Most people lump anxiety and panic attacks in together, but research shows that they are not really the same. They both come from the same place in the brain and are triggered by the same basic flight or fight response that everyone has, but they aren’t exactly the same feeling, nor do they generally occur at the same level of intensity.
People who have anxiety can have two different types. The first type is general anxiety. When you have general anxiety disorder, or GAD, you feel anxious, frightened, nervous, and keyed-up, and that feeling is pretty much constant. It may wax and wane a bit, but it’s always with you. It becomes a chore to sleep or to just rest and relax. You generally end up always trying to do something to distract yourself, or you slip into depression and end up doing nothing because you don’t understand why you feel this way.
Anxiety and depression are actually quite strongly linked, and both have a genetic component that causes them to run in families. They are common, with approximately one in every four people in the United States alone suffering with one, the other, or both.
The second type of anxiety is more situation-specific and includes problems like phobias and paranoia. You might feel fine most of the time, but you get anxious when you have to do something specific that makes you uncomfortable. To some degree, this is normal. A lot of people get anxious when they have to take a test or make a speech, for example. When it begins to interfere in your life, however, that’s when it really becomes a problem.
Then, there are panic attacks. These can come from a specific event or completely out of the blue, with no real warning. They are intense and overwhelming, and people who have them often report symptoms such as:
- intense terror
- heart palpitations
- numbness and tingling in the extremities
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- gastrointestinal upset
Panic sends many people to emergency rooms because they’re afraid that what they’re experiencing is a heart attack or stroke. It’s a much stronger feeling than anxiety, but the good news is that the body is not able to sustain that feeling for a long time. Panic attacks usually never last more than 10 to 30 minutes, but there have been cases where people have reported them lasting for hours.
In those cases the panic generally spikes, recedes somewhat, and then spikes again, over and over. This can give a person the feeling that the panic is not going away at all. When panic attacks continue to occur, over time they can lead to panic disorder.
Treatment for Panic and Anxiety
There are many effective panic and anxiety treatment for both panic and anxiety attacks, with medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) being the two most common. Other people work through them with natural remedies or meditation.
The key is to completely understand what you’re going through – and that millions of people around the world share your struggle – as well as what treatment options are available to you, so that you can begin your journey toward feeling better.