Anxiety and Panic Attacks- What’s the Difference?

Editor’s Note: The clinical definition of a panic attack is the “onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes” and includes at least four other symptoms which can include intense physical sensations. Typically they peak in how strong they are within 10 minutes or less before getting better. This is different than typical anxiety symptoms which are generally not as intense and last longer.

With a similar meaning, the words ‘anxiety’ and ‘panic’ are often used as if they mean the same thing: intense fear or worry. However, the truth is panic attacks and anxiety are two very different things.

Anxiety, by definition, is marked by an increase feeling of excessive fear and/or discomfort as a result of  a trigger. This trigger can be almost anything, but there is going to be one.

Panic attacks, on the other hand, occur suddenly and are completely random moments of extreme fear and panic, not triggered by anything. These feelings or symptoms come “out of the blue” and usually do not last long (approximately 10 minutes) before lessening.

Anxiety, Panic Attack

Therefore, the main differences between panic attacks and anxiety are:

  • Intensity of symptoms
  • Length of time the main symptoms occur over
  • The identification of a trigger

The symptoms for anxiety and panic attacks can be similar to each other.  However, symptoms from panic attack are usually more intense compared to those experienced with anxiety.

It is important to understand the difference between anxiety and panic attacks, as well as their symptoms because the coping mechanisms and treatment can be different depending on whether you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks.

As always it is important to discuss what you’re feeling and your symptoms with your doctors and the rest of your mental health care team. To read more about this question and about the differences, visit or read this great article by BBC.

Have you ever experienced any of these symptoms or had a panic attack? Do you know of anything that triggers your anxiety?  If you have any questions about today’s blog post, let us know in the comments section below!

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