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What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

Researcher & Writer: Asmi SARKAR

Illustrator: Sanika DESHPANDE


The difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack can be quite difficult to understand sometimes as the symptoms between the two can be quite similar. However, there are some important things to know about panic attacks and anxiety attacks to help understand what you or someone else might be having.

What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack typically arises from the anticipation of a stressful event, experience or situation.


Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • Being easily fatigued or tired

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate or having your mind go blank

  • Irritability

  • Muscle tension

  • Sleep problems

  • Finding it difficult to control worries

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack usually comes on suddenly and is often overwhelming fear. Unexpected panic attacks normally have no obvious cause. Expected panic attacks are caused by external stressors.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Sense of impending danger

  • Fear of loss of control or death

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Hot flashes

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Feeling of detachment

How to distinguish a panic attack from an anxiety attack

1. Anxiety attacks are often caused by something that is perceived as stressful or threatening. Panic attacks most often occur out of the blue.

2. Anxiety can be mild, moderate or severe. On the other hand, Panic attacks mostly involve disruptive and severe symptoms. In the event of a panic attack, the body’s fight-or-flight response takes over. During an anxiety attack, physical symptoms are often more intense.

3. Anxiety attacks usually come on more gradually, whereas panic attacks come on very suddenly without warning.


Treatments and coping strategies

Speaking with a doctor can help you find the right treatment for anxiety attacks or panic attacks. A doctor may suggest counselling and psychotherapy, these may include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): this therapy can help you develop strategies to manage triggers when they arise.

  • Cognitive therapy: this can help you pinpoint and reframe the thoughts that often underlie an anxiety or panic attack.

  • Relaxation techniques: this can include breathing exercises, guided imagery, progressive relaxation techniques etc.

A doctor may also suggest medication, such as:

  • Antidepressants: this might include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

  • Anti-anxiety drugs: this includes benzodiazepines, a sedative medication that can suppress symptoms rapidly.









However, these medications may have side effects so it is important to consult a doctor to find the right method to reduce and prevent anxiety and panic related symptoms. There are other ways to treat a panic attack or anxiety attack. If you ever feel an anxiety or panic attack coming on, or if you ever see someone going through one, you could try guiding them with these strategies:

  • Taking slow deep breaths: count down from four and repeat until your breathing slows

  • Acknowledge that you are experiencing an episode and remind yourself that this will not last forever

  • Practise creative visualisation: imagine yourself in a happy and calm environment for a few minutes

Knowing the difference between a panic attack and anxiety attack can be helpful for dealing with them. There is always help available and never forget to consult a healthcare professional if panic and anxiety related symptoms are heavily affecting you.


Bibliography

Vandergriendt, C. (2022, September 30). What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and

an Anxiety Attack? Healthline. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from


Catchings, T. L. T. C. V. (2022, December 9). Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: Key

Differences | Talkspace. Mental Health Conditions. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from



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