Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack: Explained

Published on December 2nd, 2022

Last updated on March 7th, 2023

You may have heard of such problems as a panic attack and an anxiety attack, but do you know the difference between these psychological states? It is a problem that affects many people today. Typically, this condition appears during adolescence. The cause of panic attacks can be:

  • serious, incurable diseases;
  • experienced fear;
  • trauma, or horror.

But people often face panic attacks after experiencing anxiety attacks for a long time. As a rule, people talk with anxiety about such causes as stress at work or constant conflicts with someone close to them.

Prolonged exposure to stress can be called anxiety attacks. Some people mistakenly confuse an anxiety attack with a panic attack. Even though these conditions have similar symptoms, you need to be able to distinguish between them.

In this article, we will look at the symptoms of a panic attack and an anxiety attack and how to distinguish between them.

What Is Exactly An Anxiety Attack?

a girl has an anxiety attack

Anxiety can be defined as a characteristic of some common mental disorders. Anxiety can be with the following problems:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder;
  • Panic disorder;
  • Separation anxiety disorder;
  • Agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Social anxiety disorder;
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • Specific phobia.

An anxiety attack is usually associated with an experience before a stressful situation that can occur or when certain anxious moments are scrolled in the head. An anxiety attack can occur gradually.

Anxiety symptoms include:

  1. Excitement;
  2. Feeling of fear.

So, What Is A Panic Attack?

a girl with a panic attack

A range of physical and mental symptoms accompanies a sudden panic attack.

Panic attacks always occur unexpectedly out of the blue and are accompanied by intense fear. Also, along with anxiety, a person feels some physical symptoms. It may be tachycardia, shortness of breath, or nausea.

Often, panic attacks occur without a specific and weighty reason for this and previous events. A panic attack can happen to anyone. If the situation repeats, we can talk about the presence of a panic disorder. It is a state of health in which a person suffers from sudden and constant panic attacks.

What Is The Difference Between The Symptoms?

a woman is crying because of anxiety attack

Many people may describe the two states in the same way. Also, it is worth saying that they have many common emotional and physical symptoms. So, a person can have both states at the same time.

For example, a person may worry about making an important presentation. When preparing for a speech, a person feels anxious, and anxiety can develop into a panic attack when reading a presentation.

Both of these conditions can have symptoms such as:

  • Feeling restless;
  • Fear of death or loss of control;
  • A feeling of the unreality of the space around you (derealization) or the unreality of your person (depersonalization);
  • Tachycardia;
  • Chest pain;
  • Ragged breathing;
  • The heaviness of breathing;
  • Dry mouth;
  • Sweating;
  • Chills or feeling hot;
  • Shiver;
  • Limb numbness;
  • Nausea;
  • Abdominal pain;
  • Stomach upset;
  • Headache;
  • Dizziness;
  • Feeling of weakness.

Anxiety Attack Vs. Panic Attack: Comparison Table

We have also prepared a small table with important factors and points that will help you better understand the nature of these conditions and distinguish if you have an anxiety attack or a panic attack.

InputAn anxiety attackA panic attack
CauseAnxiety is usually associated with a specific situation that a person recognizes as stressful or threatening.Constantly elevated levels of anxiety and stress can trigger a panic attack. Although, a panic attack can happen against the backdrop of fear, which is only just now but is too strong.
Level of distressAnxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. For example, anxiety can arise at a moment when you are busy with something.Panic attacks are often severe enough, with many symptoms. Often a panic attack affects a person’s performance at the time of its occurrence. The person cannot concentrate on the current task until the panic attack is over.
Fight or flightAt the time of an anxiety attack, a person may want to escape from experiences and change the current activity. However, it is not as pronounced as in a panic attack.During a panic attack, a person wants to get up and run. The physical symptoms at this point are much stronger than during an anxiety attack.
Speed ​​of onsetAn anxiety comes on gradually.A panic attack comes on suddenly and unexpectedly.
ConsequencesThe appearance of anxiety can worsen the life of a person who has encountered it. It can be expressed in a decrease or increase in appetite, a deterioration in sleep quality, a decrease in concentration at work, and other essential aspects.Panic attacks frighten the person and make him worry that this can happen to him again. It can affect a person’s behavior and limit his life. So, a person may begin to avoid visiting any social places in which, in his opinion, the likelihood of an attack is high.

