Panic Attacks Vs. Anxiety Attacks: Know the Difference

Updated on March 15, 2019
Elizandra Nara profile image

Eliza is a young writer who suffers from several mental disabilities and strives to inform others of the reality of having these disorders.

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

Anxiety attacks generally result from a trigger or specific event, whereas a panic attack can occur unpredictably with no identifiable cause. Symptoms of a panic attack are usually more severe than those of an anxiety attack.

Symptoms of both kinds of attacks can appear very similar, but there are differences between the two. Below is a table comparing the symptoms people (including myself) have reported experiencing during a panic and/or anxiety attack.

Did You Know?

People who experience anxiety attacks are at a higher risk of having a panic attack.

Comparing the Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Symptom
Anxiety Attack
Panic Attack
Excessive worrying
 
Restlessness
 
Distress
 
Tightness of the chest
Hot flashes
Fear
Fear of dying
 
Derealization or Depersonalize
 
Heart palpitations
Shortness of breath
Feeling of choking
Numbness
Trembling
Nausea or stomach pain
Dizzy/feeling faint
Headache
Sweating
Dry Mouth
Chills
Even though a panic attack is more debilitating than an anxiety attack, both can be extremely tiring to the body and mind—especially when people try to hide how hard they are fighting.
Even though a panic attack is more debilitating than an anxiety attack, both can be extremely tiring to the body and mind—especially when people try to hide how hard they are fighting. | Source

More on the Differences

  • Anxiety attacks are not a diagnosable condition, but panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders are.
  • Anxiety can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.
  • Anxiety attacks can range from barely noticeable (i.e., just a lingering feeling in the back of the mind) to quite severe, and symptoms usually come on gradually.
  • Panic attacks usually come on quite suddenly, and symptoms are almost always severe.
  • Panic attacks also bring more of the physical symptoms, while anxiety attacks mostly revolve around mental symptoms.

I am not saying that anxiety attacks aren't bad, they are, but there is a difference between the severity of the two.

Wow! That Really Can Happen!

Panic attacks can happen during sleep and can startle you awake, causing you to lose sleep and feel anxious throughout the day.

If you are struggling there are people out there to help you. Don't fight this alone!
If you are struggling there are people out there to help you. Don't fight this alone! | Source

What It's Like Living With Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Ever since I was a child, I have been very sensitive. I was homeschooled until third grade because at school, I would cry until I vomited. Eventually, my mom and dad couldn't teach me anymore and had a sit-down with me to persuade me to go to school. I was the quiet type—the friend that kids would ditch when a more popular person came along. I was always picked last and often forgotten due to my shy nature. Even with that, I had good grades, but I was always fatigued, and it got worse with age.

In high school, I joined color-guard and had fun. But in junior year, it became too much. I passed out at a football game from hyperventilating because of a panic attack. My heart rate was over 200bpm. I went home and had a lot to think about. I ended up quitting color-guard, even though I had enjoyed it in the beginning.

My life became very boring. I couldn't find entertainment in anything and became depressed. I had anxiety attacks and panic attacks throughout my schooling, but didn't know what they were. The panic attacks became more severe and frequent in high school until I was having at least three a day.

Senior year, I broke and went home-bound. I had a teacher bring my schoolwork to my house to teach me. I managed to graduate a semester early.

Now, my anxiety attacks still happen every now and then when I am left with nothing to do, and it comes with tightness in my chest and a very bad feeling. I don't have panic attacks as often since I got rid of the stress of school.

I attended college but had to drop out of college to manage my mental health. I have only had two jobs. Both lasted less than a year until I had to quit. I have a good relationship with both previous bosses as I was good at my jobs.

Exercising and having a healthy diet will greatly reduce attacks.
Exercising and having a healthy diet will greatly reduce attacks. | Source

Ways to Reduce Attacks

There are many things a person can do themselves to help reduce attacks, whether it be anxiety or panic. Here are a few ways:

  • Breathing exercises such as meditation
  • Knowing your trigger (just knowing what causes these attacks can be a huge weight of your shoulders)
  • Accepting that you have attacks, and knowing no matter how bad it seems at the time you will get through it
  • Relaxing techniques such as yoga, aromatherapy (lavender can be very soothing), taking a bath, etc.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet (surprisingly it can extremely reduce the chance of attacks if you keep your body healthy with diet and exercise)
  • Identify any negative thoughts and get rid of them (this can be hard if you have formed a habit of having negative thoughts)
  • Join a support group or get counseling
  • Reduce or completely eliminate the use of drugs, alcohol, and caffeine
  • Reduce any stressors/triggers you can

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see, anxiety and panic attacks can really impact someone's life. I am on my path of recovery and am receiving counseling. I also have a service dog in training. When I have a handle on my panic disorder, I plan on returning to school.

I hope my story will help someone out there. Just know that there is hope. I have made leaps and bounds in recovery, and I can now participate in social situations. I rarely have panic attacks anymore.

That being said, please keep in mind that symptoms and severity will be different for everyone. It is important to know your limits, but it is also important to try to push those limits every now and then—and only when you're ready.

If you know someone with a panic or anxiety disorder, please support them.

Thank you for reading!

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

© 2019 Elizandra Nara

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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 weeks ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have general anxiety disorder, and have had panic attacks in the past that have landed me in the emergency room. Since I have been involved with mental health treatment however, I have learned to recognize my triggers and manage my life in such a way that they are minimized. I see a counselor regularly and have found that writing about anxiety has been very helpful to me. I can go back and read what I have written, and as I read about other's experiences, I learn new techniques that are helpful.

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