Signs And Symptoms Of A Panic Attack And Anxiety – What’s The Difference?

Many people ask me what the signs and symptoms of a panic attack and anxiety are, so it's my hope that by the time you finish reading this article, you will have a much clearer idea.

If we look up the definition of anxiety in the Oxford dictionary you'll find the following.

A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome: he felt a surge of anxiety [count noun]: anxieties about the moral decline of today’s youth

If you find that you spend a lot of time worrying about the past and the future then you may very well be suffering from anxiety. Now it's very common for us to spend time reflecting on the past and the future but if much of this thinking process is based on fear of consequence or worrying about something you did or should've done, then this is anxiety.

Many people will use the word 'panic' flippantly. An example of this is..."I thought I was going to panic when I missed the bus".

In this example the person did not experience an actual anxiety attack as we understand it to be. Instead, it was simply an expression of someone's concern about a particular situation.

How to Tell the Difference Between Panic and an Actual Panic Attack

Man panicking

When you have a panic attack— a sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort that usually peaks within 10 minutes and fades within an hour—your brain’s fear circuits run haywire.

Scientists believe that’s due to a malfunction of nerve cells in your brainstem, which sends heart-pumping adrenaline and other hormones surging through your body.

As your heart speeds up, you begin to hyperventilate and breathe in more carbon dioxide.

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So what exactly is a panic attack? Well let's have a look at another definition from

noun, Psychiatry.
an intense attack of anxiety characterized by feelings of impending doom and trembling, sweating, pounding heart, and other physical symptoms.


You can see from this description that the experience of an actual attack is far more dramatic than someone simply worrying about a situation.

The actual physical symptoms and sensations are extremely intense and an attack will affect both the mind and body. Listed below are a few of the typical symptoms you might experience.

  • The feeling of numbness in the feet or hands
  • Pain in the chest area
  • Shaking and trembling uncontrollably
  • Heart pounding through the chest
  • Feeling lightheaded or giddy

And those are just the physical symptoms. If you consider some of the psychological symptoms, have a look at these.

  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of suffering a heart attack
  • Fear of suffering a stroke

A panic attack is an extreme version of the fight or flight response. It can occur when you have a lot of stress and anxiety in your life. This is why it is also referred to as an anxiety attack.

So to summarise, anxiety occurs when you have excessive worrying, while a panic attack is the result of a lot of stress and anxiety. One is the result of the other and a far more intense experience of anxiety in a short period of time (normally only lasting for a few minutes).

The cause of such an intensely fearful experience can be the result of a cumulative build up of stress and anxiety over a number of years, or the result of a single traumatic experience.

Hopefully by analysing the signs and symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, it has helped to highlight their differences.

As always, if you have any questions at all please get in touch and if you liked this article please spread the word so we can help even more people.


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