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Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack: Key Differences and Ways to Cope

Updated: 18 hours ago

✓ Fact checked by: Dr. Glen M Doniger, PhD

  • Even though panic attacks and anxiety attacks are comparable, the two have a few differences.

  • Panic attacks usually last up to 30 minutes and may vary in intensity and duration.

  • Certain brain regions become hyperactive during a panic attack causing us to experience heightened arousal.

  • While panic attacks come on suddenly, symptoms of anxiety follow a period of excessive worry about potential danger and are usually less intense.

  • The best long-term solution for dealing with a panic or anxiety attack involves a combination of therapies combined with coping techniques.

A minute ago, you were fine and now your heart is racing and your body feels numb. You feel like you're on fire, yet you are trembling. And while it might seem that the symptoms you’re experiencing right now will last forever, they will in fact subside in a matter of minutes.

Why? Because although it sounds like something far more dangerous, this is how many people describe a panic attack as well as an anxiety attack. However, even though these two conditions are comparable, there are a few differences between the two which we're going to discuss below. We'll also touch on various strategies you can use to cope with both anxiety and a panic attack.

Signs of a Panic Attack: When Fear Overwhelms

A panic attack is an intense and sudden feeling of fear, terror, or discomfort accompanied by mental and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Chills

  • Sense of impending danger

  • Feeling of detachment

  • Nausea, feeling lightheaded or unsteady

Panic attack symptoms usually last up to 30 minutes and may vary in intensity and duration, but they can also differ according to what prompted the attack.

There are expected panic attacks and unexpected panic attacks. Unexpected panic attacks occur suddenly and without an obvious cause, while expected panic attacks are anticipated when you’re subjected to specific panic triggers. For example, if you fear flying, you may have a panic attack when boarding a plane or at some time during the flight.