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Anxiety Attack Vs Panic Attack

By Claire The Millennial Londoner


Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This blog is purely for informational purposes and compiled from personal experience and reputable sources. If you require any health advice please speak to a medical specialist. This blog also contains affiliate links that allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you.


Anxiety can be really difficult to manage on a daily basis, millions of people around the world have an anxiety disorder so it's not uncommon to feel this way. It's difficult to manage the symptoms when they gradually get worse and build up into anxiety or panic attacks.

The terms "anxiety attack" and "panic attack" are thrown around interchangeably similarly to the words"psychopath" and "sociopath". But although they are similar there are key differences between having a panic attack versus having an anxiety attack.

For anyone that has never had a panic attack, count your blessings because you are super lucky to not have experienced them. Anyone that has you will understand the struggle of trying to figure out what is happening to your body and debating whether you need to go to the hospital.

First things first let's look at each of them, understand what they are, what the symptoms are and how they are triggered.

What Is An Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack is a state of fear or stress that gradually builds up causing you to feel apprehensive, fearful and irritable among many other symptoms. It's technically not a thing at least in diagnostic manuals but there is a distinct difference between anxiety and panic attacks.

An example of an anxiety attack is seeing a rat run across the road in front of you. You're terrified of them and now find yourself having anxiety symptoms that are fairly mild but can disrupt the rest of your day. The symptoms can linger for days after the event or stressor that triggered the attack.

What Are The Symptoms Of An Anxiety Attack?

The symptoms of an anxiety attack tend to be much milder than a panic attack. These symptoms tend to be more persistent though so they might last for a few days.

The symptoms of an anxiety attack are;

  • Nausea

  • Muscle Tension

  • Feeling Overwhelmed

  • Having Butterflies In Your Stomach

  • Tiredness/Fatigue

  • Lump In Throat Sensation

  • Difficulty Concentrating

What Causes An Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety attacks are usually triggered by an external source e.g sight of blood or rodents.

Anticipating situations where your possible trigger might occur can also trigger an anxiety attack e.g public speaking, health issues or going back to work/school.

Anxiety attacks can last much longer as they don’t peak the same way Panic Attacks do. With Panic Attacks, you’ll experience the symptoms for around 30 minutes or less and the symptoms will subside.

Anxiety attacks however tend to linger which might explain why you’re not able to eat the day you have that job interview or find it hard to sleep the day before an operation. You anticipate what will happen which causes your stress to rise and ultimately end up experiencing an anxiety attack.

What Is A Panic Attack?

Now panic attacks are a whole different ball game… with panic attacks, you could be chilling on the beach not a care in the world then BOOM, your day is ruined by this sudden attack.

A panic attack is a sudden burst of fear and impending doom that is accompanied by physical symptoms.

Panic attacks are sudden, intense and usually happen without a visible trigger or warning which is why many people believe they're having a heart attack the first time they experience a panic attack.

An example of a panic attack is standing in a long queue in a hot crowded store and you suddenly start feeling dizzy. Worried that you might faint you start feeling the symptoms getting worse and worse until you find yourself hyperventilating. The symptoms and overwhelming environment were a catalyst for the panic attack and your fear fuelled the anxiety further.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Panic Attack?

Panic attack symptoms will be more evident to you than anxiety attacks which is why people tend to think they're having a serious medical emergency the first time they have a panic attack. The symptoms tend to peak around 10 - 15 minutes into the attack and subside after around 30 minutes.

The symptoms of panic attacks are;

  • Hyperventilating

  • Shortness Of Breath

  • Nausea

  • Tingling/Numbness

  • Lightheadedness

  • Muscle Tension

  • Sweating

  • Lump In Throat

  • Claw Hands

  • Heart Palpitations

  • Tight Chest

What Causes A Panic Attack?

Panic attacks can be caused by various different reasons for example;

  • Stress

  • Feeling Overwhelmed By Anxiety

  • Anticipating Danger

  • Shallow Breathing

  • Imbalance Of Neurotransmitters

  • Traumatic Events

  • Physical Symptoms That Fuel Your Anxiety

  • Exposure To Trigger

These are just a few reasons, many people will have different triggers so it's not easy to pinpoint the exact cause of panic attacks.

If you already have anxiety then you'll be more likely to experience a panic attack. If the panic attacks become frequent you'll develop a panic disorder and in extreme cases that can lead to Agoraphobia.

Triggers will be different for everyone but they tend to be phobia, stress or health-related.

To sum it up...

Anxiety Attacks

Panic Attacks

Has An External Threat

Might Not Have Visible Threat

Builds Up Gradually

Comes On Suddenly

Doesn't Have Intense Symptoms Like Panic Attacks

Has Intense Symptoms That Come On Suddenly Fuelling The Anxiety

Fires Up Your Fight Or Flight System

Fires Up Fight Or Flight Response

Can Linger For Days or Weeks

Lasts For Around 30 Mins Max

Symptoms Include...

Anxiety Attack Symptoms

Panic Attack Symptoms

Mild Nausea

Shallow Breathing/Hyperventilating

Mild Dizziness


Clammy Hands

Racing Heart

Brain Fog


Racing Thoughts

Feeling Like You're Losing Control

Feeling Overwhelmed

Lump In Throat

Lump In Throat

Excessive Sweating

Muscle Tension

Feeling Detached From Reality

Feeling Irritable

Tingling Sensations Around Body


Claw Hands (Caused By Hyperventilating)

Chest Pain

Hot Flushes and Chills

The Pathways To Anxiety

There are two pathways to anxiety;

  1. Amygdala Based Anxiety

  2. Cortex Based Anxiety

I'll go into depth in another post about them but to keep this post short it's basically the way your anxiety formulates in your brain.

Amygdala based anxiety is where your brain interprets potential danger e.g fire, dangerous animals, cars speeding towards you etc. Your amygdala looks out for danger so if your amygdala is hyperactive you'll notice your anxiety kicking in more. Anxiety is basically your brain firing off false alarms frequently so if you find yourself being anxious of danger often it's most likely you have Amgydala based anxiety.

Cortex based anxiety is basically where you constantly anticipate the worst e.g worrying someone is upset with you, anticipating being fired etc. With cortex based anxiety you'll find yourself overthinking often and it will usually be negative thoughts of scenarios that either haven't happened or wouldn't happen.

I didn't mention these things to sound super smart (even though I probably butchered the explanation) but because they can explain how your anxiety formulates and how you can figure out the best form of treatment.

Panic and Anxiety Attacks can leave you feeling exhausted and confused as to why they're happening. This is why it's important to consider what happens just before you experience an anxiety or panic attack so you can determine what your pathway to anxiety is and then work backwards to restructure your brain.

What Can You Take From This Post?

  • Anxiety attacks happen gradually

  • Panic attacks happen suddenly

  • Anxiety attack symptoms tend to be mild

  • Panic attack symptoms tend to be intense

  • Anxiety attacks tend to linger for days or weeks afterwards

  • Panic attacks subside quickly, they last for around 30 minutes MAX

  • Amygdala based anxiety creates anxiety from perceived danger

  • Cortex based anxiety causes you to overthink and anticipate danger

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