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Is it an Anxiety Attack or Panic Attack?

The Symptoms of Anxiety Attacks vs. Panic Attacks

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are often viewed through the same lens, but each condition has very different symptoms. Understanding the differences can help you choose the best way to protect your mental health and wellbeing.

Symptoms of an anxiety attack

Anxiety disorders are recognized psychological conditions , but “anxiety attacks” are not. There isn't a uniformly recognized diagnostic definition of what an anxiety attack is, which means two people experiencing an attack of anxiety can have wildly different symptoms and experiences. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Restlessness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shaking
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Chills, sweating or hot flashes

No matter what the symptoms are, anxiety is generally related to something that makes you feel stressed or worried.

Symptoms of a panic attack

The biggest difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks is all in the timing. While anxiety has a cause, panic attacks can materialize out of nowhere. Anxiety can range from mild to severe, but panic attacks are both physically and emotionally intense.

Panic disorder, marked by the occurrence of unexpected panic attacks , is also classified as an anxiety disorder by experts. That means the criteria for panic attacks is very specific. According to the DSM-5 , a resource that mental health professionals use to assess and diagnose mental disorders:

“A panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

There are additional criteria that can lead to a diagnosis, including, “persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences” and “a significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks.”

When is it time to seek therapy for anxiety and panic disorders?

Anxiety and panic can uproot your life, making it difficult or impossible to find enjoyment in daily living. In these cases, support from a licensed mental health professional with specialized experience treating anxiety and panic-based conditions is crucial for healing.

If the thought of visiting a counselor makes you feel anxious or uncertain, click here to learn more about how to prepare for your first counseling session .

Anxiety and panic disorder counseling in Northern Colorado

Foundations Counseling in Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor is staffed with compassionate therapists who understand how hard it is to live with crippling anxiety and panic. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us to schedule a free consultation — we're here for you.