Difference Between Panic Attack Vs Anxiety Attack

Difference Between An Anxiety Attack And A Panic Attack Health & Lifestyle
January 10, 2023
6 minutes Read
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If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you’ll know how uncomfortable the sensation is. 

However, anxiety can serve as a tool to help alert our senses to a possible threat. 

That said, feeling anxious can negatively impact our lives if it’s persistent. 

For instance, anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or phobias, may develop. 

On the other hand, individuals can also experience panic attacks, which can be more intense. 

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

At first glance, an anxiety attack vs. a panic attack appears similar. The terms are often used interchangeably but aren’t quite the same. 

This blog will clarify how a panic vs. an anxiety attack differs and how the conditions overlap. 

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

Many of us encounter anxiousness when faced with a challenging situation.  

Thus, getting a last-minute work deadline, receiving an unexpected bill, or writing a difficult exam can cause your heart to race. 

The good news is that this temporary anxiousness can boost your energy and heighten your focus when facing a problem.  

However, emotional strain can be ongoing for individuals with an anxiety disorder. 

So what is an anxiety attack? An anxiety attack usually occurs in anticipation or reaction to a stressful circumstance. 

You’ll likely feel unease, distress, and fear-related symptoms.

Even though anxiety attacks are real, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V) doesn’t mention them.

For a deeper understanding, healthcare professionals use the DSM-V as an authoritative guide to identifying mental health disorders. 

However, the DSM-V defines anxiety as a characteristic of several common anxiety disorders, such as:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder (PD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (previously known as social phobia)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans suffer from various anxiety disorders, making it a crucial behavioral health issue nationwide. 

What Is A Panic Attack?

The sudden onset of a severe panic attack can feel extremely scary and visceral. 

Symptoms are often likened to that of a heart attack, and they can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Intense fear
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea 

You may also experience the following:

  • Depersonalization: Feeling like you’re outside your body or watching yourself. 
  • Detachment: Feeling detached from others, your surroundings, or reality.
  • Derealization: Feeling like objects or people around you aren’t real. 

The above symptoms can occur together and often go hand-in-hand with one another. 

A panic attack usually comes on suddenly without an identifiable trigger, although this isn’t always the case. 

What’s A Panic Disorder?

Anyone can have a panic attack, making it a natural part of being human. But you could have a panic disorder if you experience more than one. 

On a positive note, treating a panic disorder is possible. Working with a therapist can go a long way in improving your emotional health. 

Important note: If you or someone you know is experiencing life-threatening or worrisome symptoms, seek emergency care immediately.  

Call 911 for an urgent matter or dial 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

What’s the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks? 

While both mental health conditions can occur simultaneously and have similar symptoms, they differ in several ways.

Some of the main distinguishing characteristics between a panic or anxiety attack include the following:

  1. The onset. An anxiety attack tends to build up gradually over time. In contrast, a panic attack can come on rapidly. But those with panic disorders may be aware of their triggers, so they’ll more easily recognize specific situations that could provoke them.
  2. The cause. Anxiety is often linked to tangible experiences, such as daily stressors. Although, if anxiousness persists, you might encounter a general feeling of unrest without a specific trigger. Panic attacks, on the other hand, can happen without any warning and with no previous history. Overwhelming moments can be catalysts, like a crowded elevator or a traumatic experience. 
  3. The duration. Anxiety can last hours or days, depending on how it’s coped with or the particular cause. Worry may also be associated with an anxiety disorder, causing anxiousness to last and reoccur. Alternatively, panic attack symptoms come rapidly and last about 5-20 minutes. Usually, they peak within ten minutes, then subside. But the short duration doesn’t make the experience any less alarming.
  4. The distress level. Anxiety can appear as mild, moderate, or severe. For example, you may sense anxiety looming in the back of your mind or the pit of your stomach. Whereas panic attacks mainly involve severe, disruptive, and rapid symptoms that subside.
  5. The survival instinct. A medically reviewed Healthline article explains that the body’s autonomous fight-or-flight response takes over during a panic attack. Also, the physical symptoms are often more drastic than that of anxiety.

Symptoms of a panic attack vs. an anxiety attack

Anxiety symptoms aren’t fun and can be debilitating in some cases. 

Nevertheless, anxiety-related symptoms tend to be linked to feelings of worry, while panic attacks can be felt more on a physical level. But both can occur at the same time. 

Also, panic attacks are believed to be more intense, and an individual may fear a complete loss of control or impending death. 

Notably, a few hallmark symptoms of panic attacks include tunnel vision, inability to breathe, and the feeling of suffocation. 

An anxiety or panic attack can cause both emotional and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Apprehension and nervousness
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Distress
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Feeling detached from your surroundings, others, or yourself.

It can be hard to know if you’re experiencing an anxiety vs. panic attack.

However, remember that a panic attack might seem like it came out of nowhere, bringing extremely heightened sensations. 

Consulting a healthcare professional is essential to support your physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Causes of panic anxiety attack vs. panic attack 

Anxiety often comes about when we feel overwhelmed and can be linked to family history, diet, or health conditions. 

Causes for anxiety can include the following:

  • School or work stress
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship issues
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Life changes, such as moving, a new job, or divorce
  • Caregiving or parental pressures
  • Environmental or climate change concerns
  • Reduced physical function or mobility
  • Chronic health condition diagnosis 
  • Daunting tasks like public speaking

Anxiety can also be connected to factors and health issues, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Susceptibility to stress
  • High sensitivity (Highly sensitive person)
  • Ongoing stressful lifestyle 
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Too much caffeine 
  • Exercise stimulants
  • Traumatic events

Lastly, anxiety isn’t always rational, nor can it be remedied by asking someone to “Calm down.”

An individual might fear losing their job, losing a partner, or flunking an exam with no evidence to suggest these worries. 

Often, the symptoms aren’t proportionate to the level of danger. But that doesn’t make the feelings invalid, as our internal world matters and affects our emotional health. 

Causes for panic attacks

Experts don’t completely understand why some people have panic attacks or develop a disorder. 

Nevertheless, our brain and nervous systems play significant roles in perceiving and handling anxiety and fear.

Sometimes a panic attack is triggered by an external or specific event. Other times, panic attack symptoms occur with no apparent cause. 

Risk factors for anxiety vs. panic attack

Your risk of having anxiety or panic attacks can increase due to the following:

  • Family history: Anxiety disorders, like panic disorders, often run in families. But experts are unsure why this is. 
  • Mental or behavioral health issues: People with anxiety disorders or other behavioral health conditions are more prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Substance misuse:  Misusing alcohol and drugs can increase the chance of anxiety and panic attacks.
How can we help? 

Therapy is a healthy choice for anyone looking to improve their well-being. 

We offer a fully confidential online platform for you to attend sessions from the comfort and privacy of your home. 

Download the Ravkoo Health app, and you’ll gain access to affordable therapy using the Lifestyle module. 

You’ll also be able to select the therapist who best meets your needs. 

Putting it all together 

Both anxiety and panic can happen to anyone. But if the conditions continue to manifest repeatedly, this may signify a disorder. 

Furthermore, our experiences with anxiety and panic are unique to each of us. 

Some people may have encountered behavioral health conditions without knowing it. Therefore, knowledge empowers us to understand our emotions and take action when needed. 

A therapist you’re comfortable with can bring valuable insight and support. 

Book your first remote therapy session today! 


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