Anxiety and panic are two words that are often used to mean the same thing. This is not always the case and the words each have their own meaning. Anxiety is a slow process where as panic is much quicker and carries more intense symptoms. Panic attacks are sudden while anxiety is often a long-standing fear or phobia.
Anxiety attacks are not actually listed in the DSM, the manual that psychiatrists and psychologists use to diagnose mental illnesses. When people describe an "anxiety attack," they actually mean to say a "panic attack," the accepted term, but this is still not the same thing as general anxiety. Panic attacks are very fast in their sunset. They are very sudden and unexpected. They are also very quick, not taking very long and averaging a duration of about ten minutes. They are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as severe sweating or mild digestive problems.
Anxiety is a very different problem. Anxiety is a slow process that builds up over time. This is something that someone may have for months or years. It may be a general anxiety where a lot of things make them unsettled or nervous, or it may be a specific fear. When someone is intensely afraid of something, this is called a phobia. Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders for example. Unlike panic, anxiety does not usually have physical symptoms, and may may have mental symptoms such as lack of concentration, obsessive thoughts, restless, or in some cases insomnia.
Phobias are a form of anxiety, and involve a fear of something very specific. While some anxiety is not the same thing as a panic attack, it can lead to an attack if the victim is exposed to the object of their phobia. Exposure therapy is done by progressively exposing the victim to the object over time so that the do not panic when they come in contact with it. Phobias are often something that the person experiences in the background of their every day life.
The difference between anxiety or panic attacks can seem very subtle, but it is an important difference when it comes to the conditions. While anxiety is a mental illness that lasts a long time and exists in the background, panic attacks can have very frustrating physical symptoms, and very much disrupt the person's life. Panic attacks and anxieties are both treatable through various types of therapy.