woman anxiety vs panic

  I often, when talking about anxiety and panic related symptoms, have people tell me that they have anxiety attacks, not panic attacks. I sometimes will have people ask me if they are the same thing, or what the differences are between the two. This blog post will help you understand what they are and the differences.

Anxiety Attack or a Panic Attack?

Anxiety attack
  • There is no clinical diagnosis for a “anxiety attack” in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 (DSM-5). However, anxiety is listed throughout many psychiatric disorders. Common symptoms of anxiety can include:
    • excessive worry
    • not being able to stop or control the worry 
    • Restlessness
    • Fear something awful might happen
  • Anxiety is often triggered by a stressful situation, experience, or upcoming event. In general anxiety can range from mild to severe. Anxiety related symptoms can occur for long periods of time. 
panic attack
  • People who have panic attacks often describe them as feeling as though they are having a heart attack. Sometimes it can be so severe that it lands them in the emergency room. Symptoms of a panic attack can include
    • racing heart 
    • shortness of breath
    • chest pain/discomfort/pressure
    • feeling of choking
    • shakiness
    • upset stomach or throwing up 
    • sweaty or clammy palms
    • chills or the hot flashes 
    • numbness or tingling. 
    • Feeling dizzy or fainting. 
  • Unfortunately, panic attacks do not always have a clear trigger and can happen unexpectantly. Some triggers, however, can include driving, phobias, occupational stress, presentations, social anxiety, and trauma. It is also possible that one can be anxious about an upcoming event and then when the actual event happens, let’s say a presentation, they may experience those panic related symptoms. 
  • Panic related symptoms typically will not last for long periods of time, although when you are in the moment itself it can certainly feel that way. Panic related symptoms will typically be at its worst after about ten minute and then decrease from there. Although, it is possible that one can experience panic attacks back to pack thus making it seem like they are last a long time. 

Who can diagnose panic or anxiety?

Any therapist, psychiatrist, or if comfortable primary care providers can diagnose anxiety or panic related disorders.

Treatment for anxiety or panic?

There are a lot of different treatment modalities for panic and anxiety. 
  • Somatic based therapies such as Brainspotting, EMDR, and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) can be used to treat anxiety or panic related symptoms. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy which can help identify situations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to change your thoughts which in turn can help change your feelings and behaviors as well.
  • Another form of therapy is exposure therapy which can be used for phobias. Exposure therapy will have you create a hierarchy from the least to most anxiety producing situations with the phobia and work your way up in treatment. 
  • DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s distress tolerance module can be beneficial in learning tools to help decrease anxiety along with their emotion regulation module to help regulate unwanted emotions. 


In terms of diagnosis, there is no clinical diagnosis for an “anxiety attack” although it is a common phrase used in society. There is however multiple diagnosis’ (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder with anxiety, etc.) that include anxiety related symptoms. There is a diagnosis for panic attacks and panic disorder in the DSM-5. Treatment can include self-soothing techniques such as Vagus nerve activation, grounding skills and yoga to different types of therapy such as: CBT, DBT, Exposure therapy or even ART. 

Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.


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