What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack?

There are some parallels between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. But anxiety is typically caused by certain stressors and may rise gradually. On the other hand, panic attacks might occur unexpectedly and quickly.

You could hear individuals speak about panic attacks and anxiety attacks like they’re the same thing. But they’re different conditions.

Read on to find out more about the differences between panic attacks and anxiety.

What is an anxiety attack?

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases, 5th edition” (DSM-5) does not list anxiety attacks, but it does define anxiety as a component of a number of common mental disorders.

This includes the following conditions:

This includes the following conditions:

  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • separation anxiety disorder
  • agoraphobia without history of panic disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • specific phobia

Anxiety is usually relatedTrusted Source to the expectation of an unpleasant scenario, experience, or event. It may come on gradually.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • worry
  • distress
  • fear

The lack of medical recognition of anxiety episodes means that the signs and symptoms are open to interpretation.

That instance, a person may claim having a “anxiety attack” and have symptoms that another person has never had yet suggesting that they, too, have had a “anxiety attack.”

What is a panic attack?

Panic attacks come on unexpectedly and include strong and frequently overpowering terror. They’re accompaniedTrusted Source by highly challenging bodily symptoms, such a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or nausea.

DSM-5 identifies panic attacks and categorises them as unexpected or expected.

Unexpected panic episodes occur without a clear cause. Expected panic attacks are cued by external stresses, like phobias.

Panic attacks can happen to everyone, but having more than one may be a sign of panic disorder, a mental health disease defined by abrupt and recurring panic attacks.

Symptoms of panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Panic and anxiety attacks may feel similar, and they share a lot of mental and physical symptoms.

You can have both an anxiety and a panic attack at the same moment.

For instance, you might have anxiety while worrying about a potentially unpleasant scenario, like an important presentation at work. When the situation approaches, anxiousness may climax in a panic attack.

  • anxiety can build gradually, panic attacks usually come on abruptly.
  • Effect: Panic attacks typically trigger worries or fears related to having another attack. This may have an effect on your behavior, leading you to avoid places or situations where you think you might be at risk of a panic attack.

Causes of panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Unexpected panic episodes have no evident external triggers. Expected panic episodes and anxiety might be induced by similar causes. Some common triggers include:

  • a stressful job
  • driving
  • social situations
  • phobias, like agoraphobia (fear of crowded or open spaces), claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), and acrophobia (fear of heights)
  • reminders or memories of traumatic experiences
  • chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or asthma
  • chronic pain
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • caffeine
  • medication and supplements
  • thyroid problems

Risk factors for panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Anxiety and panic attacks have similar risk factors. These include Trusted Source:

  • experiencing trauma or witnessing traumatic events, either as a child or as an adult
  • experiencing a stressful life event, like the death of a loved one or a divorce
  • experiencing ongoing stress and worries, like work responsibilities, conflict in your family, or financial woes
  • living with a chronic health condition or life threatening illness
  • having an anxious personality
  • having another mental health condition like depression
  • having close family members who also have anxiety or panic disorders
  • using drugs or consuming alcohol

People who feel anxiety are at a greater risk of experiencing panic attacks. But feeling anxiety does not mean you will experience a panic attack.

Diagnosing panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Diagnosing panic attack vs. anxiety attack

  • anxiety symptoms
  • anxiety disorders
  • panic attacks
  • panic disorders

A doctor will interview you about your symptoms and do tests to rule out other health disorders with comparable symptoms, like heart disease or thyroid problems.

To get a diagnosis, a doctor may conduct:

  • a physical exam
  • blood tests
  • a heart test, like an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • a psychological evaluation or questionnaire

Treatment and medication for panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Speak with a doctor about various therapies for anxiety and panic attacks. Here are some treatments they may discuss with you.

Counseling and psychotherapy

Talking therapy for anxiety and panic disorders can involveTrusted Source the following, typically in combination.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can help you see things that worry you in a new way. A counselor can help you develop strategies for managing triggers when they arise.
  • Cognitive therapy: This can help you pinpoint, reframe, and neutralize the unhelpful thoughts that often underlie an anxiety disorder.
  • Exposure therapy: This form of therapy involves controlled exposure to situations that trigger fear and anxiety, which can help you learn to confront those fears in a new way.
  • Relaxation techniques: These includeTrusted Source breathing exercises, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training. A doctor can talk you through some of these.

A doctor may prescribe attending individual sessions, group sessions, or a combination of the two.


Examples of drugs your doctor may prescribeTrusted Source are:

  • Antidepressants: These medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
  • Beta-blockers: These medications can help manage certain physical symptoms, like a rapid heart rate.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: This includes benzodiazepines, a sedative medication that can suppress symptoms quickly.

All these medicines can have harmful consequences. SSRIs and SNRIs are for long-term usage, and it can take time to feel the effects. Benzodiazepines are for short-term usage only, as there is a substantial danger of dependence.

Oftentimes, a doctor will recommend a mix of treatments. They may also need to adjust your treatment approach over time.

Home remedies for panic attack vs. anxiety attack

You should consult with a doctor or mental health expert to find out what you can do to both avoid and treat anxiety- and panic-related symptoms. Having a treatment plan and sticking to it when an attack arises might help you feel like you’re in charge.

If you feel an anxiety or panic attack coming on, try the following:

  • Take slow deep breaths: When you feel your breath quickening, focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. Feel your stomach fill with air as you inhale. Count down from four as you exhale. Repeat until your breathing slows.
  • Recognize and accept what you’re experiencing: If you’ve already experienced an anxiety or panic attack, you know that it can be incredibly challenging. Remind yourself that the symptoms will pass and you’ll be alright.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness-based interventions are increasingly usedTrusted Source to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Mindfulness is a technique that can help you ground your thoughts in the present. You can practice mindfulness by actively observing thoughts and sensations without reacting to them.
  • Use relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques include guided imagery, aromatherapy, and muscle relaxation. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack, try doing things that you find relaxing. Close your eyes, take a bath, or use lavender, which has relaxing effects.

Lifestyle changes

The following lifestyle changes can help you prevent anxiety and panic attacks, as well as lower the severity of symptoms when an attack occurs:

  • Reduce and manage sources of stress in your life.
  • Learn how to identify and stop negative thoughts.
  • Get regular, moderate exercise.
  • Practice meditation or yoga.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Join a support group for people with anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine as well as the use of drugs.

The takeaway

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are not the same. Though both phrases are often used interchangeably, only panic attacks are identified in the DSM-5.

Anxiety and panic attacks have comparable symptoms, causes, and risk factors. But panic attacks tend to be more acute and are typically followed by more severe physical symptoms.

You should see a healthcare expert if anxiety- or panic-related symptoms are disrupting your everyday life.

Also Read ABout 10 Ways to Naturally Reduce Anxiety