Differences Between an Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack

September 12, 2023

image of woman representing borderline personality disorder

Anxiety attack vs panic attack symptoms may overlap but also differ in several key areas such as intensity, duration and triggers.

So what is the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks? Anxiety attacks and panic attacks have some commonalities but also differ in several key areas. This guide explores the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack and clears up any confusion for those wondering, “Are anxiety and panic attacks the same.

Read on to discover:

  • Panic attack vs anxiety attack: what are the main differences?
  • Anxiety attacks vs panic attacks: do symptoms differ?
  • Anxiety attack versus panic attack treatment: how to ensure that you connect with appropriate care.

Before we begin, if you or a loved one are dealing with anxiety, panic attacks or another mental health condition, contact our anxiety treatment center in Orange County today.

an icon image of a lightbulb

Need Help Getting Mental Health Treatment?

Symptoms of Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ in many key areas:

  • Intensity and severity: Panic attacks are characterized by intense and severe symptoms. They often come on suddenly and without warning, with symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom. Anxiety attacks, by contrast, typically have less severe symptoms. They may involve a sense of unease, worry, and physical discomfort but are generally less intense than panic attacks.
  • Duration: Panic attacks are usually short-lived, often lasting for around 10 minutes. Symptoms tend to subside relatively quickly once the attack peaks. Anxiety attacks can be more prolonged, with symptoms lasting for an extended period, sometimes hours or even days.
  • Triggers: Panic attacks often occur suddenly and unexpectedly, without an obvious trigger. They can seemingly appear out of the blue. Anxiety attacks are frequently triggered by specific situations or stressors that induce feelings of anxiety or worry.

When considering panic attacks vs anxiety attacks:

  • Both anxiety and panic attacks involve heightened anxiety and physical symptoms.
  • Panic attacks are more intense, shorter in duration, and often come without warning.
  • Anxiety attacks are generally less severe, longer-lasting, and are typically triggered by specific stressors or situations.

Panic attack symptoms vs anxiety attack symptoms differ considerably in presentation.

Panic attacks

A panic attack is an abrupt and intense experience characterized by overwhelming feelings of fear, terror, or discomfort. It accompanies a range of both mental and physical symptoms that can be so extreme that they disrupt daily life. According to DSM-5-TR (the latest revised edition of American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic tool), a panic attack is typically defined by the presence of four or more of the following symptoms:

Mental symptoms

  • Sensations of unreality (derealization)
  • A sense of detachment from self (depersonalization)
  • Fear of losing control or going insane
  • Fear of dying

Physical symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Excessive sweating
  • Choking
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, or the sensation of fainting
  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or rapid heart rate
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea or discomfort in the abdominal area
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Panic attacks usually occur suddenly and unexpectedly, often without an identifiable trigger. However, they can also be expected when linked to a known stressor – a specific phobia, for instance. These intense symptoms peak within about 10 minutes and gradually subside. In some instances, panic attacks may extend in duration or occur consecutively, blurring the distinction between individual attacks. Following a panic attack, it is common to experience ongoing feelings of stress, worry, unease, or edginess for the remainder of the day.

Anxiety attacks

Anxiety, by contrast, generally builds up over time and is closely associated with excessive concerns about potential dangers, whether real or perceived. If the anticipation of something intensifies and stress reaches a point of overwhelming intensity, it may resemble an “attack.” Symptoms of anxiety may include:

Mental symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

Physical symptoms

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased startle response
  • Muscle tension

While some of these anxiety symptoms overlap with those of panic attacks, they are normally less severe. Unlike panic attacks, anxiety symptoms may persist over extended periods, lasting for days, weeks, or even months. Anxiety is often characterized by its persistent nature, whereas panic attacks are sudden, intense episodes.

man's head is in his hands representing difference between a panic attack and anxiety attack

Causes of Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack

Anxiety vs panic attack causes also differ. Panic attacks can be categorized into two types based on their triggers: unexpected panic attacks, which present without obvious external triggers, and expected panic attacks, which can be set off by similar factors. Some common triggers for both types of panic attacks include:

  • A demanding or high-stress job.
  • Driving, especially in challenging traffic conditions.
  • Social situations that evoke anxiety.
  • Specific phobias like claustrophobia, agoraphobia, or acrophobia.
  • Reminders or recollections of traumatic experiences.
  • Chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
  • Chronic pain stemming from various medical conditions.
  • Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
  • Consumption of caffeine.
  • Medications and supplements.
  • Thyroid problems.

