What is the Difference Between Panic & Anxiety?

What is the Difference Between Panic & Anxiety?

There are times when "panic attack" and "anxiety attack" are used interchangeably as they have similar signs and symptoms, although, in clinical settings, anxiety and panic are two different disorders with their own specifications for diagnosis by mental health professionals. Anxiety is a protective and emotional reaction that is conceptualized in our system, and when it becomes extreme and disrupts the normal areas of functioning that is the time when concerns arise. Whereas, panic attacks are an immediate rush of extreme fear or inconvenience along with mental and physical symptoms. 

Clinical Differentiation:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) gives clear outlines to recognize and differentiate between anxiety and panic. The definition and classification can help in understanding the difference between them based on the severity and the duration of the symptoms. Anxiety can last for several months whereas panic attack often tops for about 10 minutes. Panic attacks are linked with mental health disorders referred to as panic disorder, which can occur with other mental disorders too. There is even a possibility of experiencing panic disorder without any mental disorder. A panic attack is distinguished from anxiety by characteristics such as depersonalization (detachment from self), derealization (sense of detachment from the world), and losing control of fear of dying. The word "anxiety attack", is not in the description in DSM-5. Although the word "anxiety", is used to explain a fundamental characteristic of other disorders recognized in the titles of anxiety disorder, stress and trauma-related disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The characteristics differentiating anxiety from panic attack consist of stress and apprehension but without the sense of detachment or intense fear that is the case in a panic attack.


Panic Attack:

It is an immediate and intense feeling of fear, discomfort, and terror along with various other physical and mental symptoms. Mental symptoms of a panic attack include feeling detached from self, feeling detached from the world, fear of dying, and fear of losing control. Physical symptoms of a panic attack consist of feeling trembling or shaking, experiencing chest pain, feeling chills, feeling dizzy, faint or lightheaded, sweating excessively, feeling of being choked, experiencing abdominal distress and nausea, experiencing hot flashes, accelerated heart or heart palpitations, and experiencing a a numbness or tingling sensations. Panic Attack often occurs without a reason and is sudden in nature. In certain situations, it is "expected" as the fear is the result of known stressors, like a phobia. There are some attacks that can last longer (more than 10 minutes) or might occur successively which will make it tougher to understand when one attack ended and the other one started. After a panic attack, often the stress of the individual experiences, out-of-sorts, worry, on an edge for the rest of the day. 


It usually magnifies over a prolonged duration and is associated with intense worry regarding some potential threat or danger, which might be perceived or real. When the stress is extreme and reaches the point that it becomes overwhelming, then it might feel like an "attack". Mental symptoms of anxiety feeling irritated, restless, and having difficulty concentrating. Physical symptoms of anxiety include feeling fatigued, dizzy, tensed muscles, sleep disturbance, increased startle responses, and heart rate. While certain symptoms of anxiety are like a panic attack but anxiety symptoms are usually less intense and more in duration. 

Treatment for Panic Attack and Anxiety:

Treatment modalities are available for both may it be anxiety or panic. Psychotherapy helps in dealing with the symptoms and regulating them, helps in having a clearer understanding of your life, analyzing future plans that work for you to have a positive and hopeful perspective. Medication aid in decreasing the impact of the symptoms, and focusing on controlling them for a short while, when you are looking at other long-term strategies. There are several techniques like relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help yourself in managing these symptoms at your own pace.


Anxiety or Panic, both impact a person's life negatively. It is important to address them as soon as you realize your symptoms or when someone else (or a loved one) is experiencing it to provide the required support. It is essential to consult a mental health professional for further treatment.

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