Difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack

Although many of us have a tendency to group the term anxiety and panic attacks in the same boat, from a clinical perspective they are actually different. This is mainly evident in the variations among triggers, symptoms, occurrence, and treatment.

Here’s a deeper look at what those differences entail.


Panic Attack

A heightened level of anxiety usually instigates the onset of a panic attack. These can occur after a traumatic or stressful event, or even with no signs of obvious triggers. They seem to come from out of the blue and strike unexpectedly. Some of these attacks can be quite random in nature; other can develop as a result of fears and phobias.

Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks can be caused by a combination of factors both internal and external. The triggers can be genetics, brain chemistry, drugs, and environmental factors, as a few examples. The external triggers that provoke anxiety are usually forces that can influence internal thought and emotion patterns that work towards creating that anxiety-inducing attack. They create a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined event that people think might be threatening.


Panic Attacks:

Panic attacks can generally be categorized when at least four of these symptoms are present:

Heart palpitations, accelerated heart rate
Excessive sweating
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
Feeling of choking
Chest pain or discomfort
Fear of losing control
Fear of dying
Numbness or tingling sensations
Chills or hot flashes

Anxiety Attacks:

Alternatively, if you’re suffering from anxiety, some symptoms can be similar in nature to panic attacks, but the severity of them will usually be less intense. Here’s what they include:

Muscle tension
Disturbed sleep
Difficulty concentrating
Increased startle response
Increased heart rate
Shortness of breath


Panic Attacks:

Depending on the cause and triggers, panic attacks can either occur maybe once in a person’s life or say, each time a person is around a certain trigger, such as a phobia.

Anxiety Attacks:

Since anxiety correlates to events of high degree stress responses the symptoms of these attacks can often continue to occur over a longer consistent period of time. An actual full-blown attack can occur as that stress response further intensifies. The frequency of this occurring really depends on the persistent nature of severe stress.


When it comes to treatment for both panic and anxiety symptoms and attacks, the coping mechanisms and strategies fall on the same playing field. These entail self-help strategies like exercise, relaxation meditation, or a series of therapy sessions. If you are experiencing discomfort and are having trouble coping with your panic attacks or anxiety attacks, consider seeking the guidance and help of an Ottawa therapist.

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