Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: What's the Difference?

Written by Resurchify | Updated on: March 02, 2023

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: What's the Difference?

With so many taboos in society surrounding mental health, people suffer from severe mental health issues but are afraid to share. Your mental well-being should always come first. No matter what they say, you should care about yourself. Prolonged stress over things may lead to panic attacks, but they can be challenging and intimidating if you cannot recognise them. Glenn Close said, "What mental health needs are more sunlight, candour, and unashamed conversation". Let us see some ways to determine if you have an anxiety attack or a panic attack. 

You feel intense, overwhelming emotions during both a panic attack and an anxiety attack. These terms are frequently mistaken and used interchangeably; however, they are not the same. The difference is the cause of the attack. Panic and anxiety attacks both send you to fight or flight mode by activating your nervous system and causing physical and emotional symptoms.

Difference between Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

You can understand the symptoms before and during an attack if you know the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack.

Panic Attack

A person feels a sudden intense, overwhelming fear that can be immobilised during a panic attack. They may feel terrified or threatened. A panic attack can happen without any reason, or there can be a trigger for one. Panic attacks, in some people, can be a part of panic disorder, while others may experience them occasionally or once. These usually last only a few minutes.

Anxiety Attack

When worry, stress and anxiety become overwhelming, an anxiety attack occurs. These happen due to prolonged worry over significant issues like illness and death or small everyday things. These happen when anxiety buildup reaches its breaking point. An anxiety attack is not quite an attack but just the high point of your anxiety. These are episodes of intense fear, worry and dread that trigger the physical symptoms. These are predictable as they occur due to long periods of thinking over a matter. 

Symptoms of Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack

Knowing the signs of panic and anxiety attacks can help you understand what happens with the mind and body during the episode.

Symptoms of Panic Attack

These usually occur suddenly and reach their peak in a few minutes. While they feel enfeebling at the moment, you will usually recover in less than an hour. You will probably face four or more of these symptoms during a panic attack.

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • The feeling of choking
  • Palpitations or racing heart rate
  • Feeling of detachment
  • Chills
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Dizziness

It is believed that one-third of the population faces a panic attack at least once. Those who have had it once are likely to experience it again. If you get repeated panic attacks, you may have panic disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety Attack

These are generally frightening and peak in about ten minutes. The intensity may make you think you are going through a heart attack. Some anxiety symptoms are:

  • Shaking
  • Hyperventilation
  • Feeling like you can't breathe or will pass out
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • A wave of overwhelming panic
  • Heat palpitations and chest pain
  • The feeling of loss of control

Sometimes, people start avoiding certain situations due to the fear of triggering an anxiety attack.

Both the attacks have similar symptoms, and it may be hard to determine what you are experiencing. Remembering the following may help you during one.

  • Anxiety typically occurs due to prolonged stressful and threatening feelings. Panic attacks do not always need a trigger; they can appear suddenly.
  • You can have different anxiety levels, like mild, moderate and severe. It may be there in your head while you go through your day-to-day activities. On the other hand, panic attacks mostly have severe, disruptive symptoms.
  • A panic attack makes the fight-or-flight response in the body take over. Symptoms of anxiety are milder than physical symptoms.
  • While anxiety builds up over time, panic attacks happen suddenly.
  • Panic attacks make you fear more attacks and may affect your behaviour. You may avoid places or situations where you think you might get another panic attack. 

Causes of Panic Attach and Anxiety Attack

There are no apparent external triggers for an unexpected panic attack. The motivations can be similar for expected panic attacks and anxiety attacks. Some common triggers are:

  • Driving
  • Phobias, such as Acrophobia (fear of heights, Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) and Agoraphobia (fear of crowded or open spaces)
  • Social situations
  • A stressful job
  • Chronic pain
  • Caffeine
  • Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • Reminders or memories of traumatic experiences
  • Thyroid problems
  • Chronic illnesses, such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma or heart disease

Risk Factors of of Panic Attach and Anxiety Attack 

Both the attacks have similar risk factors. They are:

  • Living with a life-threatening illness or chronic health condition 
  • Experiencing a stressful life event, like divorce or a loved one's death
  • Consuming drugs or alcohol
  • Having close family members with anxiety or panic disorders
  • Witnessing traumatic events or experiencing trauma as a child or an adult
  • Having an anxious personality
  • Experience ongoing stress and worries, like conflict in the family, work responsibilities or financial woes
  • Other mental health conditions, such as depression

If you have anxiety, that does not mean that you will have panic attacks. However, people with anxiety have a higher risk of panic attacks.

