Anxiety vs. Panic: What’s the Difference?



Sometimes, people use the terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably. While anxiety and panic may look similar, they are very different from each other. So how can you know the difference?


What is anxiety?

Anxiety pertains to constant worry or apprehension that you have a difficult time controlling. This worry could be related to your work or school performance. Anxiety symptoms can last for either a short or long period of time, and the onset is pretty gradual (not sudden). Anxiety can impact you socially, occupationally, and/or academically. Along with anxiety, common physical symptoms include:

  1. feeling restless or on edge

  2. being easily fatigued

  3. difficulty concentrating or your mind going blank

  4. irritability, tense muscles

  5. sleep problems (i.e., difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)


What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks pertain to a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that lasts for a short period of time (i.e., usually starts and stops within minutes). Panic attacks can occur whether you are calm or feeling anxious and can impact you socially, occupationally, and/or academically. During a panic attack, common symptoms include:

  1. pounding or accelerated heart

  2. Sweating

  3. trembling or shaking

  4. shortness of breath or tightness in your throat

  5. chest pain, nausea or abdominal cramping

  6. dizziness or lightheadedness

  7. chills or hot flashes

  8. headaches, numbness or tingling

  9. uncontrollable crying

  10. feeling of unreality or detachment

  11. fear of losing control or dying


Is it possible to experience both at the same time?

Yes, if you’re already feeling worried and that has some physical symptoms with it, then suddenly your body starts to react without being able to control it, with more intense symptoms, then you could be experiencing both anxiety and panic at the same time.



What can help me if I’m feeling anxious or panicky at home?

When you’re feeling anxious or panicky, it can be difficult to calm yourself down. If you’re not sure what to do, here are some options that may bring short-term relief:

  1. Practice taking deep breaths or other grounding techniques

  2. Link for grounding techniques: https://www.pscvb.com/_files/ugd/ab3895_ab26e3ab332846dba8d08ed561509815.pdf

  3. Practice mindfulness or meditation

  4. Link for mindfulness tips: https://www.pscvb.com/_files/ugd/ab3895_7b444dd349d7471ca41817ff28a827a4.pdf

  5. Check out the Calm or Headspace smartphone apps that offer guided meditations, relaxing music, soundscapes, etc.,

  6. Practice creative visualization, where you close your eyes and imagine yourself in a relaxing and happy place such as the beach or mountains for 1-2 minutes, then continue with your daily activities


What are treatment options for anxiety and panic attacks?

  1. Meeting with a primary care physician (PCP) can be helpful to rule out any medical conditions that have symptoms similar to anxiety and panic attacks, such as heart or thyroid problems.

  2. Meeting with a therapist (e.g., licensed psychologist, counselor, or social worker), who can teach you additional ways to manage your anxiety and/or panic symptoms

  3. If you often find yourself experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks, consider meeting with a psychiatrist or primary care physician (PCP) about medication to reduce your symptoms


You don’t have to figure out how to cope with anxiety or panic alone. If you’re currently looking for a therapist, feel free to reach out to Regent University’s Psychological Services Center (PSC). We’d be happy to assist you!


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