most common symptom of a panic attack is chest pain. This occurs with a rapid change in heart rate, which is what leads many people to believe they are having a heart attack.
A good rule of thumb is that heart attacks hurt in the center of the chest, where the heart is located, and many people feel them in the trapezius muscles and in the jaw. Panic attacks affect the center of the chest just below the collarbone and radiate through the arms.
Whether a person is clear on if they are having a heart attack or a panic attack, it is still always wise to make a trip to the ER to be safe.
Responsiveness to Treatment and Tips
Luckily, treatment for panic disorders has proven to be extremely beneficial for those who receive help for their diagnosis. The two primary treatments are medication therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Medications work by alleviating the common mental states that can predispose people to panic attacks, and can help lessen the thoughts and symptoms of both anxiety and panic.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective because it allows the person to work a therapist to discuss any triggers, after effects, and mental states following panic attacks, and learning new ways to cope and prevent them.
It is important for people who suffer from panic disorders to remember that these episodes are never permanent, and normal life will continue. For those that have created avoidance techniques from people and places that have possibly triggered a panic attack in the past, cognitive behavioral therapy can help rewire the person to be able to interact in those situations again and to live the best life possible.