Diagnosis of Panic Attach and Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks have no particular diagnosis, but your doctor can diagnose:

  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Panic disorders

By asking about your symptoms and conducting tests, the doctor can rule out other diseases with similar symptoms like heart diseases or thyroid problems.

For a diagnosis, the doctor may conduct:

  • A physical test
  • Blood tests
  • A psychological evaluation or questionnaire
  • A heart test

Treatment and Medication

Your doctor will be able to tell you more about these and other treatments for anxiety and panic attacks. Some treatments they may recommend are:

Counselling and Therapy

There are talking therapies to cure anxiety and panic disorders which involve the following, individually or in combination:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can give you a different perspective about the things worrying you. The counsellor helps you build up strategies to manage triggers when they arise.
  • Cognitive therapy helps you detect, review and neutralise any unhelpful thoughts that are often underlying and lead to anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy works by exposing you to situations that trigger fear and anxiety and helps you learn how to confront them in a new way when they arise.
  • Relaxation techniques involve breathing exercises, biofeedback, guided imagery, progressive relaxation and autogenic training. The doctor can help you by talking through some of these.

The doctor may recommend you attend individual or group sessions or both.


Some medicines that your doctor may suggest are:

  • Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Beta-blockers that can help you with managing some physicals symptoms like a rapid heart rate
  • Anti-anxiety drugs, for example, a sedative medication that helps suppress symptoms quickly, like benzodiazepines.

All these drugs come with side effects. SSRIs and SNRIs can be used long term, and it takes time to show the impact. Benzodiazepines can only be used short term due to the high risk of dependence. Often, a doctor would advise you on a combination of treatments. They may even need to change your treatment plan with time.

Home Remedies

A conversation with your doctor or mental health advisor about what you can do to prevent and treat anxiety, panic attacks, and related symptoms will steer you on the right path towards your mental health journey. Following a treatment plan and sticking to it during an attack can give you the feeling of control.

Try these in case of an anxiety or panic attack.

  • Take Slow Deep Breaths - If you feel an increase in your breathing, concentrate on each inhale and exhale to calm yourself down. Feel the air going to the stomach while inhaling. While exhaling, count four. Repeat till your breathing gets rhythm back.
  • Recognise And Accept What You Are Experiencing - If you have had an anxiety or panic attack, you know how challenging it can get. Remember that everything will turn out well in the end.
  • Practice Mindfulness - Mindfulness is a concentrating method that can help you steer your mind in the right direction and be in the present. Mindfulness is done by carefully observing your feelings and sensations and not reacting to them. This method is being increasingly used to cure anxiety and panic disorder. 
  • Use Relaxation Techniques - There can be different relaxation techniques like muscle relaxation, guided imagery or aromatherapy. If you experience anxiety or panic disorder symptoms, try something that relaxes you. You can take a bath, close your eyes, or use lavender with relaxing effects.

Lifestyle Changes

Some slight changes in your lifestyle can do wonders in helping you prevent anxiety and panic attacks and also help you reduce the severity of symptoms during an attack, like:

  • Get a moderate workout regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Join a support group.
  • Learn techniques to identify and stop negative thoughts. 
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol, drugs as well as caffeine.
  • Reduce and manage sources of stress in life.
  • Practice meditation or yoga.

How to Stop a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks can be terrifying, and they can happen at any time. Some may be needed very away, while you may need others for a more extended period.

Seek Counselling

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other types of psychotherapy can help people who have panic attacks or panic disorders. CBT attempts to help you build new coping strategies in the face of challenging or frightening experiences by changing how you think about them.

