Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

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

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are two distinct yet often confused psychological experiences. While both can be distressing, understanding their differences is crucial for effective management and support. In this blog, we’ll explore the key characteristics of panic attacks and anxiety attacks, shedding light on how they differ and how to cope with each. 

Understanding Panic Attacks:  

Panic attacks are intense and sudden episodes of overwhelming fear or terror. These attacks typically peak within minutes and may subside just as rapidly. Some common features of panic attacks include: 

Physical Symptoms: 

  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain or discomfort 
  • Sweating 
  • Trembling or shaking 
  • Nausea or stomach discomfort 
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Numbness or tingling sensations 

Psychological Symptoms: 

  • Fear of losing control 
  • Fear of dying 
  • Feeling detached from reality 
  • An overwhelming sense of doom 


  • Panic attacks can often occur seemingly out of the blue, without an obvious trigger. However, some people may have specific triggers, such as phobias or traumatic experiences. 

The Characteristics of Anxiety Attacks: 

Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are characterized by a more prolonged and general sense of unease and fear. They often develop gradually and can last for hours or even days. Key features of anxiety attacks include: 

Physical Symptoms: 

  • Muscle tension 
  • Restlessness 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headaches 
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Increased heart rate (though not as dramatic as in panic attacks) 

Psychological Symptoms: 

  • Persistent worry or fear 
  • Irritability 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Feeling on edge or keyed up 
  • Excessive concern about everyday issues 


  • Anxiety attacks are typically associated with specific stressors or life events, such as work-related stress, relationship issues, or financial worries. 
Aspect  Panic Attack  Anxiety Attack 
Intensity  Sudden and intense, peaks rapidly  Gradual onset, more prolonged 
Physical Symptoms  Rapid heartbeat, chest pain, etc.  Muscle tension, fatigue, etc. 
Psychological Symptoms  Fear of losing control, detached  Persistent worry, irritability 
Triggers  May occur without apparent trigger  Often linked to specific stressors 
Duration  Typically brief (minutes)  Can last for hours or even days 
Context  Can be triggered by internal factors  Often related to external stress 
Coping Strategies  Breathing exercises, grounding, meds  Stress management, CBT, lifestyle 
Professional Help  Medication or therapy if severe  Therapy or medication as needed 

Onset and Duration:  

One of the key distinctions between panic and anxiety attacks is their onset and duration: 

  • Panic attacks: Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and intensely, with a rapid onset of symptoms. They reach their peak within minutes but may subside relatively quickly as well. 
  • Anxiety attacks: Anxiety attacks are characterized by a gradual onset and a more extended duration. The feelings of anxiety and distress persist over a longer period and may fluctuate in intensity. 

Triggers and Context: 

Panic and anxiety attacks also differ in terms of their triggers and the context in which they occur: 

  • Panic attacks often seem to arise out of nowhere and can be triggered by internal factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. However, they can also be triggered by external stressors or phobias. 
  • Anxiety attacks are typically triggered by specific stressors or life circumstances. These attacks are often a response to ongoing, situational stress or persistent worries. 

Coping Strategies:  

Both panic and anxiety attacks can be challenging to manage, but effective coping strategies can make a significant difference: 

Coping with Panic Attacks: 

  • Breathing exercises: Slow, deep breathing can help reduce the intensity of panic attack symptoms. 
  • Grounding techniques: Focusing on your surroundings and senses can help reorient your mind during a panic attack. 
  • Medication: In severe cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe medication to manage panic attacks. 

Coping with Anxiety Attacks: 

  • Stress management: Techniques like meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce overall anxiety. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can be effective in identifying and changing negative thought patterns associated with anxiety. 
  • Lifestyle changes: Incorporating regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can help reduce overall anxiety levels. 

Seeking Professional Help: 

Both panic and anxiety attacks can benefit from professional guidance and treatment: 

  • If you experience frequent or severe panic attacks, it’s advisable to consult a mental health professional who can offer therapy and medication options. 
  • For persistent anxiety attacks, therapy such as CBT or medication may be recommended to address the underlying causes and provide coping strategies. 


In summary, panic attacks and anxiety attacks share similarities in terms of physical and psychological distress, but they differ in terms of onset, duration, triggers, and context. Understanding these differences is essential for developing effective coping strategies and seeking appropriate professional help when needed. Whether you’re dealing with panic attacks or anxiety attacks, remember that you are not alone, and help is available to support you in managing these challenges. 


Dr Hafsa Ilyas

Onco-Radiologist & Medical Research Writer

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