What’s the Difference Between Panic Attacks, Anxiety Attacks, and Panic Disorder? 1/3 Panic Attacks

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What’s the difference between an anxiety attack, a panic attack, and panic disorder? This is important because people sometimes use these terms interchangeably, they both have a lot of overlapping symptoms, but the treatment for each of them is different. So in this video we’ll talk about the difference, in the next video we’ll talk about good and bad advice for treating them and in the third video we’ll talk about how to stop panic attacks.

Okay, so what’s the difference? First, definitions vary because the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of mental health disorders, doesn’t define an anxiety attack. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, physical discomfort, and fear. Anxiety attacks usually come in anticipation of some event. You might have work stress or a family event or financial trouble or all three, and the stress becomes overwhelming. Anxiety builds over time until it reaches a breaking point. While anxiety may build over hours or days, anxiety attacks usually last less than 30 minutes.

Panic attacks are defined in the DSM-5. Around one in three people will have at least one panic attack in their lifetime. With panic attacks, a sense of overwhelming fear comes on suddenly. They are more like a balloon popping. There are two types of panic attacks: unexpected panic attacks which seem to come out of nowhere, and expected panic attacks which come in response to some kind of phobia. For example, if you’re afraid of snakes and suddenly come across one, that may trigger a panic attack.

Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks include a sense of fear, discomfort, and the FFF response triggers physical symptoms like fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, tightness of throat, dizziness, nausea, sweating, dry mouth, shaking) etc.

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Therapy in a Nutshell and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.
In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love e

If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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