Difference Between Anxiety Attack and Panic Attack


In today’s society people seem to interchange the terms “Panic Attack” and “Anxiety Attack”. The two are very similar but there are a few differences.

Panic Attack

A panic attack comes on intensely and quickly. Often it takes ten minutes or less to go from “normal” to “panicked” while having an attack. Often as soon as one attack ends another begins. So, even though they are short by nature, but a panic attack may go on for quite some time. Here are some of the symptoms associated with panic attacks. If you experience four or more of these, it is clinically considered a panic attack.

  • Sweating
  • Fast beating heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy or unstable
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Feeling of “going crazy”
  • Fear
  • Fear of death
  • Chest pains

A panic attack comes on. It is not something you feel all the time. It hits you at certain times and you feel like you have lost control or are disassociate with yourself.

Anxiety Attack

Anxiety comes on slower over a period of time. It is often classified with worry and stress. Someone who is expecting something bad to happen and cannot shake the feeling of doom has anxiety. Some of the symptoms are the same but the root of the problem is different. Here are some of the symptoms associated with anxiety:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating and being forgetful
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Fast heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Easily startled
  • Tired
  • Irritable
  • Restless
  • Feels depressed
  • Feels hopeless

Both conditions feel similar but panic comes on quickly and when it leaves it is gone until the next one. Anxiety is something closer to depression. It is something that comes on slowly and leaves slowly and affects everything about you for an extended period of time. The lack of sleep associated with anxiety makes us even or anxious. The illness feeds off of itself.

Telling the Difference

Here is an easy way to tell if your attacks are panic attacks or anxiety attacks.

An anxiety attack come on over something happening in your life. You are worried about family, school, work, or health. A panic attack comes on as something happening in your body. You think you are having a heart attack, stroke, passing out, or dizzy.

Example: A kid getting bullied at school is anxious. He can’t stop worrying about it. He thinks about it every time he wakes up. His grades slip because he is so worried about the bell ringing. He is anxious.

A kid who is fine then turns the corner and comes face to face with his bully is panicked. He feels weak. He wants to scream and run at the same time. He thinks he may throw-up or pass out. He is sure his world just ended and he can’t catch his breath. He is having a panic attack.


These conditions are treatable. It is believed they stem from the same problem, which is a serotonin level in the brain as well as Norepinephrine which affects sleep. Though a panic attack is not depression, anti-depressants may be prescribed to help control it. Anti-depressants adjust serotonin levels in the brain and are effective on both conditions. Therapy is also recommended. The human mind is a powerful thing and once it understands the issue, it will often find a way to adjust for it. Because panic attacks come on quickly, fast acting anxiety medications may be given to calm the patient. Xanax and Valium are two examples of these types of meds.

The same is true for anxiety, however since anxiety sometimes holds on past the time to go, a doctor may adjust the anti-depressants rather than use the anxiety medications. Anti-anxiety medications such and Xanax and valium are used sparingly as they are highly addictive. Getting off of an anti-anxiety drug is a slow and not an easy process. The human body adjusts to the drugs quickly and requires more and more of it. Stopping these medications quickly can cause seizures and in some cases death. Withdrawal is horrific for either. One has to be tapered off slowing and will feel some discomfort for a long time. For this reason, a doctor may only allow a patient to take them for about two weeks. Anti-depressants work slower but they work steadily and will alleviate the panic and anxiety attacks long term. It may take some time to find the right medication and dosage, but over a little time the patient returns to their normal personality.

The Bonus

No matter what attack you are experiencing, or what type of medication you are using, they have a common factor. The common factor in help is exercise! Exercise releases hormones that make you feel good. It loosens tight muscles, eases shortness of breath and refreshes the mind and body. Exercise helps regulate brain chemicals naturally. Exercise gives you energy and helps you sleep better at night. As a natural and affective solution to your attacks:

  • Exercise
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Rest
  • Eat well
  • Expose yourself to sunlight

If you incorporate these tips, therapy and the medications to your life these attacks will soon be a thing of your past. The key to success on panic and anxiety attack prevention is early intervention. As soon as these things surface, consult a doctor. Nothing is as bad as the fear you have. Address it and get treatment. There is no shame. These are normal physical problems and a doctor can help. The longer you wait the worse they get.