Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack: Symptoms and Management Tips

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Anxiety

Clinically Reviewed By Dr Dubey Shiva

Understanding the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is important for anyone suffering from these conditions. Even though they are similar, they are different in many ways, including their triggers, symptoms, and severity. Anxiety attacks often start slowly, coming from constant stress or worry, and are revealed by lasting feelings of unease and tension. Panic attacks happen suddenly and include intense fear, leaving you feeling helpless and terrified.

One of the major challenges in figuring out the difference between these two conditions is their similar symptoms. Knowing the differences is necessary for finding treatments that work. Research indicates that panic and anxiety attacks can significantly impact the quality of life; for example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that panic disorders affect about 2-3% of Americans annually,¹ highlighting why we should take this problem seriously.

Understanding these conditions’ unique characteristics is important to managing them. This article gives a detailed look at the symptoms, management strategies, and guidance on when to seek professional help. With the right information and support, sufferers can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety attacks generally include long-lasting symptoms like restlessness and difficulty concentrating, often from the anticipation of a future threat. Panic attacks are sudden and intense and include severe symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks differ in intensity and onset, with anxiety symptoms being less severe and building gradually and panic symptoms being more extreme and sudden.
  • Treatment options for both anxiety and panic attacks include medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, self-help techniques, and professional help should be looked into when these conditions disrupt daily life.

The Slow Build-Up of Anxiety or a Sudden Panic Attack?

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are mental health issues that affect individuals differently. Anxiety, unlike panic attacks, usually develops over time and is often the result of long-term stress or worry. They are noticeable because of: 

  • Constant tension is a constant feeling of tightness or pressure, both physical and emotional, that doesn’t easily go away.
  • Nervousness is being easily agitated or alarmed, leading to feelings of apprehension about what might happen.
  • Restlessness is an inability to be still or content and a strong urge to move or be active due to unease or boredom.

For example, a person might feel an anxiety attack when facing a stressful work deadline, experiencing muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating over several days.

Panic attacks occur suddenly and are shown by intense and overwhelming feelings of fear that can feel crippling. These attacks typically reach their peak within a few minutes. An example of a panic attack might be someone who, out of nowhere, feels an intense wave of fear while shopping at the grocery store, along with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and a fear of impending doom.

Both conditions are diagnosable. It is important for individuals who experience these symptoms to understand their nature for proper treatment. While anxiety attacks build slowly, panic attacks strike quickly and without warning. Knowing the differences between these two serious psychiatric disorders can help people seek the proper care and develop useful coping strategies.

Anxiety Attacks

People who have anxiety attacks often struggle with continuous, quiet symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, fatigue, and trouble focusing. They are usually triggered by fear of future events, such as public speaking, social gatherings, or everyday stress.

Anxiety attacks develop due to stress and challenging life situations, thriving in an environment where worry is dominant.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are sudden and severe mental health episodes that overwhelm an individual with extreme fear and physical symptoms that are so intense they can be mistaken for a heart attack. Recognized as a mental health condition, they require professional care and understanding.

Panic attacks can be a symptom of various anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or social anxiety disorder. They are unpredictable and can be alarming, leaving people defenseless against a surprise.

What are the Physical Symptoms?

The physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks may sometimes appear similar, but they are different. When comparing anxiety and panic attacks, it’s important to understand how they affect the body and the symptoms of each. 

Knowing these differences helps to manage them. For example, recognizing the gradual buildup of anxiety symptoms allows for early intervention strategies, such as breathing exercises or stepping away from a stressor. On the other hand, understanding that panic attacks can occur suddenly may prepare someone to use techniques for reducing their intensity at the moment, like grounding techniques or seeking immediate support.

Anxiety symptoms often develop slowly, with a racing heart and stomach discomfort as early signs. Panic attacks are different. Sudden and intense physical symptoms define them. These include sweating, trembling, and trouble breathing.

Both can cause your heart to race. The symptoms of a panic attack can include chest pain. They are much more abrupt and severe than the slowly developing symptoms of anxiety. This distinction is crucial for recognizing and addressing these conditions.

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

People with anxiety attacks may have many physical symptoms. These symptoms interfere with daily life. Common physical symptoms of those experiencing anxiety attacks include:

  • A feeling of nervousness, restlessness, or tension
  • Gastrointestinal issues and an upset stomach
  • Chest tightness
  • Racing heart
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches

These physical symptoms can mirror the physical stress of the condition, making the discomfort felt during an intense anxiety attack even worse.

Panic Attack Symptoms

The symptoms of a panic attack are much more intense compared to those of an anxiety attack. A panic attack can include:

  • A pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Chills
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Numb hands

These feelings can make you extremely scared, sometimes to the point where it feels like something very bad is about to happen.

What are the Emotional Responses and Triggers?

Anxiety and panic attacks trigger strong emotional responses. With anxiety experiencing panic attacks, the feeling grows slowly, starting from stress that doesn’t go away. This stress turns into worry that sticks around, making you feel anxious more often than not. It’s like carrying a heavy weight that makes daily tasks and interactions more difficult.

Panic attacks come on without warning. Suddenly, you’re hit with an intense fear that feels overwhelming. Even though there might not be a real reason to be scared at that moment, you can’t shake off the fear. It feels real and urgent, giving you the feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

  • For example, an anxiety attack might happen when someone has been worrying about their job for weeks. They might start feeling constantly on edge, with their worries making it hard to concentrate or relax, even at home.
  • In the case of a panic attack, imagine someone sitting quietly at home watching TV. Suddenly, their heart starts racing, they feel short of breath, and a wave of fear washes over them for no apparent reason, making them think they’re having a heart attack or something equally terrifying.