These triggers can provoke panic attacks or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, highlighting the importance of identifying and managing these stressors as part of a comprehensive approach to mental and emotional well-being.

Treatment for Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack

Consulting with a medical professional is advisable to explore alternative treatments for anxiety and panic attacks. Here are some treatments your doctor may discuss with you.

Counseling and psychotherapy

Counseling and psychotherapy offer effective strategies for managing anxiety and panic disorders, often employing a combination of the following approaches:

  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy): CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals reframe and manage distressing thoughts and develop strategies to handle triggers effectively.
  • Cognitive therapy: Focused on identifying then reframing or neutralizing negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety disorders.
  • Exposure therapy: This technique involves gradual and controlled exposure to anxiety-inducing situations, helping individuals learn to confront their fears.
  • Relaxation techniques: These include techniques like guided imagery, deep breathing, biofeedback, progressive relaxation, and autogenic training, all of which can be explained and guided by a doctor. Your doctor may recommend individual sessions, group therapy, or a combination of both based on your specific needs.

Medications

Your doctor might suggest medications to address anxiety and panic attacks, including:

  • Antidepressants: This category includes SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These medications are typically used for long-term management, and their effects may take some time to become noticeable.
  • Beta-blockers: These medications can help control certain physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as a rapid heart rate.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: Benzodiazepines are an example of sedative medications that can quickly alleviate symptoms. However, they are intended for short-term use due to their high risk of dependence.

All of these medications can have potential side effects. SSRIs and SNRIs can be used for extended periods, while benzodiazepines are meant for short-term use due to their risk of dependency.

Often, doctors recommend a combination of treatments tailored to your individual needs, and adjustments to your treatment plan may be necessary over time. Collaborating closely with a healthcare professional ensures a comprehensive approach to managing anxiety and panic attacks.

an image of people who got help at Connections Mental Health blog

 Get Treatment for Anxiety at Connections

Anxiety can be distressing and disruptive, but there is no need to live in fear of a panic attack or an anxiety attack.  Now that you know the difference between anxiety attack and panic attack, you can choose to engage with a variety of mental health treatment programs at Connections Mental Health in Southern California, allowing you to improve functioning and overall well-being.

The welcoming and inclusive environment at our beachside treatment facility is designed to provide the comfort of home combined with cutting-edge psychiatric therapy delivered by a team of committed experts.

If you or a loved one is battling with panic or anxiety, call 844-413-0009 for immediate assistance in Southern California at Connections Mental Health.

Want to Learn More?
Recent Articles
image depicting how depression affects your daily life

May 23, 2024

How Depression Affects Your Daily Life

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a serious and common condition. It changes how you feel, act, and think. Everyone experiences depression differently. For some, it

image depicting how to help someone with bipolar disorder

May 20, 2024

How to Help Someone With Bipolar Depression

Helping a loved one deal with bipolar depression can be difficult, but by learning more about this disorder you can equip yourself to provide the

image depicting the question when to take time off for mental health

May 16, 2024

When to Take Time Off for Mental Health

It’s common for people to hesitate about taking time off work. Taking a break is okay, though, whether you’re feeling sick, stressed, or overloaded.  Read

image of two people depicting the question how can i check my mental health

May 13, 2024

How Can I Check My Mental Health?

Checking in on your mental health is important to maintain a balanced and healthy life. Find out how you can check in with yourself to

image of man depicting complex ptsd

May 9, 2024

Can You Heal from Complex PTSD?

C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) often develops as a result of prolonged periods of trauma like ongoing domestic violence or sustained child abuse. This condition

image depicting the question how does trauma affect the brain

May 6, 2024

How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?

How does trauma affect the brain? The amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex are brain regions that are impacted by the stress responses resulting from emotional

an image of people who got help at Connections Mental Health

You’re Not Alone

Get treatment from a team of expert staff who is passionate about helping you experience peace.

Learn more about the individual mental health disorders we treat by clicking a button below.