One in four Americans have an anxiety disorder, and your partner may be one of them. Anxiety symptoms show up in a lot of different ways, and for the person experiencing them, they can be really unpleasant, to put it nicely.
Many people tolerate their anxiety for many years before something makes them decide enough is enough, and they make an appointment to see a doctor or therapist.
Clients will sometimes present to their doctor’s offices with what they describe as “panic attacks,” but in reality, a better name for what they are experiencing would be “crazy worry.” I am not trying to invalidate the real discomfort that comes along with these feelings, but panic disorder has specific criteria that must be met in order to get a diagnosis.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic disorder is defined as:
People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes. Sometimes symptoms may last longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.
A person with panic disorder may become discouraged and feel ashamed because he or she cannot carry out normal routines like going to the grocery store or driving. Having panic disorder can also interfere with school or work.
Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder.
Key differences between panic attacks and “crazy worry”:
- Panic attacks are usually short in duration, peaking in 10 minutes or so, then subsiding. “Crazy worry” can go on for hours, days, or even weeks or months.
- Panic attack symptoms, while similar to “crazy worry” symptoms, generally are more intense. During a panic attack, your partner may feel as if they are having a heart attack, going crazy, or dying. “Crazy worry” symptoms are generally tolerable, albeit really uncomfortable. People call ambulances for panic attacks; it’s less likely that would happen for someone experiencing “crazy worry.” This site has a nice side-by-side list that compares the symptoms.
- “Crazy worry” is usually in response to a stressor. Panic attacks come out of the blue, and are often not associated with anything in particular.
So, why does it matter if what your partner is experiencing is a “true” panic attack versus “crazy worry”? Both are causing your partner problems, right?
You are right. It doesn’t matter. Encourage your partner to seek professional help so that it truly doesn’t matter.