Anxiety or Heart Attack?

panic attack or heart attack

Experiencing sudden sweating, chest tightness, and a skyrocketing heart rate can be incredibly alarming. When you have these symptoms for the first time, you may think you’re having a heart attack, only to discover it is an acute manifestation of anxiety – a panic attack. The confusion is understandable; panic attacks and heart attacks share strikingly similar symptoms, making it challenging to distinguish between the two.

We’ll examine the differences and give you some tips for handling panic attacks, with a reminder of the importance of seeking professional care for anxiety and related disorders.

Shared Symptoms Between Panic and Heart Attacks

Panic and heart attacks can present with:

  • Shallow breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Chest pain
  • A racing heart rate
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach pain or nausea

Despite these similarities, you can use specific characteristics to help you understand if you are having a panic attack versus a heart attack.

  • Panic attacks often come with an irrational, overwhelming sense of fear or dread that comes out of nowhere. They are relatively short-lived, typically peaking within a few minutes before subsiding.
  • Heart attacks produce symptoms that persist and intensify over time. The chest pain associated with a heart attack may feel like a crushing weight, instead of the sharp or stabbing pain that can occur during panic attacks.

How to Control a Panic Attack

Here are some grounding techniques that can help you regain control if you feel a panic attack starting.

  1. Use deep breathing: Hyperventilation can amplify the fear you’re feeling. By inhaling for four seconds, holding briefly, and exhaling for four seconds, you can calm your overactive nervous system and potentially shorten the panic attack.
  2. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Focusing all your attention on something else can distract you from your panic. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise is an excellent way to accomplish this.
  3. Remind yourself this is temporary: Though panic attacks are extremely unpleasant, they are not life-threatening. Reassuring yourself that the experience is temporary and that you’re safe can help mitigate the fear. Repeating calming phrases like “I am OK” or “I’m not dying” can be beneficial.

Seeking Help for Anxiety Disorders

While occasional anxiety is part of life, frequent and intense panic attacks could indicate an underlying anxiety disorder. Don’t let these conditions limit your life or dictate your daily activities. At Palm Springs Behavioral Health, our professional team specializes in treating anxiety and other mental health disorders, offering personalized care for your unique needs.

At Palm Springs Behavioral Health, our team will conduct a thorough psychological assessment to evaluate your symptoms’ severity and determine your therapeutic needs. We encourage you to reach out to us if excessive anxiety has become a problem or you have frequent panic attacks. Getting professional help for your mental health is crucial for your recovery.