Recognizing these emotional responses is important for dealing with and overcoming the attacks.

Emotional Responses to Anxiety Attacks

The emotional experiences of someone having anxiety attacks are different for everyone. During an anxiety attack, a person might feel emotions such as:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Fear
  • Panic

These feelings can make it hard to focus and can cause sleep problems. The emotional toll leads to feeling emotionally drained or burnt out.

Emotional Responses to Panic Attacks

Panic attacks, unlike anxiety attacks, come on suddenly and are characterized by an intense fear that can be overwhelming. This fear can be so powerful that it can make a person feel helpless, affecting their sense of safety and stability. Understanding the difference between a panic attack and other mental health conditions and issues is important for getting the right help and knowing how to handle them.

How Can We Identify Anxiety and Panic Disorders?

Understanding anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and other serious mental disorders and health issues involves learning about the different signs and symptoms. Medical professionals diagnose these disorders using a patient’s medical history, thorough physical examinations, and psychological assessments. They consider the frequency, duration, and intensity of the symptoms.

Knowing the patterns in their symptoms is an important step toward management and recovery for people suffering from these disorders. Tracking when symptoms occur, their severity, and the situations that trigger these episodes provide insights for the individual and healthcare providers. This self-awareness can lead to personalized and more effective ways to deal with these issues, including different types of therapy and changes in daily habits.

A physical examination is necessary to rule out other medical conditions that might mimic the symptoms. Psychological assessments are performed to understand how the symptoms impact the individual’s everyday life.

What are the Treatment Options for Anxiety and Panic Attacks?

Understanding anxiety and panic attacks is important for managing symptoms. People who face these challenges have different treatment options to help them cope. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking appropriate care is the first step toward improvement.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, Healing Psychiatry of Florida is here to help. Our team of compassionate professionals specializes in different treatments personalized to your needs. Contact us today for a consultation and take the first step towards a calmer, more controlled life.

Medication Management

For many people, medication is an important part of the plan to control symptoms. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors help balance the chemicals in the brain, providing relief. It’s really important to make sure that the medication taken fits your needs and to watch out for negative reactions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Therapeutic interventions, including traditional and innovative methods, are the first step in treatment. Approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy work with newer practices such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and meditation to offer a well-rounded strategy for treating these mental health issues. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that helps people by changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors. It is useful for those who have a pattern of expecting the worst outcomes. CBT works by teaching individuals to identify and challenge their negative thoughts, which improves their ability to manage panic disorder. 

Self-Help Techniques

Self-help techniques are practical strategies that individuals can use on their own to lessen symptoms of anxiety and panic. Some effective self-help techniques include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Aromatherapy
  • Drinking chamomile tea
  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits

These techniques can provide immediate relief and help build resilience over time.

When to Seek Professional Help?

Knowing when to seek help from a mental health professional is important, especially when anxiety or panic attacks affect daily activities or when emotions feel overwhelming.

Professional help can provide the necessary guidance to manage these conditions effectively. A doctor can advise on medication options, and online therapy programs can provide convenient and accessible support. At Healing Psychiatry of Florida, we are dedicated to helping individuals navigate these challenges toward better mental health.


Understanding anxiety and panic attacks is important for anyone who experiences these conditions or supports someone who does. Anxiety attacks develop over time and are connected to ongoing stress. Panic attacks are sudden and include intense fear. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step toward management. Treatments include therapy, medication, and self-care strategies. Knowing when these conditions require professional assistance to manage and maintain a good quality of life is important.

Working on handling your anxiety and panic attacks is a powerful step. Learning about these conditions and how to deal with them makes you stronger and reminds you that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of help out there, and many people have been where you are now and have found ways to feel better. With the right kind of help and tools, you can find calm and balance in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of a silent panic attack?

Silent panic attacks can include symptoms such as fear of loss of control, chest pain, shaking, difficulty breathing, and increased heart rate. It may also involve dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness of extremities, nausea, feelings of detachment, and/or hot flashes.

What does an anxiety attack feel like?

During an anxiety attack, you may experience feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid heart rate. These symptoms might lead to worrying about future panic attacks and anxiety, or avoiding triggering situations.

How do you calm an anxiety attack?

To calm an anxiety attack, focus on slow, deep breathing and try counting steadily from 1 to 5 on each breath. Additionally, you can practice progressive muscle relaxation or visualization, take a bath, or ground yourself with the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. It’s important to find the method that works best for you.

Panic attack vs anxiety attack, what’s the difference??

The main difference between experiencing a panic attack and an anxiety attack is that panic attacks are episodic and typically peak within minutes or hours, while anxiety is a more persistent issue that can disrupt daily life.


Anastasiya Palopoli
Written by Anastasiya Palopoli

Anastasiya Palopoli, a board-certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, has extensive experience in nursing and psychiatric care, with degrees in Nursing from UCF and Psychiatric Mental Health from the University of Cincinnati. Following a residency in General and Child Psychiatry in Florida, she specializes in treating Dementia, psychosis, depression, and anxiety through holistic approaches. Beyond her professional life, she enjoys hiking, tennis, and traveling with her family.