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Portrait of African Woman Feeling Scared, Frightened during panic attacks

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Anxiety and panic have always been a part of the human condition. However, with civil unrest, another turbulent election soon in our laps, and a pandemic with an on-again off-again nature, anxiety and panic seem more prevalent. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and 4.7 percent experience a panic disorder. The fact that those are two different statistics might come as a surprise, because panic and anxiety disorders are often mistaken for one another – as are panic and anxiety attacks.

If you have ever experienced either one, differentiating the two might seem like arguing over semantics. However, regular panic attacks can be a symptom of a panic disorder, which requires special treatment. It is important to understand the difference between these two experiences so you can better understand what to discuss with a doctor and get closer to finding relief.


The Main Difference Between Panic Attacks And Anxiety Attacks

Lonely young African American woman sitting on bed.

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Panic and anxiety attacks share many similarities, which we’ll get to. So differentiating them is easier done by explaining the one thing they do not have in common: while both panic and anxiety attacks can have what experts call “expected” triggers (i.e. an anxiety-inducing event immediately preceding the attack), only panic attacks can come on seemingly out of nowhere and for no detectable reason. Anxiety attacks will come from a stressful event, says the National Institute of Mental Health, so they’re easier to predict.

This difference might seem small, but it is what makes a panic disorder so debilitating for those who struggle with it. If your attacks follow a stressful event, it becomes easier to determine what might trigger an attack and how to avoid it. However, because panic attacks can come on out of the blue, people who suffer from them can develop an overwhelming fear of going just about anywhere or doing anything; they have no clue what could set off their panic attacks.

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