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Posted on: September 14, 2021 | Julie Winn

Did you know that each year, up to 11% of Americans experience a panic attack? You likely hear people interchanging the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” as if they are the same thing. However, they are actually separate conditions but somewhat similar things

In this post, we’ll go over anxiety vs. panic attacks so that you can know the key differences and get the help you need.

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It manifests as feelings of nervousness and unease and can be triggered by many factors. It is usually related to the anticipation of a stressful event, experience, or situation and may come on gradually.  It can be recurring but can also be a one-time thing.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Distress
  • Constant worry
  • Fear
  • Pounding heart
  • Upset stomach
  • Being easily startled
  • Anxiety chills

Unlike panic attacks, anxiety attacks are not recognized in the DSM-5. But, the DSM-5 does define anxiety as a feature of several psychiatric disorders, including:

  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia 
  • Specific phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

What does an Anxiety Attack Feel Like?

The symptoms of an anxiety attack include:

  • Pounding, racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling like you’re choking 
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea 
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscles aches 
  • Restlessness
  • Numb or tingling hands/feet
  • Trouble falling/staying asleep
  • A surge of overpowering panic
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Overwhelming fear
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache 

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks cause sudden, brief feelings of fear and strong physical responses to non-threatening situations that are ordinary. All this panic can be hard on the body in both mental and physical ways.

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Racing heart
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Chest pain
  • Fear of dying or losing control
  • A sense of detaching from the world
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes 
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache 
  • Dizziness

 As you can see, panic attacks and anxiety attacks have very similar things in common and the symptoms are alike. Keep the following points in mind to help you distinguish whether you’re having an anxiety or panic attack:

  • Anxiety is usually related to a stressful or threatening event, but panic attacks are not always caused by stressors and most often happen out of the blue.
  • Anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. On the other hand, panic attacks mostly involve sudden, disruptive, and severe symptoms.
  • The body’s fight or flight response takes over during a panic attack, and physical symptoms are much more intense than anxiety symptoms and all this panic takes a toll on your body.
  • Anxiety can build gradually, but panic attacks occur abruptly. It can be a one-time thing or a common occurrence in your life depending on how you treat it.
  • Panic attacks commonly trigger fears and worries that another attack is coming. This can lead to changes in your behavior and avoiding places, people, and situations that you think may trigger a panic attack.
  • Where panic attacks usually subside after a few minutes, symptoms like anxiety chills and pounding heart can last much longer.
  • Women are more likely than males to have anxiety or panic attacks.


Risk Factors

The risk factors for anxiety and panic attacks are similar and include:

  • Experiencing or witnessing trauma/traumatic events.
  • Experiencing ongoing stress and worries, including about work, family conflict, or financial problems.
  • Living with a chronic or terminal illness or health condition.
  • Stressful life events, such as death or divorce.
  • Having an anxious personality.
  • Having another mental health disorder, like depression.
  • Drug and/or alcohol use and withdrawal.
  • Consuming too much caffeine.

In conclusion, the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks boils down to the severity of the symptoms although they are similar things. Remember, anxiety attacks can generally build and worsen, where panic attacks come on out of nowhere and are intense from the get-go, and the panic intensifies from thereon.

What to Do During a Panic or Anxiety Attack?

The following strategies can help you calm down during a panic or anxiety attack and lessen your days of panic:

  • Acknowledge what’s taking place
  • Focus on long, slow, deep breaths (count to four every time you inhale and exhale)
  • Try relaxation techniques like guided imagery
  • Take a warm bath
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Meet with a therapist who can create a custom treatment plan to help you deal with panic or anxiety attacks.

Treatment Options for Panic and Anxiety Attacks

Whether you’re dealing with panic, anxiety, or both, it’s important to know that help is available. The most common treatment options include therapy, medication, and self-help strategies. There are similar things used to treat panic and anxiety attacks and are very helpful if anxiety or panic intensifies.

Psychotherapy helps people gain a better understanding of their symptoms, develop constructive ways to manage them, work through past pain and trauma, and build a strong support network.

Medications can help reduce your symptoms. Sometimes medications are needed only for a short time, they can even be a one-time thing but other people may benefit from long-term medication use.

Self-help techniques, including breathing exercises and positive self-talk, can teach you ways to manage symptoms yourself in a healthy way.

Highland Springs is Here to Support You

Highland Springs Specialty Clinic is here for you, whether you’re dealing with excessive worry and stress, panic, or anxiety. Our staff is committed to providing a wide range of behavioral health services to cater to every individual to rid the days of panic and anxiety. Our clinicians are trained and certified with the proper knowledge to give you the best care possible. Anxiety is different for everyone even when you struggle with similar things, and here at Highland Springs, we are dedicated to finding personalized anxiety treatment for all of our patients. Contact us today to learn more about our therapists and treatment options.

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