  • Individuals or groups can get CBT online or in person, and the length of treatment varies. Your therapist will expose you to everything that can trigger a panic attack and use exposure-based CBT to help you get through it.
  • CBT may change areas in your brain involved in panic feelings and change your behaviour.
  • In 2018, some researchers discovered that patients who participated in four weekly sessions of exposure-based CBT saw alterations in the brain pathways that cause panic feelings. It was, however, a preliminary study, and more research is needed.
  • In 2018, 37 persons in Korea participated in a mindfulness-based training once a week. This went on for four weeks. The idea was to understand if this can help with the panic disorder symptoms. Some people have heart issues during a panic attack and one part of this training focussed on that.
  • The result of this training revealed that the people who took part in this training could regulate their symptoms by their strong mind and thinking. It was, however, a limited study with no control group. To evaluate the efficacy of short-term therapy, more research is needed.

Take Medicinal Help

Panic symptoms can be relieved with benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax).

  • However, they won't help with an underlying anxiety problem and can quickly develop into addiction. As a result, doctors only recommend utilising them for a short time during an emergency.
  • Because benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, you will almost probably need a diagnosis of panic disorder to obtain them.
  • A doctor may prescribe antidepressants for long-term use in specific instances. Here are several examples:
    • SSRIs, such as escitalopram (Lexapro) or fluoxetine, are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (Prozac)
    • Duloxetine is an example of a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) (Cymbalta)
    • azapirone, for instance, is an anti-anxiety medication (Buspirone)

You can also use Anti-seizure drugs like pregabalin and clonazepam to alleviate anxiety.

Try Deep Breathing

While hyperventilation is a symptom of panic attacks that can make you feel even more terrified, deep breathing can help you feel less anxious during an attack.

  • In a 2017 study, 40 patients were divided into a control group or a group that received deep or diaphragmatic breathing therapy at random.
  • After 20 tough training sessions, those who practised deep breathing showed improvements in their emotional stability and level of attention.
  • This group had lower cortisol levels, which indicated less stress, according to blood tests.
  • Although none of the participants had panic disorder, persons who experience panic attacks could find the strategies helpful. Another team of researchers predicted that slow breathing would have similar outcomes. The study may increase feelings of comfort, relaxation, and attentiveness while decreasing arousal, anxiety, dejection, rage, and confusion.
  • You're less likely to experience hyperventilation, which can worsen other symptoms and the panic attack itself, if you can regulate your breathing. Focus on taking deep breaths through your lips, filling them up gradually, and then letting the air out of your abdomen and chest. Breathe in for four counts, hold for a second, and then let out.

Recognise the Signs of a Panic Attack

You may convince yourself that you're having a panic attack rather than a heart attack by reminding yourself that it's merely a passing feeling, that it'll pass, and that you're okay.

  • Remove the fear of death or impending doom, which are symptoms of panic attacks. It frees you up to focus on alternative strategies to relieve your suffering.
  • Although avoiding panic attack causes is not always easy, knowing what they are might help you recognise whether or not you're having one.

Close Eyes

Some panic episodes are brought on by overwhelming triggers. You can exacerbate a panic attack if you're in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimulation. During a panic attack, close your eyes to reduce the intensity of the sensations. It might help you focus on your breathing by blocking any distracting stimuli.

Practice Mindfulness

You can use mindfulness to help you become more aware of your surroundings. It can help you cope with your panic attack as it approaches or occurs because panic attacks can generate a sense of detachment or disconnection from reality.

Mindfulness entails the following:

  • concentrating your attention on the here and now
  • recognising your current emotional condition
  • Meditation can help you relax and reduce tension.

Focus on familiar physiological sensations like sinking your toes into the ground or the texture of your pants on your palms. These specific emotions provide you with a sense of reality and give you something to concentrate on. Although it's not clear if they can treat an underlying anxiety condition, doctors say mindfulness practices like meditation can help regulate anxiety symptoms.

In 2015, American Family Physician suggested mindfulness to deal with panic and anxiety, claiming that it can be just as effective as CBT and other behavioural therapies for reducing stress. According to some studies, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may benefit persons with anxiety disorders undergoing medical treatment but haven't found the pharmacological treatment to be effective.

