What is the Difference Between an Anxiety and a Panic Attack?

We all become anxious or nervous from time to time–when preparing for an important meeting with a boss, speaking in front of a large group, or going through a challenging life transition. For some people, overwhelming thoughts and behaviors become so frequent and forceful that they begin to overtake their lives.

So, how do you tell if your everyday anxiety has crossed the line or maybe even developed into a panic disorder? The differences between panic and anxiety are best described in terms of the intense symptoms and length of time the predominant symptoms occur.

Panic Attack

A Panic attack typically doesn’t come in reaction to a stressor. It’s unprovoked and unpredictable. And during a panic attack the individual is seized with terror, fear, or apprehension. They may feel that they’re going to die, or lose control or have a heart attack. These symptoms usually occur “out of the blue,” peak within 10 minutes and then subside.

During a panic attack, the symptoms are sudden and extremely intense. They have a host of physical symptoms which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea. And in addition to these terrifying panic attacks, people start worrying about having the next one. Additionally, some attacks may last longer or may occur in succession, making it difficult to determine when one attack ends and another begins.

There’s also a lot of what’s called anticipatory anxiety. So, following an attack, it is not unusual to feel stressed, worried, out-of-sorts, or “keyed up” the remainder of the day.

Anxiety Attack

While some of the symptoms of an anxiety arrack are similar to many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks, they are generally less intense. During an anxiety attack, people may feel fearful, apprehensive, may feel their heart racing or feel short of breath, but it’s very short lived, and when the stressor goes away, so does the anxiety attack. Anxiety is highly correlated to excessive worry. Another important distinction is that, unlike a panic attack, the symptoms of anxiety may be persistent and very long-lasting — days, weeks or even months.


Anxiety and panic disorder treatment may involve therapy or medication or a combination of both. Lifestyle modifications such as avoidance of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, being aware of anxiety levels to avoid panic attacks, proper control of feelings and relaxation techniques ( breathing, meditation, Yoga) will help to cope up with anxiety and 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.

The good news is that with time and patience, up to 90 percent of people who obtain proper care from a mental health professional will recover and live full and productive lives.