Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Main Difference – Anxiety vs Panic Attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks are two psychiatric conditions which are often used interchangeably due to several similar features they share. In fact, most health care professionals have not been trained enough to identify an exact line of demarcation between these, which often lead to misinterpretations. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between anxiety and panic attacks. The main difference between anxiety and panic attacks is associated with the intensity or severity of signs and symptoms and the time duration in which predominant symptoms take place; panic attacks are more severe than anxiety attacks and develop abruptly, within a short period of time.

In this article, we will discuss,

1. What is an Anxiety Attack – Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms, Cause, Method of Treatment

2. What is a Panic Attack – Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms, Cause, Method of Treatment

3. Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks – Comparison of Cause, Signs and Symptoms

Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks - Anxiety vs Panic Attacks Comparison Summary

What is Anxiety Attack – Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms, Cause, Method of Treatment

Anxiety, being the commonest mental health condition identified among people, is usually characterized by doubtful or vulnerable thoughts about future occurrences. The main concern of these people lies in their future goals and objectives, along with the fear that they will ultimately become failures. Affected individuals will experience anxious thoughts involving various life events, unexplainable physical sensations, and self-guarding behavioral patterns. One of the hardest things for these people to engage in is, explaining what they are going through and what they are feeling to others, which is a good catch- up line for psychiatrists in making the diagnosis.

As a rule, periods of anxiety usually tend to get intensified over a period of time and highly correlate with excessive worrying and irritability. Other major symptoms of anxiety may include, tension in muscles, sleep disturbances, insomnia, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, and weakness, restlessness, increased heart rate and startle response, shortness of breath and dizziness.

Owing to a female predominance, anxiety can occur as a result of genetic factors, stress, positive family history, physical health issues or traumatic life events.

Psychiatrists will use a complete history and a detailed questionnaire based on the pattern of symptoms associated with a recommended anxiety disorder criteria like ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5),’ which will often help to confirm the diagnosis.

As far as the method of treatment for anxiety is concerned, mild-moderate anxiety can be treated with simple lifestyle modifications like avoidance of alcohol and caffeine, quitting smoking, weight reduction, regular exercises, breathing and relaxation techniques whereas severe anxiety may need a combination of medication such as anti-depressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks

What is Panic Attack – Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms, Cause, Method of Treatment

A panic attack is defined as a sudden peak of overwhelming anxiety and fear which can happen to anyone at any time. Even though the exact etiology of this condition is not known yet, positive family history, genetics, negative life events, trauma, stressful conditions (having a baby, new job) and medical health issues such as Mitral valve prolapse, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, withdrawal of certain drugs and abuse of cocaine and amphetamines are thought to be playing important roles.

Most panic attacks develop abruptly and reach a severe surge within 10 minutes and tend to end within 20 to 30 minutes; they rarely last more than one hour. An individual affected by a full-blown panic attack will experience a combination of signs and symptoms including shortness of breath or hyperventilation, palpitation, increased heart rate, chest pain and discomfort, shivering, trembling, choking sensation, feeling detached from the environment, sweating, nausea, gastric disturbances, dizziness, numbness, hot or cold flashes and a fear of dying or losing control.

This condition can be diagnosed by obtaining  a complete history from the patient together with a questionnaire about signs and symptoms. Panic attacks are successfully treated with self-help strategies and series of various therapeutic sessions.

Lifestyle modifications such as avoidance of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, being aware of panic attacks, proper control of feelings and relaxation techniques ( breathing, Yoga) will help to cope up with mild panic attacks whereas severe recurrent episodes will be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy with or without drugs like anti-depressants or Benzodiazepines.

Main Difference - Anxiety vs Panic Attacks

Difference Between Anxiety and Panic Attacks


Anxiety attack is highly associated with excessive worries or stressful situations.

Panic attacks are associated with of overwhelming anxiety and fear.


Anxiety occurs when worries and stress are intensified over a period of time. (days-months)

Panic attacks are sudden and extremely severe; they peak within 10 minutes and then vanish off within 20-30 minutes.


Anxiety is less intense and severe than panic attacks.

Panic attacks are more intense and severe than anxiety attacks.

Image Courtesy:

“9 of 365 Frustration” By Tanya Little – Flickr: 9 of 365 ~ Frustration, (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

“Scared Girl” By Victor Bezrukov – Port-42, (CC BY 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music