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Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack : Understanding the Key Differences

    1. Introduction to Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

      Anxiety is like a switch that turns on and off, mainly on circumstances in life that appear tough to us. A few people might experience panic attacks in life due to major events or when there are no identifiable causes. Although people might often consider these identical things, there are a couple of differences one should be aware of.

      Anxiety and panic attacks are considered psychological issues leading to physical symptoms like increased heart rate, fear, and sweating. Some individuals might even feel nauseous while having trouble breathing normally. Let us check into both of them closely so that we start learning about the key differences that are often overlooked.

      1. Definition of Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

        Anxiety is a popular feeling where people will start experiencing varied anxiety levels at a time in their lives, which is normal. There are times when this anxiety is more and less in proportion to this event that triggers them, a rising matter of concern.

        Generally, anxiety attacks will have a famous cause which is mainly external. At the same time, they start occurring without any identifiable cause with deep-rooted mental issues or due to any other medical conditions.(1)

        Anxiety mainly starts gradually building up, for instance, becoming highly anxious whenever you speak during public presentations. There are some signs of an anxiety attack: nervousness with an uneasy stomach and rising mounting of stress or the feeling of dizziness that builds up eventually.

        A panic attack, however, is an acute or short-lived condition. A few signs of a panic attack include nausea, feeling like you are extremely out of control, fear for life, abdominal ache, headache, dizziness, difficulty in speaking, sweating, seeing, and listening, and a racing heartbeat.

        It appears like your body is starting to shut down. The panic attacks might not get triggered by external triggers, which might often not become the cause. People should have daily panic attacks, which start suffering from panic disorder.(2)

      2. Purpose Of The Article: To Highlight The Differences Between Panic And Anxiety Attacks

        Knowing about the differences between panic vs. anxiety attacks starts confusing as there are several similar symptoms; however, these are two very different conditions in reality. There are a couple of main things to understand regarding the symptoms of panic and anxiety attacks that help you determine which you would have.

        The key difference between the frequency of anxiety and panic attacks is that a panic attack normally happens suddenly, and the episode is over almost instantly. The anxiety attack, however, appears to build up for a time and will most often start lasting a distinctively longer time than any panic attack would.

        Although there are numerous similarities between the two common instances, including both resulting in the extremity and, at times, the overwhelming emotions and feelings, as there are quite a few other related differences, in our post, we have taken a deeper look at the panic and anxiety attacks.

    2. Symptoms of Panic Attacks

      DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines a panic attack as the sudden rush of intense discomfort or fear reaching a peak in just a few minutes.(3)

      1. Physical Symptoms of Panic Attacks

        The following are the physical symptoms that happen during a panic attack:(4)

      2. Emotional Symptoms of Panic Attacks

        • Repeated and sudden panic attacks of overwhelming fear and anxiety
        • The feeling of staying out of control or the fear of death or imminent doom during panic attacks
        • A severe worry about when the next panic attack happens
        • Avoidance or fear of places where panic attacks have happened earlier
      3. Cognitive Symptoms of Panic Attacks

        Negative and fearful thinking is often linked with panic attacks, the main symptom of panic disorder. Panic attacks are frequent experiences through a combination of cognitive and physical symptoms.(5)

        The other instance of anxiety or panic disorder is an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The characteristics would include unwanted thoughts and behaviors that overwhelm self-control. For example, your mind cannot help but worry if you have turned off the iron or stove before leaving this house. You should feel compulsive at excessively repeating certain routines like washing hands easily.

    3. Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

      On the contrary, anxiety starts intensifying over the entire time and is greatly correlated with greater worries regarding the potential danger, perceived or real things.(6) There are primary symptoms of anxiety which includes the following symptoms.

      1. Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

        • Feeling of dizziness
        • An intense feeling of fatigue
        • Greater heart rate
        • Increased responses of getting startled
        • Tensions in the muscles
        • Disturbances in sleep
      2. Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

        • Difficulty in terms of focusing or concentrating
        • Feeling of restlessness
        • Irritabilities
      3. Cognitive Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks

        • There is an excessive or irrational worry regarding encountering the feared situation or objects
        • Taking active steps to avoid the feared situation or object
        • Experiences with the immediate intensity of anxiety on facing the feared situation or object
        • Enduring unavoidable situations or objects with greater intensity of anxiety
    4. Causes of Panic and Anxiety Attacks

      1. Common Causes

        The real causes of anxiety and panic disorders are not clear. People often develop these disorders due to medical, genetic, and external factors. People start experiencing panic or anxiety attacks due to unpredictable and predictable threats. These are the threats that are perceived or real.

