Anxiety and Panic Attacks: What They Are and Their Differences

As a person who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I’ve suffered from anxiety attacks for a very long time. However, I also didn’t learn the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack until a few years ago. Given that mental health is extremely important to me, and many other college students, I think this is some information we can all benefit from.

What typically distinct an anxiety and panic attack is that a panic attack usually comes on very suddenly, and usually subsides after ten minutes; while an anxiety is usually provoked by some sort of distress, last longer, and can happen one right after another.

Their symptoms slightly differ as well. Panic attack symptoms include: sweating, shaking, the sensation of choking, nausea, and fear of death just to name a few. Anxiety attack symptoms, while they do include panic attacks symptoms such as shaking and sweating, go on to include much more; a sense of doom, a sense of losing control, hot flashes, feeling the need to escape, and feeling separated from reality.

Now that everyone knows what an anxiety and panic attack is, it’s time to share my hypothesis. If their symptoms are different, what happens to your body during each must also be different. In an article from Medical Daily, it cites a research review of animal studies published by Dr. Jieun E Kim that link the provoking of stimulation in the amygdala to reactions similar to a human panic attack. Given that the amygdala is a small part of the brain responsible for emotional behavior; but more specifically fear and aggression. In other words, panic attacks are believed to stem from the amygdala.

Turns out, science also believes that the amygdala plays a role in anxiety attacks; at least partially. The National Institute of Mental Health

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explains that memories with intense emotions, specifically emotions where a fear began, are stored in the amygdala. However, the hippocampus also plays a role in anxiety attacks because it processes whether an event from a memory was threatening or not.

So while symptoms between the two differ, on a neurological level, panic and anxiety attacks are actually quiet similar. However, it is important to note that psychology does separate panic and anxiety attacks into different disorder categories.

4 thoughts on “Anxiety and Panic Attacks: What They Are and Their Differences

  1. Lucille Laubenstein

    This was very enlightening, and helped debunk mysteries behind such an important topic. Until reading this post, I did not know that there was a such thing as an anxiety attack, I just assumed that those things were a type of panic attack. However it makes much more sense having the two issues in separate categories because they really do have different sensations, and present their own set of challenges. I found an article that shows how anxiety attacks can relate to agoraphobia, which gives a little more insight.

  2. Michael Mandarino

    Thanks for sharing – I have some family members that suffer from panic attacks so it’s good to know the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. It’s really interesting to me that two attacks that are seemingly very similar are very different. Here’s what the ADAA says to do in order to treat anxiety:

  3. Maria Jean Conti

    I think this post is super interesting because you included your personal experience with anxiety. I’ve always categorized panic attacks and anxiety attacks as very similar so reading that they are actually very different is surprising.

  4. sbm5465

    I like this post because it definitely addresses a stigma that surrounds mental illness. I feel like a lot of people claim they are having an anxiety attack, when in reality, they are probably having a panic attack. The symptoms you listed under anxiety attacks seem to be a little bit more severe to be, and caused by an underlying fear or mental problem. For example, sense of doom and feeling separated from reality are not something that someone who is having a panic attack over, say, an english exam, is likely to feel. This link: goes over both the physical and emotional effects of an anxiety disorder. Additionally, it goes over the different types of anxiety disorders that exist, which is important to know when looking at anxiety in general.

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