They can be confused but in reality, panic attack and anxiety attack have very distinct definitions. Update with Siyana Mincheva, psychologist.
Panic attack or anxiety attack has its own definition, although we tend to confuse them. Discover the differences between the two with Siyana Mincheva, psychologist.
Panic attack, a physical feeling
“Panic attack is part of anxiety attack. Its symptoms are tachycardia, palpitations, nausea, muscle contractions, an urge to urinate… It is such a strong shock to the body that it somatizes” first defines our expert.
At the origin of the panic attack, there is an intense psychological shock. “In this case, the anxiety is too great a shock: the person’s mind can no longer manage it and it is the body which takes over with the symptoms” added Siyana Mincheva.
The anxiety attack, a mental feeling
“At the heart of anxiety, there is fear. It is fear that will generate anxiety and anxiety will generate ruminations” explains the specialist. “We then have difficulty sleeping, anxiety develops from our fears: the more we feed them, the more anxiety develops.“.
In the case of an anxiety attack, sleep is often the first to be affected: “In an anxiety attack, we cannot sleep well, the nights are bad and our cognitive abilities weaken: mental flexibility, sustained attention, focused attention, immediate memory, short memory term… All this is disrupted”.
Post-traumatic stress, a special case which brings together the two
What explains the confusion between the two types of crises is perhaps the fact that they can be felt at the same time in certain individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress. “Post-traumatic stress belongs to the class of generalized anxiety disorder. This also includes OCD or phobias, for example. explains the expert.
“Post-traumatic stress can be simple or complex. In the case of simple post-traumatic stress, the traumatic event does not persist over time, therapy can then help the person. On the other hand, in the case of complex post-traumatic stress, the traumatic event persists. The person cannot find strategies to overcome it, the fear is then so strong that it generates anxiety attacks.“.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, involved
Whether it’s a panic attack or an anxiety attack, they are both caused by too high a cortisol level in the body. “Cortisol is the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. It plays on the inhibitory frontal cortex of our brain” explains the psychologist. “Stress is therefore a chemical reaction that occurs and causes anxiety or panic attacks, depending on the individual’s experience..
Our expert advises learning to manage this stress, because with each new crisis, cortisol will be secreted again by the body and will be felt more strongly than the previous one. “You have to be able to calm down, to have strategies to soothe yourself, reassure yourself, feel safe in the face of this type of situation. Because stress can have psychological consequences but also cause more serious pathologies such as cancer. she concludes.