        Individuals will start experiencing panic or anxiety attacks that might happen due to the following:

        • when you are handling a stressful job
        • while driving
        • a few social situations
        • certain phobias like the fear of open or crowded spaces, the fear of smaller spaces, and the fear of heights
        • memories or reminders of traumatic experiences
        • chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or irritable bowel syndrome
        • chronic pain
        • withdrawal from alcohol or drugs
        • excessive caffeine intake
        • supplements and medications
        • thyroid issues and problems
        • Medications that include the discontinuation or withdrawal
        • Substance use and withdrawal from a substance
        • Use of substances and the withdrawal from the substance
        • Physical pain

However, a panic attack sometimes will show up without any noticeable cause, which might wake a person from sleep. It is one of the primary ways panic attacks become different from bouts of anxiety.

      1. Factors That May Trigger Panic And Anxiety Attacks

        Panic and anxiety attacks have identified risk factors, and these include the following:(8)

      • witnessing and experiencing traumatic events either as an adult or as a child
      • experiencing a life event filled with stress, such as the death of the loved one or a divorce
      • experiencing ongoing worries and stress like the responsibilities at work, conflict in your family, or the final woes.
      • living with a fatal illness or a chronic health condition
      • having an anxious personality
      • having the other mental health condition such as depression
      • having close family members facing panic or anxiety disorders
      • use of drugs or the consumption of alcohol
    1. Differences between Panic and Anxiety Attacks

      1. Onset and Duration

        Panic attacks mainly last for about five to twenty minutes. But, several panic attacks take place in a row, which might make the attack appear to last for a longer time. After this attack, numerous people might feel stressed, worried, or unusually at rest for the entire day.

        Although panic attacks arrive suddenly, anxiety symptoms follow the entire period of excessive worries. Anxiety symptoms will start becoming more pronounced over a few hours or even minutes, and they are generally less intense than the ones who face panic attacks.

      2. Intensity

        The symptoms of panic attacks are not harmful; however, they are scary. They would make you appear like you have a heart attack or will start collapsing or even die. Most panic attacks would last from around five minutes to half an hour.

        Panic attacks are rare and more serious than anxiety, and they would come out suddenly without provocation or warning. People start to have panic attacks while experiencing shortness of dizziness, breath, numbness, and nausea.

        Anxiety attacks will start around ten minutes as they rarely last for more than half an hour. However, during this short time, you might experience terror and greater seriousness that you might feel like you are about to die or go completely out of control.

        You might feel as if bad things are going to happen, chest pain, fluttering or heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and others. These panic attacks lead to greater worries about them that happen once more or when you start to avoid situations that have started taking place.

      3. Triggers

        There are a couple of general triggers for panic and anxiety attacks that, include the following:

        • A few specific phobias include claustrophobia, or the fear of small spaces, acrophobia or the fear of heights, agoraphobia or the fear of crowded or open spaces, homophobia or the fear of blood or injury; social phobia, or the extreme worry about social situations, along with the others.
        • Continuous thoughts of the traumatic events
        • Stress that is related to the work
        • Fear to drive
        • A few specific social situations
        • Chronic pain or thyroid disorders
        • Drug or alcohol withdrawal
        • A few specific supplements and medications
      4. Symptoms

        They share several physical and emotional symptoms where you have both anxiety and a panic attack simultaneously. It is quite complex to distinguish between panic and anxiety attacks. Consequently, to differentiate between them both, you should consider the following:

      • Anxiety varies in intensity, whether mild, moderate, or even severe. There are panic attacks alternatively characterized by severe disruptive symptoms.
      • The physical symptoms are often more serious than the anxiety symptoms during a panic attack.
      • Anxiety is closely linked with something more threatening or stressful, with panic attacks being unexpected and not often triggered through stressful situations.
      • Panic attacks normally cause fear or anxiety about undergoing another attack and might influence the behavior that causes you to avoid situations or places where you might fear a panic attack.
      • Panic attacks happen mainly suddenly, although it builds over time.
    2. Treatment for Panic and Anxiety Attacks

