Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks

Anxiety Attacks vs Panic Attacks

Anxiety is a term that is often used in everyday conversation to describe our children, ourselves, or others around us. Anxiety is an emotion coupled with feelings of uneasiness, worry, and intrusive thoughts which may occur as a response to a present or perceived threat. When individuals feel anxious, they may experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating, increase in temperature, uneasy stomach, or restlessness. When anxious, thoughts may race through your mind that are difficult to stop, you may feel scattered or fatigued and have trouble concentrating. 

When people experience episodes of intense fear and an onslaught of the physical symptoms of anxiety, the terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks, and it can be helpful to know the difference. 

  • Doctors or other medical professionals thrive on specific details to ensure an accurate treatment plan for symptoms. 
  • Therapists can develop more precise coping mechanisms if they are aware of the specific heightened state of anxiety their clients are experiencing and can provide more detailed psychoeducation on the panic attack or anxiety attack. 
  • Individuals experiencing the anxiety attack or panic attack can be better educated, aware, and validated with their emotions and physical symptoms if they know more specifically what they are experiencing. 

Anxiety attacks are not listed in the DSM-5 however the term is commonly used in everyday conversations to describe the overwhelming feeling of anxiety which often can feel like an attack on our bodies and minds. Anxiety attacks are often triggered by a specific situation, allowing individuals to more easily identify what is making them feel this way. Anxiety can develop over time and the state of being anxious can often last much longer than a panic attack. When feeling anxious, our fight, flight, or freeze response is activated and our body begins paying attention to the perceived fear instead of functioning in its optimal way, and our minds begin to fill with intrusive, irrational thoughts instead of logically problem-solving. Physical symptoms of anxiety attacks overlap with panic attacks, however they may feel less physically intense. The state of being anxious can last days, weeks, or months, and can affect other areas of life such as sleep or daily concentration. To summarize, an anxiety attack is the most heightened and distressing point of anxiety where an individual feels they have no control over the situation and the physical symptoms such as breathlessness or a quickened heart rate is more likely to occur. 

Panic attacks are sudden, unprovoked, temporary feelings of immense fear in response to non-threatening situations. Panic attacks typically last 5 to 20 minutes, with a rare maximum of 1 hour. Someone having a panic attack may have the same physical symptoms as an anxiety attack including nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, increased heart rate, or dizziness. However, these physical feelings are more likely to feel extremely intense and overwhelming. Individuals experiencing a panic attack may feel the intense need to escape, flee, or protect themselves in this situation. Panic attacks are typically not as common in daily life as anxiety attacks, however they are recognized in the DSM-5 under the panic disorder diagnosis. It’s common to feel exhausted after experiencing a panic attack as it is such a sudden rush of emotions, hormones, and physical symptoms that causes stress on your nervous system and cardiovascular system. 

In literature, research, and information online, panic attacks and anxiety attacks are used interchangeably as well. Both are uncomfortable, involve physical symptoms, and are rooted in a state of fear and anxiety. Hopefully learning about the differences here can help you feel more aware and validated in your experiences, and help your support team better understand and address your needs. 


Cleveland Clinic medical professional. “Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder.” Cleveland Clinic,,typically%20happen%20unexpectedly%20and%20suddenly. Accessed 19 Sept. 2023. 

Quinn, Deborah. “Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: 5 Crucial Differences.” Sandstone Care, Sandstone Care, 4 Sept. 2023, 

Sheryl Ankrom, MS. “What Is the Difference Between Panic and Anxiety Attacks?” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 21 June 2023,