Do You Know the Difference Between Panic and Anxiety

Sudden, powerful experiences of fear that result in bodily symptoms like sweat, rapid breathing, and a racing heart are known as panic attacks. Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that some people who have panic episodes acquire. Panic disorders and attacks can be treated with medication and therapy.

Difference Between Panic and Anxiety

While often used interchangeably, panic and anxiety are distinct experiences. Understanding the difference is crucial for navigating these emotional states and seeking appropriate support.

Anxiety is a general feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness. It’s a normal human response to stress and can be triggered by various factors, like upcoming deadlines, social situations, or financial concerns. Anxiety symptoms typically build gradually and can include:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping

Panic attacks, on the other hand, are sudden and intense episodes of overwhelming fear or discomfort. They peak within minutes and usually subside within 30 minutes. Unlike anxiety, panic attacks often occur unexpectedly, without a clear trigger. The hallmark symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Intense feelings of fear or dread
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or chest tightness
  • Palpitations or pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or discomfort in the stomach
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling detached from reality (derealization) or from oneself (depersonalization)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

It’s important to remember that occasional panic attacks can happen to anyone. However, if you experience recurrent panic attacks, accompanied by intense fear of future attacks, you might have panic disorder. This condition requires professional diagnosis and treatment.

Seeking help is crucial if panic attacks or anxiety significantly impact your daily life. A mental health professional can help you understand your experiences, develop coping mechanisms, and explore treatment options, such as therapy or medication.

Remember: You don’t have to navigate these challenges alone. By recognizing the distinction between panic and anxiety and seeking support, you can manage these experiences and improve your overall well-being.

Symptoms of panic attack

Physical symptoms are particular to panic attacks. One could go through any of the following when having a panic attack:

  • beating heart
  • The sweat
  • uneasy or nervous
  • Breathlessness
  • chest ache
  • nausea or discomfort in the stomach
  • lightheadedness

According to Dr. Kushnick, other symptoms of a person going through a panic attack can include depersonalization—a feeling of viewing oneself from outside of one’s body or mind—and derealization—a sense of disassociation from the world surrounding oneself.
According to Dr Koch, someone undergoing a panic attack may feel an approaching sense of dread or anxiety that they may die. “When you’ve never had one and you’re not aware that you are experiencing panic,” she says, “they [panic attacks] can feel terrifying.”

Symptoms of Anxiety Attack

Dr. Kushnick points out that, in contrast to panic attacks, anxiety attacks do not cause derealization, depersonalization, or a sense of impending death. Also, because anxiety attacks are often induced by a buildup of tension, it is conceivable that someone will have difficulty sleeping. Anxiety can cause despair, rage, or impatience.
Physical symptoms are not always the only indication when an anxiety episode occurs. By Drs. Koch and Kushnick, anxiety attack symptoms consist of:

  • feelings of extreme worry or unease
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • Sad, furious, or agitated
  • bodily signs such as pressure in the chest, heart pounding, or stomachaches

Panic vs Anxiety

DefinitionSudden, intense episodes of fear or terrorPersistent and excessive worry or unease
OnsetAbrupt and often unpredictableGradual and may develop over time
DurationShort-lived (minutes)Chronic or long-lasting (weeks to months)
IntensityAn immediate and overwhelming fearGenerally less intense but more sustained
Physical SymptomsRapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shakingMuscle tension, fatigue, restlessness
Cognitive FocusImmediate and overwhelming fearFuture-oriented worry and apprehension
TriggersOften linked to a specific situation or phobiaCan be triggered by various stressors
Response to ThreatFight or flight response activatedHypervigilance, avoidance, or overthinking
ImpairmentPeaks quickly with high-intensityCan impact daily life and functioning over the long term
TreatmentShort-term interventions and therapy may be needed for recurring episodesTherapy (counseling, CBT), medication, lifestyle changes

How do panic attacks and anxiety attacks differ from one another?

Although there are some similarities between panic and anxiety episodes, there are also important distinctions between the two that should be considered when treating them.
The absence of a trigger is the key characteristic of a panic attack. Although an estimated 11% of Americans suffer from panic attacks annually, only 2-3% are officially diagnosed with panic disorder.

Symptoms of panic disorder include:

  • commence abruptly and reach its peak in a few minutes
  • severe physical symptoms that resemble a heart attack or a potentially deadly circumstance
  • Fear of dying or losing one’s mind
  • usually takes between a few minutes and an hour, which is less time than anxiety episodes.
  • can occur in the absence of a clear cause or trigger.

The following conditions or traumatic events are commonly associated with anxiety attacks:

  • Develop gradually with time
  • Make others feel worried restless, or tense in general
  • Compared to panic episodes, physical symptoms might not be as severe.
  • brought about by particular circumstances or occurrences
  • may continue for a few days, weeks, or months.

What causes panic attacks?

Scholars are unsure of the precise cause of panic episodes and panic disorder in some individuals. How you perceive and manage fear and anxiety is largely determined by your nervous system and brain. Researchers believe that dysfunction of your amygdala — the area of your brain that processes fear and other emotions — may be at the root of these diseases. Additionally, they believe that chemical abnormalities involving serotonin, cortisol, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) may be significant.

You are more likely to get panic disorder if you have:

  • A family history: Panic disorder and other anxiety disorders are frequently inherited. If you have biological siblings, parents, or other first-degree relatives who also have panic disorder, your chances of getting the disorder are increased by 40%.
  • Mental illnesses: Anxiety disorders, sadness, and other mental illnesses increase the risk of panic attacks in their sufferers.
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): ACEs are unfavorable experiences between the ages of one and seventeen. Most of the time, these encounters include trauma. Panic disorder and panic attacks may occur as a result of ACEs.


Anxiety is a common stress reaction and is characterized by feelings of concern, fear, or uneasiness about a certain circumstance or event. Individuals may experience nausea, agitation, or a churning sensation in their stomach. An anxiety attack could seem like an unexpected, non-threatening fit of terror.
An increased sense of dread, worry, or discomfort is known as a panic attack. Individuals could experience a sense of helplessness or fear for their lives. Another way that panic attacks might seem similar to unexpected terror in the absence of danger
Panic disorder may be indicated by recurrent panic episodes.
Thus, If anxiety is interfering with daily living, or if people experience signs of panic disorder, they can consult a healthcare expert to discuss coping strategies or treatment choices.

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