      1. Medication

        There are medications that your medical caregiver or a doctor might prescribe:(9)

        • Antidepressants: These are the medications, including SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
        • Beta-blockers: These medications help you manage a few specific physical symptoms like a rapid heart rate.
        • Anti-anxiety drugs: These would include benzodiazepines which are sedative medications that suppress the symptoms instantly.
      2. Psychotherapy

        Talking therapies can deal with panic disorders or anxieties involving the following or a combination.(10)

        • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): It is the kind of therapy that helps you to notice things that worries you in a new distinguishable way. The counselor will help you develop strategies to manage the triggers whenever they arise.
        • Cognitive therapy: This will help you reframe, pinpoint, or neutralize the unhelpful thoughts that often underlie this anxiety disorder.
        • Exposure therapy: It involves controlled exposure to conditions triggering the fear and anxiety that can assist you in learning ways to confront these fears in a new manner.
        • Relaxation techniques: The relaxation techniques will include breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, autogenic training, and biofeedback. You can know about these techniques from your doctor.(11)

A doctor might help suggest you attend group or individual sessions or a combination of both.

    1. Lifestyle Changes

      The following are the lifestyle changes you can adhere to for the prevention of panic and anxiety attacks along with reducing the seriousness of the symptoms whenever this attack takes place:

      • Managing or reducing the source of stress in your life
      • Learning how to identify and stop the negative thoughts
      • Getting regular or moderate exercises
      • Practicing yoga or meditation
      • Eating a well-balanced diet
      • Joining a support group for individuals with panic or anxiety attacks
      • Restricting the consumption of caffeine or alcohol along with the drug use
    2. Complementary Therapies

      You should consult a mental health professional or a doctor to find out what you can do to treat and prevent anxiety and panic-related symptoms. Undergoing a treatment plan and following it whenever an attack happens will help you feel like you are under better control.

      Try the following techniques if you feel like an episode of anxiety or panic attack is going to happen:

    • Take slow, deep breaths: Aim at the inhale and exhale techniques when undergoing rapid breathing. Feel that your stomach is getting filled with air as you are inhaling. Start counting from four as you exhale, and repeat until your breathing slows down.
    • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness-based interventions are used increasingly to treat panic and anxiety disorders. The technique can help you bring your mind back to the present. You can practice this technique by actively observing the sensations and thoughts without reacting to them.(12)
    • Use relaxation techniques: The relaxation techniques include guided imagery, muscle relaxation, or aromatherapy. If you experience these symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks, try to perform things that will relax you. Close your eyes, take a bath or use lavender. That has soothing effects.
  1. Conclusion

  1. Recap of the differences between Panic and Anxiety Attacks

    A few individuals use the terms “anxiety attack” or “panic attack” interchangeably, as they do not appear the same.

    Anxiety and panic attacks generally have overlapping symptoms and signs, such as intense fear of something or an increased heart rate. But, the main differences will help in distinguishing you from one another.

    Changes in lifestyle, self-management, therapies, and medications are all potential treatment strategies for panic disorder, panic attacks, and other related anxiety disorders.

  2. Emphasis On Seeking Help

    Panic and anxiety attacks will start disrupting you potentially your regular life. You should always have the help you need, whether you or your loved one is experiencing such episodes.

    If you face anxiety or panic attack symptoms that interfere with your daily life, you should always speak to your healthcare provider or even a doctor to find instant relief.

  3. Final Thoughts On The Importance Of Understanding The Differences.

    Understanding the difference between anxiety and panic attacks will greatly help to manage them, irrespective of the possibility you might start experiencing them. Seeking help at the right time and staying informed will help you stay calm while experiencing fewer panic or anxiety attacks in the future.

    Anxiety attacks and what individuals refer to as panic attacks are different and similar. Primarily both anxiety and panic attacks are emotions alerting us to the dangers surrounding them. However, while panic is often abrupt and intense, anxiety will gradually arrive from mild to severe and is mainly connected to a recognizable stressor.


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 8, 2023

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