For many of us, understanding anxiety or panic can feel overwhelming and confusing. Do the symptoms mean the same thing? Is it best to seek help or try to manage it yourself? It can be difficult to break down the difference between anxiety and panic, especially when the symptoms can be so similar. However, understanding the distinct differences between the two can be an important component of managing both. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between anxiety and panic, as well as how to manage each in everyday life.
Managing Your Anxiety and Panic Disorder
Take a Mindfulness Approach
Amidst the flurry of panic and anxiety symptoms, mindfulness can offer an important sense of calm and focus. Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to foster open communication with one’s own thoughts and emotions, and to help adjust to the anxiety-inducing events or situations they may face. This technique focuses on establishing a state of calm and relaxation, where one can be aware of the present moment without judgment or resistance. Breathing techniques, meditation, and physical activities that foster relaxation can help to cultivate a sense of present-moment awareness and focus.
Fostering a regular self-care routine is an important part of anxiety and panic disorder management. Making an effort to get enough restful sleep, eating nutritious meals, and finding time for enjoyable activities can help to bolster resilience during anxiety-causing periods. Prioritizing mental wellbeing can be beneficiary in minimizing the symptoms of panic and anxiety.
Seek Professional Help
When symptoms are severe or the sense of feeling overwhelmed is persistent, seeking professional help is recommended. An experienced mental health practitioner can offer valuable insight and support, helping to create strategies to manage day-to-day anxiety, as well as tools to help foster consistency in the long run. There are a range of treatments available, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication management, and other anxiety-reducing strategies.
Breaking Down the Difference between Anxiety and Panic
The physical symptoms of anxiety and panic can often be very similar. Some of the potential physical symptoms of anxiety and panic include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Panic attacks
Though the symptoms may be similar, anxiety usually involves milder and more chronic presentations while panic tends to be more severe and sporadic.
When it comes to the cognitive experience of anxiety and panic, the distinction can also be quite different. Anxiety can come with compulsive thoughts, a constant rumination of past and future errors, and general worrisome trends. Panic, on the other hand, can be characterized by more sudden and intense feelings of fear, dread, and terror, which can quickly take the form of a panic attack.
The intensity of anxiety and panic can often inform their distinction. Anxiety is often more of a low-grade condition that is more gradual in its onset and less severe in its intensity. Panic, on the other hand, is more intense and often more sudden in nature. It may lead to feelings of fear that can quickly spiral out of control and require more urgent interventions.
The Psychological Triggers of Panic Attacks
Stressful or traumatic experiences can trigger panic attacks. If a person has experienced a situation in the past that was terrifying or overwhelming, there is a chance that this experience could be recalled in the present situation, which could lead to panic. This can be especially trigger-heavy in times of uncertainty, such as during a current pandemic state.
Transitions can also be a trigger of panic attacks. A major or unexpected change, such as a job or relationship, can spark feelings of anxiety and fear of the unknown. It’s important to note, however, that this doesn’t necessarily mean that dwelling in comfort is always better. For those seeking change, it’s important to create an action plan for this transition and try to grow from the experience of change.
Finally, free-floating anxiety can also be a trigger for anxiety and panic. If your level of general anxiety has been heightened for a prolonged period of time, this can eventually start to cause more acute attacks of panic.
Navigating Panic Symptoms in Everyday Life
Pay Attention to Your Anxiety Symptoms
Awareness is key when it comes to managing panic and anxiety in everyday life. Paying close attention to signs or warning signals before or within a panic or anxious episode can be helpful in intervening before it spirals out of control.
Create a Coping Toolbox
Having an arsenal of self-care tools on hand can increase one’s resiliency when faced with an anxious or panic episode. This toolbox can be comprised of activities that provide relief and comfort, such as music, art, journaling, meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, and other activities that evoke feelings of calm and wellbeing.
Grounding techniques can also be employed in moments of feeling overwhelmed or panicked. These techniques may focus on the five senses, or on staying in the present moment. For example, paying attention to five things around the room and engaging in a detailed and descriptive analysis of these things can help to bring one into the present moment and away from worrying, rumination, and intrusive thoughts.
Finding Reassurance in the Age of Anxiety
Recognize Your Support System
When it comes to fear and anxiety, it’s important to recognize who your support system consists of. Knowing who can be trusted to check in and provide respite during anxious episodes can be a huge comfort in moments of distress. Leveraging supportive people and activities can help to manage anxiety and panic, and can be a huge source of relief and reassurance.
Find Meaning in Anxiety
Rather than seeing anxiety as something to be defeated, it can be beneficial to try to find benefit in it. This can manifest itself in an appreciation of the natural warning signs, or in the learning process of dealing with these episodes.
Instead of being frightened, try to reframe anxious episodes as opportunities for growth, rather than as debilitating episodes. Utilizing positive affirmation or visualization can be useful in shifting one’s mindset away from dread and towards the activity of leaning into discomfort.
Though trying to differentiate between anxiety and panic may seem intimidating, understanding the differences between the two can be a powerful component of managing both. By focusing on breathing, mindfulness, and grounding techniques, as well as leveraging supportive people and activities, one can foster resilience during anxious episodes, and find reassurance during what can be a difficult and trying time.