Anxiety attack vs. Panic attack

similarities and differences, but also how they can be treated


Anxiety attacks and panic attacks appear in different conditions, even if they have a few things in common. Here's how to make the difference between them and how to manage them.

The term anxiety attack does not exist in the medical field, but is used to describe the peak of anxiety. Anxiety generally refers to anticipation of a danger or menace and often is accompanied by muscular tension, clenched jaw, restlessness, vigilance and avoidant behavior.  On the other hand, a panic attack is much more intense than an anxiety attack.

The anxiety attack is manifested by excessive worries, tension, fear and general malaise. This, unlike the panic attack, gradually sets in and is often associated with anticipating a stressful situation or important event.

The panic attack starts suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly, and involves an intense and overwhelming fear. It is accompanied by physical symptoms that can be frightening: rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, profuse sweating, gastrointestinal symptoms, fear of losing control or going “crazy” and more. Panic attacks can occur for unknown reasons and are then called unexpected panic attacks, while the expected panic attacks are those triggered by specific phobias. For example, a claustrophobic person suffering from panic disorder will have a panic attack if he/she takes the elevator.

What causes anxiety attacks and panic attacks?

In case of unpredictable panic attacks, the causes are unknown, occurring during a calm general state or during sleep. But both expected panic attacks and anxiety attacks can be triggered by one or more of the following:

  • Prolonged stress
  • Caffeine / alcohol / substances consumption
  • Withdrawal from alcohol / drugs
  • Chronic pain / illness
  • Substances or medication
  • Specific phobias
  • Life changing events (relocation, divorce, death of a close person, etc)
  • Traumatic memories / events, etc

Anxiety attack and panic attack symptoms 

Let’s see what are the symptoms of these attacks and how to differentiate them. 

The panic attack starts suddenly, often without an obvious trigger.

After the first 5-10 minutes, the symptoms of the panic attack begin to lose their intensity, and in 20 minutes they disappear completely. After the panic attack ends, the anxiety continues, fueled by the fear of a new attack.


  • Accelerated pulse, palpitations 
  • Chest pain
  • Hot flushes
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of asphyxiation
  • Dizziness 
  • Trembling
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea
  • The sensation of a lump in the throat
  • Fear of losing one’s mind
  • Fear of death
  • Depersonalization

The anxiety attack is manifested gradually, after an intense period of worries. The symptoms are less intense than in the case of a panic attack, but may persist for longer - days, maybe even weeks.


  • Worry
  • Chest pain
  • Vertigo
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration problems or sensation of mental void
  • Muscle aches/tension
  • Irritability
  • Accelerated pulse
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Insomnia or unsatisfying sleep
  • The sensation of a lump in the throat

The way it starts (suddenly or gradually), the intensity of the symptoms, and their duration can help us differentiate between a panic attack and an anxiety attack.

How to calm the anxiety and panic attack

The key to managing anxiety attacks is recognizing early signs and breaking the cycle. Pay attention to breathing and heart rate or any unusual feelings.

If you are beginning to feel that anxiety is creeping in, the "box breathing” or “square breathing” technique is a simple technique that could help you. Here's how it works:

  • Keep your hands relaxed on your lap and straighten your back. 
  • Focus on breathing throughout the practice. 
  • Keep your breathing gentle and controlled.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth until all the air has left your lungs.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose as you count to 4 in your mind.
  • Allow the air to fill every part of your lungs up to your abdomen.
  • Hold your breath as you count to 4.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth as you count to 4, breathing all the air from your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for another 4 seconds, then repeat the process.
  • This technique can play a role in regulating the autonomic nervous system, helping you to calm down.

How to deal with the anxiety attack or panic attack

There are a number of strategies that can help you deal with the panic attack, but also the anxiety attack. Here's what this is about:

Adjust your breathing rate - accelerated breathing sustains panic attacks, promoting hyperventilation. Focus on breathing, inhale slowly and exhale even slower. You can do a breathing exercise - count to 4 during inspiration, then hold your breath for 4 seconds and in the next 4 seconds gradually remove the air from your lungs.

Use relaxation techniques - a warm bath, an outdoor walk or a yoga and meditation session will help you cope with the panic attack, but also the anxiety attack.

Identify the panic / anxiety attack - the symptoms of such an attack can be scary and can make you think something very bad is going to happen to you. It is therefore very important to identify the panic attack and not to panic thinking that it is something serious.

Change your lifestyle - to prevent the return of panic attacks or anxiety attacks, reduce the stress you are exposed to daily, identify negative thoughts and challenge their truthfulness, exercise regularly, adopt a balanced diet, limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine. 

Seek the help of a psychological counselor or psychotherapist specialized in anxiety counseling, who will help you get over the situation you are in and will guide you in the treatment process.