Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: How To Tell The Difference

Anxiety is commonly misunderstood. Much of this is due to the lack of social acceptance surrounding mental illnesses. Until recently, discussing mental health was uncommon, as those dealing with such issues risked being judged by others.

Although conversation about mental health is now commonplace, many disorders are still misunderstood. Guides like the DSM-5 give practitioners a starting point, but more must be learned about multifaceted conditions like anxiety disorder and its subtypes.

Even those struggling with anxiety may not know the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks. Symptoms of anxiety often overlap, but the differences between attacks are significant. For more information on how to tell the difference between a Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack, continue reading below.

Ways Anxiety Manifests 

Anxiety manifests in many ways, including but not limited to:

  • (OCD) Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • (GAD) Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • phobias
  • elevated primal fears (fear of death, fear of abandonment)

Identifying Anxiety Subtypes 

Identifying a Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack is best left to trained behavioral therapy specialists. The anxiety disorders listed above are not the only ways anxiety manifests, and more specifications can be determined for a Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack if psychosis or substance abuse is present.

Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack

There are anxiety attacks as well as panic attacks, and these are separate manifestations of anxiety.

Panic attacks happen abruptly and are prompted by fear. The individual will feel a strong surge of unpleasant symptoms and discomfort, including physical anxiety. Most of the time, a panic attack peaks for a few minutes and resolves over a few hours. 

Note: Some experts believe that panic attacks must strike out-of-the-blue with no obvious trigger.

Anxiety attacks build and are unlikely to start unexpectedly. The individual anticipates the attack, as they have other symptoms of anxiety that lead to these attacks. The lead-up can last for several months before the attack occurs.

The Main Differences

When comparing Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack, a distinction can be made regarding how anxiety compiles.

  • With anxiety attacks, the anxiety has heightened to a severe level; the anxiety attack can surface, appearing as an extreme state of anxiety with physical symptoms.
  • Since there is this gradual build-up, you can identify a Panic Attack vs Anxiety Attack based on how episodic or consistent they are.
  • Anxiety attacks will likely return more often than the seemingly out-of-the-blue panic attack.

The differences between symptoms are indicated below.

Symptoms of panic attacks:

  • depersonalization
  • fear of losing control
  • morbid or primal fears
  • heaviness in the chest
  • chills/tingling
  • shortness of breath

Symptoms of anxiety attacks:

  • catastrophizing
  • disoriented thinking
  • feeling overwhelmed 
  • easily startled
  • sleep disturbances
  • muscle tension

The Main Similarities

While there are differences between Panic Attacks vs. Anxiety Attacks, there are also overlapping symptoms, including:

  • worrying without cause
  • difficulty concentrating
  • frequent dizziness
  • heart palpitations

Getting Professional Help

If you’re dealing with anxiety, getting professional help is imperative. Reach out to a treatment center to get started on a treatment plan tailored to your needs. 

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