How to Tell the Difference Between a Panic Attack and Anxiety

Dr. Greg Kushnick
5 min readJun 13, 2018
“Is this a panic attack or am I just anxious?”

A painful wave of worry and dread just washed over you…even worse than that.

You’ve never felt such awful anxiety before. You were mentally paralyzed. You couldn’t think about anything else. What was that? Did you just have an anxiety attack or a panic attack?

As a Manhattan psychologist who has successfully treated thousands of New Yorkers with panic and anxiety, I’m happy to answer this question for you.

Allow me to explain.

(Please note that a “nervous breakdown” is something very different and often involves the complete inability to function after an extreme biological or environmental event. Chances are, if you’re able to read this article, you’re not having a nervous breakdown, but be sure to consult with a mental health professional to verify what you’re going through.)

The Difference Between Panic Attack and Anxiety Attack Symptoms

A panic attack is a different experience than an anxiety attack, although they do overlap. Allow me to explain what a panic attack is and that will help you understand much better.

  1. Panic attacks are not necessarily connected to a specific stressor. They may lead you to avoid certain places that bring on the horrific symptoms associated with a panic attack. Essentially, if you’re at home thinking about some event that may or will happen in the future and you’re freaking out, it’s probably an anxiety attack. If it feels like it came out of nowhere, it’s not connected to an event in the future and you need to escape a place you’re in, it’s probably panic.
  2. Panic attacks typically involve the need to escape a particular situation in which you’ve either already had a panic attack in the past or you’re in the situation when panic strikes and you must remove yourself immediately.
  3. Panic attacks are sudden and extreme, as opposed to an anxiety attack during which there is a build-up of anxiety.
  4. Panic attacks are often more disturbing for four reasons: (A) You feel like you’re going crazy while the panic attack lasts. It’s a sense that you’re losing your mind, which is an absolutely awful experience. (B) You’re aware on a…
Dr. Greg Kushnick

Manhattan psychologist with extensive experience relieving the emotional suffering of New Yorkers. Creator of Vomo & Techealthiest, two self-improvement blogs.