Reasons For A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack?

a girl is having a stress

We have already talked a little about the causes of these problems. However, now we want to tell you a little more about it. We also offer a comparison of the possible causes of these conditions.

Most panic attacks happen unexpectedly. And it is not always possible to identify certain reasons for this condition. Yes, it could be a speech at a conference or receiving bad news. But often, a panic attack occurs out of the blue.

However, people only think that the panic attack came unexpectedly. As a rule, before a panic attack that arose for no apparent reason, there was a long period of stress and tension. All this time, the tension built up and resulted in a panic attack, which could suddenly occur for no apparent reason.

An anxiety attack has specific causes and explanations on the part of the person who suffers from it.

Panic and anxiety attacks can be caused by the following:

  • Stressful job;
  • Social situations;
  • Frequent conflicts at home;
  • Some phobias include a fear of heights, open or closed spaces, etc;
  • Memories;
  • Chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or asthma;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol;
  • Caffeine intake;
  • Medicines;
  • Thyroid problems.

Risk Factors For A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks have similar risk factors. For example, a person may get an anxiety or panic attack if:

  • Experienced psychological trauma or physical abuse;
  • Witnessed terrible events;
  • Experiencing stress due to work or family conflicts;
  • Has a severe or even life-threatening illness;
  • Has anxiety;
  • Has another mental disorder, such as depression;
  • Have relatives with anxiety or panic attacks;
  • Use of drugs or alcohol.

So, people who experience stress and anxiety are more prone to panic attacks. But it is optional. Not all people with anxiety experience panic attacks.

Examples Of Anxiety And Panic Attacks

a girl is holding her head

So that you can better understand the difference between these two situations, we will show you some examples of a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Read these descriptions and try to find the case most similar to yours.

Example 1

You go home after a good day at work and are in a good mood. But then a big dog without a leash runs out from around the corner and starts attacking you. You begin to feel intense fear, palpitations, and increased sweating and start to run away. You calm down as soon as you hide from this dog, and your body returns to normal. It is a typical example of a panic attack triggered by a dangerous situation.

Example 2

Tomorrow, you have an important exam, and you start to worry about it. You may have intrusive, anxious thoughts about failing the exam. As the exam approaches, you begin to feel worse. You may experience loss of appetite, weakness, insomnia, abdominal pain, and several other symptoms. After the exam, your body returns to normal. It is an example of an alarming attack.

Example 3

You have disagreements with your colleagues, low pay, and harsh working conditions. You go to work every day and periodically conflict with superiors and colleagues. After completing a series of assignments at work, you get very tired. You have been living in this rhythm for six months already. Every day you feel worse, and your mood worsens due to constant conflicts. One day, while sitting with friends in a restaurant, you suddenly start to feel dizzy, your heart rate is very fast, everything around you starts to seem unreal, and you have a strong panic. You jump up from your chair and run outside for some air. This panic attack lasts about five minutes, after which the symptoms disappear, leaving you bewildered. It is a typical example of a panic attack due to constant tension and high-stress levels.

Bottom Line

Thus, we have told you about the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. These two conditions have common symptoms and global causes but differ in the duration and severity of attacks. A common cause of these conditions is chronic stress. To beat panic attacks or anxiety, you need to get rid of stress in life. To do it, there are several practices and exercises.

If you feel tired often, are under chronic stress, or have anxiety or panic attacks, you should get tested to ensure that you do not have serious diseases that provoke these problems.


What Does A Panic Attack Feel Like?

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense fear, panic, and a desire to run away from your condition. Physical symptoms of this condition include dizziness, tachycardia, tremors, disorientation, nausea, and shortness of breath. A panic attack is not terrible and does not lead to death, even though its symptoms can be frightening.

What Triggers Panic Attacks?

The appearance of the first panic attack provokes prolonged stress. Constant tension and anxiety at one moment result in a panic attack.

How To Know If You Are Having An Anxiety Attack?

A panic attack is characterized by a sharp and intense fear that accompanies panic. In this state, a person becomes ill both physically and mentally. There may be a high pulse, anxiety, and an approaching disaster.

Is A Panic Attack Dangerous?

It is not dangerous unless you have a serious illness that causes a panic attack. During the attacks, you will not die and will not get a heart attack. A panic attack means that there are problems in your life that you need to solve to avoid stress. You can work this out on your own or see a therapist.

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