Navigating the Waves: Understanding the Difference Between Anxiety and Panic

Written by Emma Evans

December 16, 2023

In the vast landscape of mental health, anxiety and panic are two terms often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct experiences that can significantly impact one’s well-being. It is crucial to differentiate between these two phenomena to better understand, manage, and address the challenges they present.

Riding the Waves of Unease

Anxiety is a natural and adaptive response to stress, alerting us to potential threats and preparing our bodies to cope with challenges. It is a broad term that encompasses a range of feelings, from mild unease to more intense worry. Here are key features of anxiety:

  1. Gradual Build-Up: Anxiety often develops gradually, triggered by stressors such as work pressures, relationship issues, or life changes. It tends to be a chronic condition, persisting over an extended period.

  2. Worry and Apprehension: Individuals experiencing anxiety may feel persistent worry, apprehension, and a sense of impending doom. These thoughts are often related to future events and uncertainties.

  3. Physical Symptoms: Anxiety can manifest physically, leading to symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms are usually manageable and don’t reach an acute level.

  4. Controllable: While anxiety can be distressing, individuals typically retain a level of control over their thoughts and actions. Coping mechanisms, therapy, and lifestyle changes can effectively manage anxiety.

The Storm Within

Panic, on the other hand, represents a more intense and acute experience, characterized by sudden and overwhelming surges of fear. Panic attacks are intense episodes of panic that can be extremely distressing. Here are the key features of panic:

  1. Sudden Onset: Panic attacks come on suddenly and can reach peak intensity within minutes. They often occur without an apparent trigger and can be unpredictable.

  2. Intense Fear: Panic is marked by a heightened sense of fear, often accompanied by a sense of impending doom or a fear of losing control. Individuals may experience a racing heart, shortness of breath, and a feeling of unreality.

  3. Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms during a panic attack can be severe, including chest pain, trembling, sweating, and a sense of choking. These symptoms may mimic those of a heart attack, leading to further distress.

  4. Loss of Control: Unlike anxiety, panic attacks can feel uncontrollable. Individuals may fear they are experiencing a medical emergency, leading to heightened anxiety about having another panic attack.


Navigating the Waves

While anxiety and panic share commonalities, understanding their distinctions is vital for effective management and support. Anxiety tends to be a chronic, gradual experience rooted in worry and tension, whereas panic is an acute and intense episode characterised by sudden and overwhelming fear. Recognising the differences empowers clients to seek appropriate interventions. Counselling and Psychotherapy or Hypnotherapy can often help to work through anything that might be contributing to either scenario. 

If you would like help to find a therapist, a list of professionally trained counsellors and psychotherapists can be found here: www.nrpc.co.uk and professionally trained hypnotherapists can be found here www.aphp.co.uk 

Published : Dec 16, 2023