Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack Blog by Innerspace Counseling IOP and PHP programs

Recognizing and Coping with Anxiety Attacks vs. Panic Attacks for Students

Student life can already be a rollercoaster of emotions, with mental health problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression often being common. Surprisingly, many students are unaware of how common anxiety attacks and panic attacks are among their peers.

Recognizing these attacks and knowing how to cope is vital. Many students have difficulty telling the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks. It is crucial to understand the distinctions and discover effective ways to manage them.

In this blog, we'll discuss how it feels to have these attacks, share student stories, and give helpful ways to cope. We'll also discuss when it might be time to seek professional help and introduce you to Innerspace Counseling's treatment options.

Understanding the Difference Between Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are related but distinct experiences. It's crucial to distinguish between the two to better manage them.

Panic Attacks often strike suddenly, reaching their peak within minutes. Some common causes include stress (including post-traumatic stress disorder), specific situations or phobias, traumatic events, or even physical exertion. Some people may also experience them without an identifiable cause.

They typically involve intense physical sensations and a feeling of impending doom. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Feelings of unreality or detachment

  • Panic attack crying

  • Tired

Anxiety Attacks on the other hand, are caused by stressors such as upcoming exams, presentations, or personal challenges. Anxiety attacks are typically more gradual in onset compared to panic attacks. In some cases, what begins as a usual anxiety attack can turn into a prolonged anxiety attack, lasting for extended periods. They involve excessive worry or fear about future events and often manifest as:

  • Excessive worry

  • Muscle tension

  • Restlessness

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

Real-Life Student Scenarios

Let's look at some student situations to understand how it feels to have panic and anxiety attacks.

Sara's Panic Attack:

Sara, a college student, is in the middle of an important final exam. Suddenly, her heart races, and she can't catch her breath. Her mind races with thoughts of failing the exam, and she feels like she's about to faint.

After the episode, Sara experiences mental exhaustion. She has a hard time focusing on her exam and feels embarrassed, wondering if anyone noticed her distress. Over the next few days, she's apprehensive about attending class, fearing a recurrence.

Jared's Panic Attack:

Jared, a third-year university student, is enjoying a coffee with friends at a campus cafe. Out of nowhere, his palms begin to sweat, and his vision blurs.

A crippling fear wraps around him, making it feel as though the walls are closing in. He tries to listen to the conversation, but the sound of his heartbeat drowns out his friends' voices. He's overwhelmed with a feeling that something terrible is about to happen, even though he's in a familiar environment.

After the panic subsides, Jared rushes out of the cafe, gasping for air. Confusion and embarrassment fill him as he wonders what just happened. He tries to avoid the cafe and gets worried about going to social events, fearing he might have another sudden attack.

Mark's Anxiety Attack:

Mark, a high school student, is overwhelmed with the thought of presenting a project to his class. He gets more and more restless the night before, can't sleep, and worries about embarrassing himself in front of others.

After the presentation, even if it went relatively well, Mark keeps replaying moments in his head, critiquing every minor mistake. This over-analysis makes him dread future presentations.

Lisa’s Anxiety Attack:

Lisa, a final-year student, sits in her dorm room surrounded by brochures and application forms for post-graduate programs. The weight of the pending decisions makes her chest tight, and she starts overthinking every possible outcome. What if she chooses the wrong path? What if she disappoints her family?

As she thinks more, her breath becomes shallow. She also feels a tight knot in her stomach. This makes it difficult for her to concentrate.

Once her anxiety levels drop, Lisa feels drained, both mentally and physically. She scolds herself for not deciding and avoids friends, afraid that talking about her future will cause more anxiety.

Coping Strategies for Students

Managing and preventing panic and anxiety attacks is crucial for students' well-being. Here are some effective coping strategies:

  • Deep Breathing: Practice deep breathing exercises to calm your nervous system during an attack. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale through your mouth for four.

  • Grounding Techniques: Use grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

  • Mindfulness Meditation: Regular mindfulness meditation can help you manage stress and anxiety effectively.

  • Balanced Lifestyle: Ensure adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and regular physical activity.

  • Open Conversations: Sharing your feelings with someone trustworthy can offer relief and perspective.

  • Seeking Help from Mental Health Professionals: If your panic or anxiety attacks become debilitating or lead to other mental health issues like depression or suicidal thoughts, it's essential to seek professional help.

How We Can Help

Innerspace Counseling offers a range of treatment options to help students navigate mental health issues effectively. Our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) provide structured support and therapy. We specialize in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can be highly effective for managing anxiety and panic disorders.

Our team of experienced therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors can create a tailored treatment plan to address your specific needs and challenges through a detailed assessment.


Recognizing the differences between panic attacks and anxiety attacks is the first step towards managing them effectively. Students facing these challenges should explore coping strategies like deep breathing, grounding techniques, and mindfulness meditation. However, if these issues persist or worsen, don't hesitate to seek professional help.

Innerspace Counseling helps you overcome mental health disorders and live a fulfilling life with support and treatment programs. Your mental well-being is paramount, and there is hope for a brighter future with the right help and treatment. Reach out to us today and take the first step toward a healthier, happier you.