What's the difference between anxiety and panic attacks?

Panic attacks are a form of anxiety. Having an occasional panic attack is common, and they occur as a part of many different mental disorders.

A panic attack is an acute upsurge in intense fear and discomfort that leads to multiple distressing body symptoms and thought patterns happening all at the same time. Panic attacks typically occur “out of the blue,” and last only a few minutes. A panic attack is not something that occurs for hours and hours. Sometimes they wake a person up from sleep.  

Body symptoms that are experienced during a panic attack can include:

  • Pounding heart or increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Feeling of choking, inability to breathe
  • Chest pain

Some distressing thoughts people have during a panic attack include:

  • “I’m dying”
  • “I’m going crazy “ or “I’m losing control”
  • “I’m having a heart attack”

Learn about behavioral health services at Swedish.