Look for a Focal Object

During a panic attack, some people find it advantageous to locate something to focus their attention on. One can w rite down all the details regarding one obvious subject. 
Describe the shapes, colours, patterns, and sizes of the thing to yourself. You might observe, for instance, how the clock hand moves and sounds a little unevenly when it ticks. You might notice that your panic symptoms subside if you focus just on this item.

Make Use Of Muscular Relaxing Methods

Anxiety is characterised by muscle tension, and practising muscle relaxation techniques during an episode can help reduce stress and induce calm. Progressive muscle relaxation works by lowering the pressure in one group of muscles at a time, attempting to relax the entire body.

  • By managing your body's response as much as possible, muscle relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, can help you stop a panic attack.
    • Before releasing the stress, you need to learn how to tense the muscles.
    • Then you'll learn how to relax your muscles without initially tensing them.
    • You can also start by relaxing specific muscle groups, such as those in the shoulders, for use in everyday settings. You can also take some advice from the therapist if you go to muscle relaxation therapy session. 
    • Finally, you may learn how to engage in fast relaxation, which involves identifying any areas of tension and releasing them as necessary.

At home, start by deliberately relaxing one muscle at a time. Start little, like your fingers in your hand, then work your way up your body. If you've used muscular relaxation techniques before, they'll work better.

Imagine Your Happy Place: Guided Visualisation Techniques Can Reduce Stress And Anxiety - According to research, spending time outdoors and picturing nature might help lessen and manage anxiety.

  • Are you looking to rent a mountain cottage? What is the most relaxing place that you can think of? What could be more peaceful than laying on a sunny beach with gentle waves lapping at your toes?
  • Imagine yourself there and focus on the details as much as possible. Consider burying your toes in the soft sand or inhaling the pine-scented air.
  • No New York or Hong Kong streets, no matter how much you admire the cities in person - this place should be calm, serene, and peaceful.

It Is Suggested That You Do Some Light Exercise - According to a study, regular exercise maintains the body's health and promotes mental health.

  • Experts have discovered that jogging for 20 minutes at 60 to 90% of your maximum heart rate three times a week will help you feel less anxious.
  • There is some evidence that resuming aerobic exercise can increase anxiety in persons who already have an anxiety problem. Gradually raising your activity levels can assist your body in adjusting and avoiding breathing problems. Treadmill running, for example, is an example of aerobic exercise.
  • If you're concerned, hyperventilating, or having difficulties breathing, take a break or switch to a more gentle exercise like walking, swimming, or yoga.

Always Have Lavender On Hand - Many individuals use lavender as a traditional cure to help them relax and relieve tension.

  • According to a study, it provides a calming effect but does not cause dependence or withdrawal symptoms.  With products containing diluted lavender oil, anxiety symptoms can be lessened or managed. On the other hand, essential oils are not subject to FDA regulation and come in a wide range of potencies and compositions.
  • If you're going to utilise lavender essential oil, make sure you do the following:
    • You should buy your oil from a trustworthy source, such as a pharmacy.
    • Follow the usage instructions.
    • Applying concentrated oil directly to the skin should be avoided.
    • Use lavender sparingly if you're using benzodiazepines, as the combination can cause extreme sleepiness.

Repeat A Chant To Yourself - Repeating a mantra internally may help you relax and give you something to concentrate on during a panic attack. Repeat a mantra in your mind until the panic attack passes, whether it's "This, too, shall pass" or a mantra that speaks to you specifically. Many people suffer from panic attacks, in which they feel anxious and out of control of a situation for no apparent reason. It can be terrifying to feel out of breath or as if you're experiencing a heart attack.

Anxiety episodes can happen at any time and significantly influence your life, but there are strategies for dealing with them. Panic and anxiety disorders, which may be an underlying illnesses, can also be treated. Consult your doctor if you're worried about panic attacks. You may use antidepressants and other medications in conjunction with counselling. They can assist you in developing a practical approach for managing symptoms and reducing their severity


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