Anxiety vs. Panic Attack: Is There Any Difference?

Anxiety vs Panic Attack

The terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are frequently used interchangeably. However, they differ in nature, intensity, and their respective triggering factors. 

An episode of intense fear or discomfort that is accompanied by other physical and mental symptoms is the hallmark of a panic attack, which typically peaks within minutes or hours.

On the other hand, anxiety is a natural protective and emotional response that is hardwired into the human body. When it persists for a long time, is severe, and interferes with daily life, it is referred to as an anxiety disorder. Although severe anxiety symptoms can mimic an attack, the term “anxiety attack” is not a recognised medical term. 

In this article, we will talk about the similarities and differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, as well as their definitions, triggers, signs, and remedies.

What is an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety is often a feature of a number of common psychiatric disorders. It differs from a panic attack in that it exhibits symptoms like apprehension and worry but not the intense fear and detached feelings that characterise a panic attack. 

Anxiety is frequently associated with the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience, or event. It can appear gradually and cause symptoms such as anxiety, distress, and fear.

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks may come on suddenly or be anticipated. They may strike out of nowhere and involve strong, often overwhelming fear. They are accompanied by physically demanding symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath, and a racing heartbeat. 

While expected panic attacks are frequently brought on by outside stressors like phobias, sudden and unexpected panic attacks may happen without a clear cause, and having multiple panic attacks may indicate a panic disorder.

What are the causes and risk factors?

People who suffer from anxiety are more likely to suffer from panic attacks. But having anxiety does not indicate that you will have a panic attack.

Some of the common triggers of anxiety and panic attacks include:

  • Certain phobias, such as claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), agoraphobia (fear of crowded or open spaces), social phobia (extreme worry about social situations), acrophobia (fear of heights), and hemophobia (fear of blood or injury), among others
  • Thoughts of traumatic events
  • Stress associated with work
  • Fear of driving
  • Certain social situations
  • Chronic pain
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Alcohol or drug withdrawal
  • Certain medications and supplements

Anxiety and panic attacks have similar risk factors, which include:

  • Having close family members who suffer from anxiety or panic disorders
  • Having an additional mental health disorder, such as depression
  • Being affected by a stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one or a divorce
  • Experiencing persistent stress and worries, such as obligations at work, disagreements in your family, or financial difficulties
  • Living with a life-threatening illness or chronic health condition
  • As a child or an adult, you may have experienced or witnessed trauma
  • Consuming drugs or alcohol

Are you experiencing recurrent anxiety/panic attacks?

What are the symptoms?

Since they both share a number of emotional and physical symptoms, you can have both anxiety and a panic attack at the same time. 

It might be challenging to distinguish between anxiety and a panic attack. Therefore, to differentiate between the two, consider the following: 

  • Anxiety can vary in intensity and can be mild, moderate, or severe. Panic attacks, on the other hand, are characterised by severe, disruptive symptoms.
  • Physical symptoms are frequently more severe than anxiety symptoms during a panic attack. 
  • Anxiety is usually associated with something stressful or threatening. Panic attacks are most often unexpected and are not always triggered by stressful situations.
  • Panic attacks typically cause anxiety or fear of having another attack. This may influence your behaviour, causing you to avoid places or situations where you believe you might have a panic attack. 
  • While anxiety can build up over time, panic attacks usually happen all at once.
How are Anxiety and Panic Attacks Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis involves inquiring about the symptoms followed by tests to rule out 

other medical conditions such as heart disease, thyroid issues, or neurological problems. 

Sometimes it is also required to undergo a physical examination, blood tests, as well as a psychological examination to rule out other mental health disorders that could be causing the symptoms.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks Diagnosed and Treated

Counselling, psychotherapy, and medication may all be used in the course of treatment.

  • A therapist can assist in developing strategies for dealing with triggers when they arise.
  • A controlled exposure to situations that make you anxious or fearful during exposure therapy can teach you new coping mechanisms for dealing with these emotions.
  • Exercises for breathing, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, and autogenic training are all examples of relaxation techniques. 
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy can help you see things differently. It can help you identify, reframe, and eliminate the negative thoughts that frequently accompany anxiety disorders. 
  • Medications include antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety drugs.

Long-term use of medications may raise your risk of dependence and cause a variety of negative side effects. Therefore, follow up with your doctor on a regular basis because your treatment plan might need to be modified depending on your clinical condition.

Are there any effective home remedies?

The following home remedies may help you calm down when you feel an anxiety or panic attack coming on:

  • Controlled and focused breathing

When you experience heavy breathing and a tightness in your chest, concentrate on each inhale and exhale. As you practice it, start a countdown and keep going until your breathing returns to normal and you feel better.

  • Relaxation techniques 

Muscle relaxation, aromatherapy, and guided imagery are all examples of relaxation techniques. If you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, try doing something relaxing.

  • Mindfulness activities

Anxiety and panic disorders are increasingly being treated with mindfulness-based interventions. By actively observing your thoughts and sensations while remaining unresponsive, you can practice mindfulness and your ability to concentrate will be greatly improved.

  • Acceptance of the given situation

If you have ever had an anxiety or panic attack, you are aware of how difficult it can be. Remind yourself that you will be fine and that the symptoms will pass. 

Though the remedies listed above may provide temporary relief, it is always recommended to consult with a doctor or a mental health professional to learn what you can do to prevent and treat anxiety and panic-related symptoms. 

Feeling in control during an attack can be achieved by adhering to and following a treatment plan.

Can Lifestyle Changes Help to Prevent Anxiety and Panic attacks?

The severity of symptoms experienced during an anxiety or panic attack can be reduced by making the following lifestyle changes:

  • Reduce and control the sources of stress in your life
  • Regularly engage in a light workout
  • Practice yoga or meditation
  • Have a balanced and wholesome diet
  • Reduce the alcohol and caffeine intake, as well as the drug use
  • Learn to recognise and put a stop to negative thoughts
  • Join a group that offers support to those who experience anxiety or panic attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks have similar symptoms, causes, and risk factors. However, panic attacks frequently last longer and have more severe physical symptoms. Though the terms are frequently used interchangeably and share similar causative factors and symptoms, they are not the same. 

Despite the possibility that you might experience them, being able to distinguish between a panic attack and an anxiety attack will greatly aid in managing them. Staying informed and seeking help when needed can help you feel more at ease and experience fewer anxiety or panic attacks in the future. 

If you are facing symptoms of anxiety or panic that are interfering with your daily life, you should speak with a healthcare provider.


About Author –

Dr. Mayurnath Reddy, Consultant Psychiatrist,Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad

Best psychiatrist in hyderabad

Dr. Mayurnath Reddy

Consultant Psychiatrist

Select Department
Not Sure of the Specialty?

Choose your date & Slot

Change Date
Monday, OCTOBER 30
Enter Patient Details

Please Note: This session ends in 3:00 mins

Not Finding Your Preferred Slots?
Change Doctor
or Location
top hospital in hyderabad
Call Helpline
040 - 4567 4567