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Panic attacks vs. anxiety?


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As I mentioned in another post, I have diagnoses of GAD and major depressive disorder. But, I also have panic attacks. I had always thought that panic attacks and anxiety were different. I had read somewhere than anxiety has no specific trigger while panic attacks are usually the result of a specific, though not always known, trigger. But, recently, a psychologist told me that they are not different at all and that all panic and anxiety is triggered by something. I am confused by his explanation because I can often trace back a trigger for panic attacks (though not always) but the anxiety seems to be there all the time, with or without a specific trigger. So, does anybody know- are GAD and panic attacks the same? If not, what is the difference?

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Panic attacks and more generalized forms of anxiety are kinda like brother and sister siblings. They are aspects of the same thing, but present differently enough to be categorized differently. So - in that sense they are the same, and also different. Generalized anxiety is like a constant presence, always latching on to something without a discernable triggering event, but there are also other forms of non-panic anxiety which are associated with specific fears (such as social anxiety, or more specific simple phobias like fear of heights or blood). Likewise, you can have un-cued panic attacks and also panic attacks that are triggered by known feared triggering stimuli.

One way to think about how these two are different events is not to focus on what sets them off, but rather to think about them as different but highly related emotions. Panic attacks are moements of intense fear - a primary emotion that is innate to animals - while anxiety is more like anticipation and apprehension about not wanting to experience fear - it is lower level in nature. Dr. David Barlow, who is one of the preeminant anxiety researchers talks about this distinction in a recent podcast interview we've done.

Hope this helps.


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