Anxiety, Stress and Panic attacks: Symptoms and Differences

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We have all been pretty stressed out at some point in our lives. Some rarely and others daily, while quite a few suffer from panic attacks. Symptoms, in addition to mood disorders and psychology, are often physical. But how can we tell if we are suffering from anxiety, stress or if we ‘ve just had a panic attack?

Anxiety and stress: what’s the difference?

We may think that these two concepts are identical, but in fact there is a difference between them. Stress is characterized by irritability and nervousness, while anxiety is characterized by fear and worry.

When we talk about stress, we are referring to our body’s normal response when it comes to dealing with a demanding challenge from an external factor, such as problems at work, new situations, either happy or sad ones, that make us alert and our adrenaline flowing!

All in all, stress is our reaction to a “threat” and is usually something that lasts a little. Stress can be positive, but it can also be negative. For example, it can push us to achieve some goals quickly, but it can also lead to headaches, insomnia and even depression. The attitude we choose to have in these situations, and how we maintain control, will play a key role in coping with stress.

According to David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University: “When it comes to stress, we know exactly what we are dealing with: it can be a deadline, a bill, picking up the kids from school. Situations like these are able to be prioritized and handled one at a time. Figure out what you can do about these and what you can’t. Take on the things you can do something about and give yourself credit when you accomplish something.” In order to manage stress, get rid of the idea that you have to solve everything!

Anxiety: symptoms

Anxiety is more of an internal feeling often characterized by fear, insecurity and confusion. According to Spiegel: “Anxiety turns fear into feelings and those who suffer from it tend to avoid what makes them afraid, which can make the situation worse.” There are a few who cannot identify the cause of their anxiety and often ask themselves “why do I have anxiety?”. They are frightened of the unknown, see things confused and find it difficult to resolve them.

If anxiety becomes a daily thing, it greatly affects one’s quality of life, so he or she must find ways to manage it and deal with it. Some common symptoms of anxiety are tightening of the stomach and increased palpitations.

Panic attack: What is it

When stress leads to a panic attack, the symptoms are much more severe. The panic attack could be defined as an outbreak of intense fear and anxiety that is exacerbated within minutes. It does not give warning signs and can happen anywhere, such as on the road, in the car, at work, and there are cases where one experiences a panic attack while sleeping! People often feel that they have a heart attack and that they are losing consciousness.

Panic attack: symptoms

Usually those who experience a panic attack have severe physical symptoms such as:

  • Tachycardia
  • Chest pain 
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling of losing control, numbness
  • Faintness, dizziness, weakness, nausea
  • Sweat or chills
  • Fear of death

Panic attack: How long does it last?

Compared to anxiety, panic attacks symptoms vary in intensity and duration. Panic attacks usually have a peak at 10 minutes and then begin to subside. The symptoms are so severe that many end up in urgency, thinking that their lives are in danger.

However, this is not a life-threatening situation. Nevertheless, one’s quality of life is often affected, as he tends to acquire anxiety disorders, phobias and tendency for depression. Social isolation is also typical, as most are afraid that this will happen to them again, not knowing when and where!

So figure out  if you are suffering from stress or anxiety or if you have experienced a panic attack at some point. Work with yourself, find out how to avoid negative feelings,  and learn to cope with difficulties with calmness and optimism. Change habits in your daily routine and see the glass half full!

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