What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack?


The terms “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are often used interchangeably, but they do not have precise definitions in clinical psychology. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is widely used by mental health professionals, only recognizes panic attacks as a distinct diagnostic category. However, the experiences described by individuals as panic attacks or anxiety attacks may share some similarities. Here’s a general understanding of the terms:

What is Panic Attack:

A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of fear or discomfort that typically peaks within minutes. It is usually accompanied by physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and a sense of impending doom or loss of control. Panic attacks often occur unexpectedly and may be triggered by specific situations or come out of the blue. They can be extremely distressing and can lead individuals to avoid certain places or situations for fear of experiencing another attack. Panic disorder is a recognized psychiatric disorder characterized by recurrent panic attacks.

What is Anxiety Attack:

While the term “anxiety attack” is frequently used in everyday language, it is not an officially recognized term within the field of psychology. Some people use it to describe a sudden surge of intense anxiety or distressing emotions. These experiences may involve symptoms similar to panic attacks, such as a racing heart, sweating, and a sense of fear. However, they can also manifest as a prolonged period of heightened anxiety or worry without the abrupt onset and intense peak associated with panic attacks. It’s important to note that anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or specific phobias, are officially recognized conditions that involve chronic anxiety symptoms and are different from a specific “anxiety attack.”

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It’s worth mentioning that the lack of clear definitions for “anxiety attack” can create confusion, and different individuals may use the term differently. If you or someone you know is experiencing intense anxiety or panic-like symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of panic attack vs. anxiety attack

While there isn’t a clear distinction between panic attacks and anxiety attacks in clinical terms, individuals may describe different experiences and symptom patterns. Here are some commonly reported symptoms associated with panic attacks and anxiety attacks:

Symptoms of Panic Attacks:

  1. Sudden and intense feelings of fear, terror, or impending doom.
  2. Rapid heart rate or palpitations.
  3. Sweating and/or trembling.
  4. Shortness of breath or feelings of choking.
  5. Chest pain or discomfort.
  6. Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint.
  7. Nausea or stomach distress.
  8. Chills or hot flashes.
  9. Sensations of numbness or tingling.
  10. Feeling detached from oneself or reality.
  11. Fear of losing control or going crazy.
  12. Fear of dying.

Panic attacks typically reach a peak within a few minutes and may subside on their own, leaving individuals feeling exhausted or emotionally drained afterward.

Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks:

  1. Prolonged and intense feelings of anxiety, worry, or unease.
  2. Restlessness or feeling on edge.
  3. Muscle tension or aches.
  4. Fatigue or feeling easily fatigued.
  5. Difficulty concentrating or feeling mentally blank.
  6. Irritability.
  7. Sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  8. Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomachaches or diarrhea.
  9. Headaches.
  10. Excessive sweating.
  11. Feeling overwhelmed or a sense of impending doom.

Anxiety attacks, as described by some individuals, may be less intense and have a longer duration compared to panic attacks. However, it’s important to note that these terms are subjective and not universally defined.

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Remember, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of intense anxiety or panic, it’s advisable to consult with a mental health professional for a proper evaluation and guidance on appropriate treatment.

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Jessica Doe

Hi, I am Jessica, Passionate about health and wellness ✍🌿 Sharing my thoughts and insights on all things related to the health niche. Join me on this journey towards a healthier lifestyle!