How do I know if I’m having a panic or anxiety attack?


The terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” are often used interchangeably because of a few commonly shared symptoms. However, they have differences in intensity and duration. 

Kajol’s recent web series “Tribhanga” displays her sleep attacks, Deepika in “Gehraiyaan” shows anxiety attacks whenever she is in an emotional situation or even has suicidal thoughts when she’s alone, and even Aliya Bhatt in the movie “Dear Zindagi” where she expresses her situation through the line – “this is just getting worse”,  helps you understand the difference.

What is an anxiety attack?

An anxiety attack is the peak of anxiety. Physical symptoms are caused by extreme stress, fear, and dread, because they are the outcome of you worrying about something, making them feel more predictable – Choti si baat pe ghabrana ya bahut stress lene se anxiety ho sakti hai.

Anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma- and stressor-related diseases are all concerns in which anxiety is a significant factor.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is characterized by an intense and paralyzing sense of strong, sudden fear. They might occur for no apparent reason or as a result of a triggering event affecting mostly those with panic disorder. You may feel afraid or threatened during a panic attack – Saans lene ki takleef ho sakta hai aur dil ki dhadkan tez hoti hai jis se gabharaht badti hai.

How do I know if I’m having an anxiety attack or a panic attack?    

The key differences between panic and anxiety are the strength of the symptoms and the amount of time that the main symptoms last. Panic attacks are usually shorter with higher intensity whereas anxiety might gradually become more severe over the period and persist for “months”. Actor Sourabh Raaj has explained what anxiety looks like in the short film called “what is anxiety”. Watch it here

Anxiety attack symptoms:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Fluttering or fast-beating heartbeats 
  • Restlessness
  • Trembling 
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Intense worry or distress

Panic attack symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness 
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme numbness or tingling 
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy or losing control 
  • Feeling disconnected from themselves and their surroundings – Depersonalization 

How can you treat it?

If panic attacks go untreated, they can worsen and progress to panic disorder or phobias. It includes a trial and error process to understand which treatment works best for you. Some treatment options available are:

Psychotherapy (also referred to as talk therapy)  involves working with mental health professionals to understand your emotions influencing your behavior

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered an effective type of psychotherapy for anxiety or panic attacks. CBT teaches you in understanding your triggers and the techniques for handling fearful situations or an attack.
  • Panic-focused psychodynamic therapy focuses on working through early life experiences and expressing hidden painful emotions. Resolving these suppressed emotions help in reducing or eliminating the attacks.
  • Group therapy provides you a safe space with no associated shame and stigma to freely express yourself to people who have similar experiences.


  • Antidepressants:
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The Central Drug Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) approved few of the safe choices of medication with fewer side effects. They increase serotonin (happy hormone) levels in the brain.
    • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). They inhibit the absorption of serotonin as well as norepinephrine, a chemical messenger involved in the body’s stress response. 
  • Benzodiazepines are used in emergencies on a short-term basis, these are used carefully as they are addictive both mentally and physically. They have a calming mechanism, done by slowing the function of the central nervous system. 
  • Anti-anxiety drugs help in maintaining serotonin or norepinephrine levels.

Is therapy or medication better for anxiety?

CBT and medications can collaboratively work more efficiently. CBT is highly structured and solution-oriented. It usually works on the interconnecting physical and emotional responses to the situations. It can help you get to the point where you can break your negative cycles and manage anxious or fearful situations. CBT can go up to 12 to 20 sessions depending on the individual and can take place in an individual 1-1 setup or group.

Medications, on the other hand, provide immediate relief from the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. However, these medications do not work for everyone and they carry several symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems and weight gain. Medications work for those who don’t have a psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy might not work for people who don’t find relief even after expressing themselves and medications do not provide long-term relief. However, psychotherapy enables you to address the underlying issue that is causing you anxiety.

Do you see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety or panic attacks? 

    It is a common concern that people have when seeking the advice of a mental health professional. 

Psychologists offer psychotherapy sessions to help people relax and deal with stress. Psychiatrists recommend medication and should be consulted when mental distress is extreme.

Understanding your symptoms is one of the most effective ways to choose. If you show any signs of stress or anxiety, it is best to consult a psychologist. There are times when both professionals work together to diagnose or treat a mental health illness.

 Grounding techniques for a panic or anxiety attack:

  • Deep and slow breathing: use the 4-4-4 breathing technique, 4 count breath in – holding your breath for 4 seconds – 4 count breath out.
  • Moving your body: focus on your hand or leg moment or stretch your body a little.
  • Touching and feeling the items near you: hold on to the items near you and observe their shape and color.
  • Hold ice or put your hands-on water: holding ice or putting it in your mouth helps you calm down, constantly hydrating yourself is another way. 
  • Try smelling and savoring the smell around you: smell the flowers or perfume and let it stay with you for a while.
  • Recite something: reciting a poem or math tables or even chanting a mantra can help you distract.
  • Try the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory grounding technique: look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3  things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
  • Listen to music: listen to your favorite song or any other calming music like the sounds of waves or birds chirping. 
  • Visualize your favorite memory: think of the good memories, such as your favorite birthday celebration or the trip you have been to. 

Home remedies for anxiety or panic attacks:

You should consult your mental health professional to understand and treat anxiety or panic-related symptoms. In addition to this, the following activities can help you feel stable.

  • Conscious breathing patterns
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Using relaxation techniques
  • Hydrating yourself
  • Journaling 
  • Practicing yoga
  • Gardening
  • Acknowledging your surroundings 
  • Playing with a pet 

Anxiety and panic episodes can cause major disruptions in your life. Know that help is available if you or a loved one is experiencing them. The first step in finding relief is to speak with a mental health professional about your problems. They will help you work out the techniques. They can assist you in developing an effective plan to control symptoms and lessen the effects.     

We at BetterSpace promote a safe and inclusive space for people dealing with mental health issues. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms associated with anxiety or panic attacks, you can seek mental health professionals via the question box or book a consultation directly here

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