What is a panic attack? How does it differ from anxiety attack?
Panic attacks generally appear unexpectedly / suddenly. But an attack of anxiety generally occurs after clear triggers or when there is a perceived threat. For example, if a person is anxiety about being around people, they may experience at attack of anxiety when they are in a crowd of people. A panic attack is also characterized by intense anxiety, but it is also often accompanied by physical symptoms like lightheadedness, chest pain, hot flashes, chills, a racing heart and/or an upset stomach. Some people start to shake or feel disoriented or nauseous. Others find it hard to breathe or feel sweaty. These symptoms can be very frightening. Even if you can’t tell if it is a panic attack vs anxiety attack, the suggestions below will help anyway.
How can you tell it isn’t a heart attack?
Heart attacks often occur when someone is exerting themselves physically. Panic attacks, however, can occur when you are not doing anything physical.
Panic attacks rarely last more than a few minutes. The most that they would generally ever last would be 20 minutes, but most are resolved within just minutes. But the body can still feel shaky for a while. Time gets intensified so minutes can feel like hours. Heart attacks will often continue for longer than twenty minutes and may worsen over time.
People suffering from a heart attack often feel like the pain is radiating. It may spread from their chest to their jaw or arm or shoulder blades. They may also feel faint. But if you have any doubts, seek medical attention. Women having a heart attack sometimes feel an unusual level of fatigue and chest discomfort rather than chest pain.
Some people having a panic attack feel like their heart is beating fast or even skipping a beat. These heart palpitations can be a symptom of a panic attack or stress or be because of caffeine or certain medications. But if you aren’t sure what has caused it, ask your doctor to check if you are suffering from an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.
How can you help someone having a panic attack?
The best way to help is to get the person to focus on something else – ideally a physical sensation. Ask them how their toes feel? Ask them what texture the chair they are sitting on has? Ask them if they can feel a breeze (if they are outside)? Ask them what they smell?
If you are the one experiencing the panic attack, you can ask yourself the same questions in order to stop a panic attack.
Once the person starts to settle a little, you may get them to do some slow focused breathing. Breathe in for four, hold it for seven, breathe out for eight.
Don’t remind the person having the panic attack (or yourself if you are having it) of things that often trigger anxiety. Consider calling a counselor if you can’t get them to calm down with twenty minutes.
Doing a progressive muscle relaxation – tightening and releasing muscles can also be useful. Focusing on three things you noticed for each of the five senses can help. What can you see? What can you feel? What can you hear? What can you taste? What can you smell? Rate the degree of sensation for each. Is it a “5” meaning you feel it strongly. Or is it a “1” meaning you barely feel it?
Not everything will work for everybody. Some things that worked for you in the past might not work this time. Try something else. A therapist can help you to get to the heart of why this is happening and how to help yourself cope with the changes that are happening.
Panic attack vs anxiety attack – these techniques can help for either condition
If you don’t know if it is a panic attack or an anxiety attack. Don’t worry. The above techniques can also help someone suffering from an anxiety attack.
It you could be an anxiety attack where you just didn’t notice the triggers.
If you would like to find out more about what caused the panic attack (or anxiety attack), schedule an appointment with one of our counselors.