Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks: Understanding the Difference

Panic and anxiety attacks are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. While they share many similarities, the two are very different. Understanding the difference between anxiety and panic attacks, as well as panic and anxiety disorder, are important to getting help.

There are clinical differences between panic and anxiety disorders. A panic attack is often associated with panic disorder although they can occur due to other factors. Anxiety disorders is a broad category under which other disorders (like OCD, PTSD etc.) fall.

The main difference between panic and anxiety attacks is the symptoms, the cause, and the duration of them.

Anxiety Attacks

An anxiety attack often occurs because of a stressor. This stressor, or trigger, can be a situation or event. Anxiety generally intensifies over a length of time. People have excessive worry about potential danger or threats. An anxiety attack is less intense than a panic attack but the symptoms often persist longer.

Common symptoms of anxiety attacks include:

  • Feeling out of control
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Numbness

Panic Attacks

A panic attack can feel a lot like an anxiety attack. In fact, they share a lot of symptoms. Unlike an anxiety attack, a panic attack appears suddenly and out of the blue. They also are much more intense than an anxiety attack. They peak within 10 minutes before subsiding.

A panic attack is characterized when four or more of the following symptoms occur:

  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Loss of control
  • Numbness or tingling



It’s important to know that whether you’re dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, or a related disorder, there is treatment available. These attacks can make you feel as if there is no hope, but there is. Therapy, medication, and self-help strategies have been proven to be extremely effective at reducing the frequency and intensity of attacks. Therapy is used to help manage symptoms, discover the cause of the issue, and learn coping techniques. Medication can reduce severe symptoms so that the attacks are less likely to occur in the first place. Contact us to discuss treatment options for your anxiety or panic attacks.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez