Is It A Panic Attack or Anxiety? From A Berkeley Psychologist


Millions of individuals suffer from anxiety-related mental illness. In fact, of those surveyed over the age of 18, nearly 40 million or more individuals in the United States alone report suffering from an anxiety disorder that interferes with their ability to live a healthy, thriving life.

For those who struggle with anxiety, a number of individuals may experience what are known as panic attacks. Occurring suddenly and often without warning, panic attacks can cause your heart to race, your breath to catch, and in some cases, a detachment from one’s current reality.

While panic attacks and anxiety can come in different forms and fashion, they are all unpleasant and often frightening. As a Berkeley psychologist, I often work with individuals who experience panic attacks or anxiety experiences that are brought on by a variety of underlying issues – often related to childhood trauma.

However, what are the differences between a panic attack and acute anxiety? How can you know when you have experienced one, and what are the steps you can take when one strikes to help you cope and recover? Let’s take a look at both and break down each to get a better understanding of these frightening – but all-too common – emotional problems.

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety: The Symptoms

To better understand panic attacks and anxiety, it can be beneficial to take a look at the symptoms of both:

Panic Attack Symptoms:

  • Racing heart or pounding heartbeat
  • chest pain, dizziness, and even loss of balance
  • possibly nausea and shaking
  • shortness of breath
  • Sudden sweating and chills
  • a loss of control or detachment from reality
  • sudden fear of impending doom or death

Anxiety Symptoms:

  • dry mouth
  • fear
  • irritability
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • numbness or tingling in arms and legs
  • rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • sleep disturbances
  • worry and distress

How To Tell The Difference, & How To Cope

As you can see from the list above, the symptoms of anxiety and a panic attack can be similar. Yet they are different issues, and knowing which you are experiencing can be valuable for helping you understand the steps to take to recover and heal:

  • The main way to tell the difference is to recognize that Panic attacks will often strike with greater intensity seemingly out of the blue , while acute anxiety will come upon you less suddenly and one may sense a perceived threat or stress trigger.
  • While anxiety symptoms can range in severity, panic attacks are often sudden and severe.
  • Similarly, anxiety may be ongoing for longer and may lay under the surface for hours or days, while panic will come and go relatively quickly.

The main thing to do when you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of a panic attack is to find a small paper bag, fold over the top, and breath into it until your symptoms dissipate… this is to reestablish a CO2 and oxygen balance in your body. When it is an issue of strong anxiety the best thing to do is to stop, breath slowly and deeply, and find a safe space to rest until the symptoms pass. If the symptoms of a panic attack or anxiety are disrupting your daily life, and you are having them consistently, it may be a sign of a deeper underlying issues that you should address with the help of a trained professional.

As an experienced Berkeley psychologist working with clients recovering from childhood trauma and other issues, I am passionate about helping clients break free of the chains of panic and anxiety and begin to live healthy, thriving lives once more.

Want to learn more, and discover how an experienced therapist can help you take the steps to fight back against anxiety and panic attacks? Contact me today to learn more, and set up a consultation. I look forward to speaking with you and helping you find freedom from the fear of panic and anxiety.

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