What are panic attacks and anxiety attacks?
Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks cause you to feel intense, overwhelming emotions. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same thing. Both panic and anxiety attacks activate your nervous system to send you into fight-or-flight mode, causing physical and emotional symptoms. Their differences lie in what causes the attack.
Difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks
Knowing the difference between panic and anxiety attacks can help you understand the symptoms before and during the episode.
A panic attack causes you to feel intense, sudden fear that can be overwhelming and immobilizing. They can happen for no reason, or a triggering event can cause one. During a panic attack, you may feel terrified or threatened.
Some people experience panic attacks as a part of panic disorder, and others only have them once or occasionally. Panic attacks usually only last a few minutes.
An anxiety attack occurs when stress, anxiety, and worry become overwhelming. They are brought on by persistent worry either over big events, like illness and death, or small, everyday things. The attack is the result of building anxiety over time that reaches a breaking point.
An anxiety attack is not so much an attack but just when anxiety comes to a head. They are episodes of intense worry, fear, and dread that trigger physical symptoms. They feel more predictable since they are the result of you worrying about something.
Symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks have physical symptoms that can help you understand what is happening with your mind and body.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Panic attacks are usually sudden and reach their peak within a few minutes. While they are debilitating at the moment, people usually recover within less than an hour.
If you’re having a panic attack, you’ll likely experience four or more of the following symptoms as it happens:
- Chest pain
- Shaking or trembling
- The feeling of choking
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations or racing heart rate
- Feeling of detachment
- Feeling of unreality
Researchers estimate that one-third of people will have a panic attack at some point in their lives. People who have had a panic attack once may likely have them again. Repeated panic attacks are a sign of a panic disorder.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack
Anxiety attacks are usually very frightening and peak in about ten minutes. Because of the intensity, you might even think that you are having a heart attack. Some symptoms of anxiety include:
- A wave of overwhelming panic
- The feeling of loss of control
- Heart palpitations and chest pain
- Dizziness and nausea
- Feeling like you can’t breathe or will pass out
You may even start to avoid certain situations because you are afraid that they will trigger an anxiety attack.
Causes of panic attacks and anxiety attacks
Panic and anxiety attacks can often be brought on by worry and fear, but in different ways.
Causes of a panic attack
A panic attack can be caused by a stressful event or nothing at all. They happen suddenly, usually without warning, and can even occur when you’re sleeping or relaxed.
Panic attacks can be brought on by certain conditions:
Your panic attack can be the result of your body trying to get you out of a situation that is perceived as dangerous. This response puts your body into fight-or-flight mode.
Causes of an anxiety attack
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry or fear about a certain situation. Anxiety can cause you to have trouble rationalizing the situation and brings about feelings of dread and apprehension.
People who have anxiety attacks may also have an anxiety disorder, of which there are several.
Diagnosis for panic attacks and anxiety attacks
In the past, it was more difficult to diagnose panic and anxiety attacks. The symptoms that come with them are similar to those of many other illnesses, including heart disease, thyroid disorders, and breathing disorders. If you have an attack, you should see your doctor to make sure that the cause of these symptoms is not a serious medical condition.
If you find yourself having panic or anxiety attacks, or anxiety in general, a therapist or mental health professional can help to pinpoint these causes. They may also be able to help diagnose if you have a panic or anxiety disorder that triggers the attacks.
Latest Mental Health News
Daily Health News
Treatments for panic attacks and anxiety attacks
The most effective treatments for both panic and anxiety attacks is therapy, even if it is short-term. As these attacks can be brought on by fear, worry, stress, or a disorder, a professional can help you get to the root of the problem.
Here are some types of therapy to treat panic and anxiety attacks and disorders:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Exposure therapy for panic disorder
- Exposure therapy for panic disorder with agoraphobia (fear of outdoor or crowded areas)
You can also take preventative steps to avoid both kinds of attacks. Some helpful things to reduce panic and anxiety include:
- Managing your stress
- Regular exercise
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing relaxation techniques
- Talking to friends and family
- Limiting stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
- Practice breathing techniques
Your doctor can prescribe medications in extreme cases, but they do not solve the problem. In the case of anxiety attacks, medications may help relieve symptoms, but these kinds of medications can become habit-forming.
Medications for panic disorders are usually only given when managing your symptoms isn’t working. Your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants or benzodiazepines to work in conjunction with talk therapy.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
HelpGuide: "Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks."
HelpGuide: "Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder."
Intermountain Healthcare: "The Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks."
Michigan Health: "Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: 6 Things to Know."
Nationwide Children's: "Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack? What Is the Difference?"
Top Difference Between Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack Related Articles
AnxietyAnxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by symptoms such as trouble concentrating, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. Treatment for anxiety may incorporate medications and psychotherapy.
Anxiety & Panic Disorders: Risk Factors for AnxietyDo you feel anxious? Many things could make it more likely. Learn more, including what you can do if you feel anxious.
Anxiety, Stress, and WorryWant to find ways to reduce anxiety, stress, and worry? Find treatments to ease stress, eliminate worry, and combat anxiety as you discover how stress affects your body. Learn whether stress fights colds or encourages them, why some stress is bad and some is good, and why exercise and diet can be relaxing.
What Does Chest Pain on the Left Side Above a Female Breast Mean?Chest pain on the left side above a female breast can have a variety of causes. Learn the signs of chest pain on the left side, what may cause it, how doctors diagnose it, and what you can do to treat it.
Anxiety SlideshowLearn about generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). See if your worries are normal or something more by learning about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments of anxiety disorders.
How Do I Know if It’s a Panic Attack or Heart Attack?What is the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack?
Is Valerian Root Good for Anxiety?Valerian is an herb that has been used for many centuries to help relieve anxiety and as a sleep aid in traditional medicine. The studies for proving the effectiveness of valerian root for sleep and anxiety have not been conclusive. More studies are required to prove its effectiveness and find the optimal dose.
Panic Attacks QuizCould you suffer a panic attack? Take this Panic Attacks Quiz to learn causes, symptoms, and treatments for panic disorder. Use this quiz to learn to recognize the main elements of this serious, yet common disorder known as panic attacks.
Panic AttacksPanic attacks are sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning. These episodes can occur at any time, even during sleep. A person experiencing a panic attack may believe that he or she is having a heart attack or that death is imminent. The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is happening around them. Most people with panic attacks experience several of the following symptoms: racing heartbeat, faintness, dizziness, numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers, chills, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of loss or control. There are several treatments for panic attacks.
Separation AnxietySeparation anxiety disorder is a common childhood anxiety disorder that has many causes. Infants, children, older kids and adults can suffer from symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. Common separation anxiety treatment methods include therapy and medications. Factors that contribute to how quickly or successfully a child moves past separation anxiety by preschool age include how well the parent and child reunite, the skills the child and adult have at coping with the separation, and how well the adult responds to the infant's separation issues. For example, children of anxious parents tend to be anxious children.
What Are the Best Treatments for Panic Attacks?Learn what medical treatments can help with your panic attack symptoms and speed up your recovery.
What Are the Six Types of Anxiety Disorders?Anxiety disorders cause worry, fear and panic as an irrational response to mundane situations. The six main types are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, trauma-related disorders and phobias.
What Happens During an Anxiety Attack?Anxiety can occur during everyday life, it could be fleeting or it could persist and build. But if you have an anxiety disorder, you may feel your anxiety or panic overwhelm you with intense anxiety and fear.
What Triggers Panic Attacks?Panic attacks can be a frightening experience and affect many people. Learn what triggers panic attacks, how doctors diagnose them, and what you can do to treat them.