The Differences Between Panic and Anger Attacks

Close up of angry yelling businessman

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It’s not unusual for people who have panic disorder, agoraphobia, or another anxiety disorder to experience frustration because of their condition. You may blame yourself or others for your condition, further escalating your sense of anger and resentment. Sometimes this frustration can develop into anger toward yourself, anger at your situation, or anger toward others.

Researchers have conducted studies on what they term “anger attacks” in depressed and anxious individuals. They conclude that there are certain similarities between anger attacks and panic attacks. The following describes the symptoms of anger attacks and panic attacks, followed by an explanation of the differences between the two.

Symptoms of Anger Attacks

According to researchers, anger attacks are characterized by the occurrence of at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Chest pains, tightening, or discomfort
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Tingling or itching skin
  • Fear of losing control
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Feeling like attacking others
  • Actually attacking others
  • Throwing or destroying objects

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) is a handbook used by treatment providers in determining one's diagnosis. This manual contains valuable definitions of symptoms and disorders as well as diagnostic criteria. According to the DSM-5, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • The feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • Chills or hot flushes

Understanding the Differences

It’s easy to see the similarities between the symptoms of an anger attack and a panic attack. Researchers point out that both produce many of the same sudden and intense physical and emotional sensations. But, they also note some differences.

Researchers propose that anger attacks typically occur in situations in which an individual feels emotionally trapped rather than as the result of fear and anxiety that is often associated with panic attacks. In addition, the criteria that are unique to anger attacks also include:

  • Irritable feelings in the past six months
  • Angry overreaction to small irritations
  • One or more anger attacks experienced in the past month
  • Inappropriate anger directed towards others

Many things can trigger anger attacks, including stress, financial issues, work and social pressures, family or relationship troubles, lack of sleep, and even frustration over having panic disorder, agoraphobia, or another type of anxiety disorder.

Anger attacks can also be a symptom of numerous health conditions, including:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD often experience greater emotional intensity.
  • Alcohol misuse: Misusing alcohol makes it more difficult to control your emotions.
  • Bipolar disorder: Mania in bipolar disorder can cause extreme anger over a mild irritant.
  • Depression: Many people with depression experience anger attacks as a result of common annoyances.
  • Grief: It is common for people to experience anger attacks after the loss of a loved one.

Panic attacks, on the other hand, can be unexpected, out-of-the-blue, or cued by thinking about or being exposed to something you fear. For instance, people who have a phobia (such as the fear of flying, fear of enclosed spaces, or fear of public speaking) often suffer from panic attacks. Anger can also intensify and worsen panic attack symptoms.

Coping With Anger Attacks

If you feel you are experiencing anger attacks, and they are interfering with your work or relationships, talk to your doctor or mental healthcare provider. Together, you can work to develop an anger management plan, which might include identifying your triggers, behaviors, and reactions and learning and practicing relaxation techniques such as the following to stay calm:

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help reduce your symptoms. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, that can be used to effectively treat panic attacks also work for managing anger attacks.

Good self-care routines can also help. Self-care may include exercising, eating well, managing your sleep habits, and building a solid support network.

Attending local or online support groups and ongoing therapy are also viable options. Through therapy, you can learn to better control your anger and cope with your panic or anger attacks in a healthy way. By following through with treatment and embracing healthy lifestyle choices, you can expect to have both issues in check.

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