The Difference Between Anxiety And A Panic Attack

The Difference Between Anxiety And A Panic Attack

It is quite common for people to use both the terms anxiety and panic attack to describe the one experience, however they are actually two separate conditions.

It is easy to see how the average person could come to this misunderstanding as both anxiety and panic attacks can be characterised as being overcome with fear and terror and in both situations the person will experience a paralysing sense of dread or unease.

Anxiety and panic attacks can severely disrupt everyday life, therefore it is important to understand the difference between them in order to get the most appropriate treatment to overcome these debilitating illnesses.

Here we will look separately at what anxiety and panic attacks are so that you can have a better understanding of the differences between the two conditions.

What Is Anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious from time to time, usually as a response to a situation that we are worried about or feeling pressured and stressed by. Once the stressful situation has passed or the stressor has been removed, these feelings generally pass.

Anxiety is when these feelings don’t go away. It is described as excessive, persistent worry over a future event such as illness and death, or even small situations such as a job interview and the anticipation of the bad outcomes that could occur.

The symptoms of anxiety can be persistent and last a long time, days, weeks and even months. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive fear and worrying
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling tense, wound up or edgy
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Avoidance of situations

What Is A Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden period of intense panic and fear. These feelings come out of nowhere and don’t appear to be in reaction to a stressor or trigger. People who suffer from panic attacks believe there is an immediate threat to themselves and often feel as if they are having a heart attack or dying.

Panic attacks usually only last about 10 minutes but the symptoms are very severe and intense. After the panic attack is over the the lingering effects and symptoms do not last long, however, the fear and worry of having another unexpected attack limits the ability for someone suffering from panic attacks to live a normal life.

Some of the symptoms of a panic attack are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizzy or lightheaded
  • Numb or tingly
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Scared of dying
  • Heart palpitations or increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or Shaking
  • Feeling like you are choking
  • Nausea
  • Feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings


Anxiety and panic attacks originate in different parts of the brain. Anxiety generally comes from the prefrontal cortex which is related to anticipation and planning and occurs when this section of the brain goes into overdrive and becomes too precautionary and protective. Panic attacks come from the autonomic nervous system and the amygdala, the fear centre of the brain.

After identifying what anxiety and panic attacks are, we can see that one of the biggest differences is that anxiety has an identifiable trigger whereas panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere and aren’t related to a stressor.

Also, panic attacks only last for a short period of time with the symptoms usually feeling more intense compared to that of anxiety. However with anxiety, those feelings of dread and fear can last weeks and months and don’t usually dissipate quickly.

Panic attacks are clearly linked to panic disorder which is a type of anxiety disorder. Both anxiety and panic attacks are devastating conditions that severely affect the ability of a person to live a happy, fulfilling and normal life.

Understanding the differences between anxiety and panic attacks can help someone suffering from either condition to choose the right path to recovery. With the appropriate medical treatment and effective therapy, anxiety and panic attacks will no longer be in control.