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Anxiety and Panic Attacks

by BetterSleep
May 22 • 4 min read

Anxiety is a natural reaction to difficult or frightening situations, but it can turn on you. Anxiety disorders cause overwhelming worries that make it difficult to do normal activities. Panic disorders are even worse, causing intense emotional and physical symptoms. You can manage both with the right mental health care and self-soothing techniques.

Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack

The difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks is often semantics. Anxiety is a typical feature of many mental illnesses, especially anxiety disorders. Anxiety is normal in certain situations, but when triggered by something seemingly mild, or when it becomes overwhelming and debilitating, it is a problem.

A panic attack is a mental health term for a symptom experienced by people with a mental illness called panic disorder. A panic attack is an intense, unexpected, and debilitating wave of fear and anxiety. It is intense enough to cause someone to freeze and be unable to act. It also causes physical symptoms, like a racing heart and difficulty breathing. People often mistake a panic attack for a heart attack.

Some people might refer to this as an anxiety attack, but a panic attack is the correct term. Anxiety can be overwhelming and immobilizing, but a true panic attack is much more intense and often triggered by much less. It can make you feel like you are dying or that you are detached from reality.

What Triggers Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

Many things can trigger anxiety: social situations, public speaking, or a work deadline. This is normal situational anxiety. People with anxiety disorders are more easily triggered and have stronger reactions when triggered. In other words, anxiety disorders cause a response out of proportion to any given situation.

A panic attack can similarly be triggered by anything. Some common triggers are stress, situations perceived to be dangerous, phobias, chronic illness and pain, and certain substances like drugs, alcohol, and some medications.

Self-Soothing Techniques for Panic Attacks and Anxiety

If you have panic attacks or if anxiety sometimes takes over your life, it’s best to see a mental health professional. They can provide therapy and other treatments to help you cope, reduce symptoms, identify and manage oncoming attacks.

In addition to professional support, it helps to learn self-soothing strategies you can use when you feel an attack coming on or when you’re in a situation with potential triggers. People who have panic attacks often become isolated because they want to avoid situations that might cause an event. If you can learn to manage them, you can do more with your life.

  • Learn and practice deep breathing exercises that automatically lower heart rate and blood pressure to relax the body.
  • Visualize a peaceful situation or place and how you feel in it.
  • Exercise regularly to get rid of nervous energy and tension in the body.
  • Meditate regularly to learn how to focus your mind inward and on the present moment. With practice, this can help you relax quickly.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Like exercise, you need sleep to stay relaxed, healthy, and able to cope.

Getting enough sleep is easier said than done for many people with anxiety and panic attacks. Try the BetterSleep app if you struggle to get enough hours. It includes bedtime stories, soothing music and sounds, and guided meditations to help you build a strong practice to combat panic attacks.

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