Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: What Is the Difference?

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

These two mental health conditions are often confused, especially by people who have not experienced both. This makes sense, as anxiety attack triggers can sometimes cause a panic attack, along with other mental health differences or conditions (mood disorders, psychotic disorders, generalized anxiety, substance use disorders, and trauma-related disorders) and even some medical conditions. The main difference between a panic disorder and anxiety attack is that panic attack symptoms generally come on suddenly, with no warning, while anxiety attacks are stress-induced episodes with physical sensations that build up gradually. These are generally less intense than panic attacks.

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Defining a Panic Attack vs. an Anxiety Attack

Panic attacks are defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” They have strong physical sensations that can make a person feel like they are dying, losing control, or having a heart attack. It can be very frightening to experience a panic attack.

Panic attack coping strategies are provided for acute relief from symptoms, like splashing cold water on the face or breathing exercises to decrease the heart rate, followed by longer-term treatments for mental health differences.

Anxiety attacks are emotional responses and/or stress-induced episodes that, according to clinical definitions, are more likely to be caused by external stressors, building up over time until the level of anxiety is too high, causing psychological impacts that affect the person’s quality of life.

Anxiety attack management tips include stress management, self-care, healthy living practices, and therapy to understand oneself better and work on underlying issues and generalized anxiety causing these attacks.

Key Differences: Symptoms, Duration, and Intensity

Panic attack symptoms are brief and intense, with a strong sense of danger or impending doom, fear, numbness, headache, cramping, chest pain, nausea, shaking, rapid heart rate, trembling, fast breathing, dizziness, and a sense of unreality or detachment.

Anxiety attacks last much longer but are less intense than panic attacks. They can feel like generalized anxiety that persists and grows stronger over hours, days, or weeks, leading to psychological impacts that affect a person’s day-to-day life. Typical anxiety attack triggers include stressful future events or worry about a person or situation.

Symptoms include being unable to relax, tense, nervous, tearful, jumpy, and unable to sleep, with persistent worry. You may feel overly vigilant, irritable, and fatigued, with strong emotional responses and physical sensations like high blood pressure and strong emotional responses.

The Overlapping Features: What They Share

Although anxiety and panic have unique clinical definitions, they have much in common and are often related. Both anxiety and panic attack symptoms include uncomfortable or frightening physical sensations and feelings of unease, fear, or distress.

People who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks can benefit from behavioral therapy and other therapeutic interventions, gaining a psychological understanding of their condition while learning to calm strong emotional responses to stress or panic.

Panic and anxiety attack coping strategies like breathing techniques, mindfulness, and thought exercises can bring short-term relief during acute episodes, helping a person slow down, remember that they are safe, and regain control over their breathing and heart rate.

How Can We Help?

Providing a Compassionate and Safe Environment for Healing.

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: What Might Set Them Off

Common causes of panic attacks include long periods of stress, activities that cause you to breathe heavily, an increase in heart rate, and an emotional trigger, and they can also happen for no apparent reason.

Anxiety attack triggers often include work stress, ongoing financial worries, a death in the family, a substance use disorder, past experiences, or living with an untreated mental health disorder. People with mental health conditions like generalized anxiety or who have been through a traumatic incident are more likely to develop these types of stress-induced episodes.

While breathing and other panic attack coping strategies or sedative medications may bring short-term relief, seeking behavioral therapy or other therapeutic interventions is important to get to the root of the issues causing these attacks.

Mental health differences

Coping Mechanisms and Treatment Options

Anxiety and panic disorder treatment includes medication options, therapeutic treatments, and support groups. Gaining a deeper psychological understanding of these acute episodes or longer-lasting attacks through therapeutic interventions like behavioral therapy can help.  

Some anxiety and panic attack management tips include eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking care of small problems early so they don’t live rent-free in your head. You can also try holistic methods alongside medications and therapy, like healthy living, breathing techniques, or mindfulness and meditation practices, which can bring short-term relief during acute episodes, helping you regain control when things spiral. 

Importance of Proper Diagnosis for Panic Attack and Anxiety Attacks

It can be tempting to “do your own research” regarding health issues, but getting a proper diagnosis is imperative when it comes to anxiety and panic disorder treatment because these mental health differences are treated and managed in different ways. Your doctor will likely also want to screen you for other health issues, as certain breathing, brain, or heart conditions can result in feelings of anxiety, panic, or dread.

You may be prescribed behavioral therapy or given different medication options, and your doctor may also recommend you attend support groups, try breathing techniques, or partake in other therapeutic interventions, but the only way to know for certain what is going on and the proper treatments, are to speak to a professional about your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions About Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

Are panic attacks more severe than anxiety attacks?

Panic attack symptoms can feature more intense physical sensations and emotional responses than stress-induced episodes of anxiety attacks, but the social and psychological impacts of both can be huge.

Can someone experience both types of attacks?

Yes, it is possible to experience panic attacks even if you already have high stress and emotional responses to anxiety attack triggers.

How can I support someone going through an attack?

To provide short-term relief to somebody experiencing anxiety or panic attack symptoms, you can run them through some simple panic attack coping strategies like mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, or having them splash their face with cold water while helping them focus and staying with them in a calm, quiet place, and asking what they need. Reassure them they are safe and that these acute episodes tend to pass quickly.

Are there long-term treatments available?

Yes, if you have been having panic or anxiety symptoms for longer than a few weeks, it could be time to get an official diagnosis from a doctor. Although they can help in the moment, breathing techniques other simple panic attack management tips, and anxiety attack coping strategies are not a solution to what could be a more serious issue.

Once diagnosed, you will be offered medication options, therapy, and behavioral therapy for long-term anxiety and/or panic disorder treatment that will help you get to the underlying roots of the issue while teaching better-coping strategies, new ways of thinking, and putting you in contact with helpful support groups. Over time, with effective, science-based care, you will see your symptoms diminishing to the point where they no longer affect your life.

How Can We Help?

Providing a Compassionate and Safe Environment for Healing.