The Difference Between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack

Anxiety Attacks versus Panic AttacksOften used interchangeably, the terms Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack are used to describe intense emotional and physiological distress. Is there a difference? Yes, let’s learn!

Differences between Emotional and Physiological Distress: 

First, let’s discuss how they are similar. Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can result in some of the same symptoms. For example, many people describe a racing heart, burst of adrenaline, shortness of breath, and sweating when experiencing either of these states. Both anxiety and panic escalate our mental processes as well. They can be associated with racing thoughts, feelings of impending doom, and worst-case scenarios. This overlap can make it hard to separate the two.

Difference Between Anxiety Attack And A Panic Attack 

Now, where do they differ? Through careful examination, we have found that anxiety attacks are the result of a steady buildup of stressors. Panic attacks are often abrupt and extreme. Typically, anxiety attacks are easier to track when looking back. For example, let’s say on Monday you had a flat tire and were late to work, Tuesday you received a large assignment, Wednesday the strap to your grocery bag broke and half of your groceries spilled all over the parking lot, Thursday your dog threw up on the brand new carpet, and Friday when you locked yourself out of the house you had an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Panic attacks, on the other hand, are a result of a trigger. Sometimes this may be a known trigger such as a phobia of spiders or fear of heights and other times it may not be clear at first and could be a result of past trauma. During a panic attack, your body’s fight-or-flight system is activated. Afterward, your functioning can be very inhibited which impacts your ability to show up in your life. Another key factor associated with panic attacks is that after you have one, there is a fear of this occurring again.

The main difference between these two states is time. Anxiety attacks build up or intensify over time while panic attacks usually occur rapidly or out of the blue. Anxiety attacks are milder than panic attacks but may last longer, while panic attacks are shorter (typically under an hour) but more intense on the body.

Know The Difference

Knowing the difference can help identify what will be helpful in treatment, de-escalation, and overall care after either of these states. When it comes to anxiety attacks, this knowledge can also clue you in on what to do proactively to avoid getting to that state in the first place. Panic attacks may be more difficult to manage on your own and could require help from a professional.


About Jasmine Payne: 

Jasmine is a Resident in Counseling and provides services at the Fredericksburg location. She is a two-time graduate of Longwood University, receiving her B.S. in Psychology along with an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

Throughout her graduate studies, Jasmine worked with teens and adults who belonged to various minority and multicultural populations. She also has familiarity with a wide spectrum of mental health concerns including anxiety/depression, grief, moodiness, self-improvement, motivation, relationship issues, and many more. To learn more about Jasmine, visit HERE

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