The Differences Between Panic and Anger Attacks

Close up of angry yelling businessman

gpointstudio / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

It’s not unusual for people who have panic disorder, agoraphobia, or another anxiety disorder to experience frustration because of their condition. You may blame yourself or others for your condition, further escalating your sense of anger and resentment. Sometimes this frustration can develop into anger toward yourself, anger at your situation, or anger toward others.

Researchers have conducted studies on what they term “anger attacks” in depressed and anxious individuals. They conclude that there are certain similarities between anger attacks and panic attacks. The following describes the symptoms of anger attacks and panic attacks with an explanation of the key differences.

Symptoms of Anger Attacks

According to researchers, anger attacks are characterized by the occurrence of at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pains, tightening, or discomfort
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling like attacking others
  • Heart pounding or racing
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Physically attacking others
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Throwing or destroying objects
  • Tingling or itching skin

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is a handbook used by treatment providers in determining one's diagnosis. This manual contains valuable definitions of symptoms and disorders as well as diagnostic criteria.

According to the DSM-5, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling of choking
  • Heart palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Trembling or shaking

Understanding the Differences

It’s easy to see the similarities between the symptoms of an anger attack and a panic attack. Researchers point out that both produce many of the same sudden and intense physical and emotional sensations. But, they also note some differences.

Researchers propose that anger attacks typically occur in situations in which an individual feels emotionally trapped rather than as the result of fear and anxiety that is often associated with panic attacks.

In addition, there are criteria that are unique to anger attacks, including:

  • Angry overreaction to small irritations
  • Inappropriate anger directed towards others
  • Irritable feelings in the past 6 months
  • One or more anger attacks experienced in the past month

Many things can trigger anger attacks, including stress, financial issues, work, and social pressures, family or relationship troubles, lack of sleep, and even frustration over having panic disorder, agoraphobia, or another type of anxiety disorder.

Anger attacks can also be a symptom of numerous health conditions, including:

  • Alcohol misuse: Misusing alcohol makes it more difficult to control your emotions.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD often experience greater emotional intensity.
  • Bipolar disorder: Mania in bipolar disorder can cause extreme anger over a mild irritant.
  • Depression: Many people with depression experience anger attacks as a result of common annoyances.
  • Grief: It is common for people to experience anger attacks after the loss of a loved one.

Panic attacks, on the other hand, can be unexpected, out-of-the-blue, or cued by thinking about or being exposed to something you fear. For instance, people who have a phobia (such as the fear of flying, fear of enclosed spaces, or fear of public speaking) often experience panic attacks. Anger can also intensify and worsen panic attack symptoms.

Coping With Anger Attacks

If you feel that you are experiencing anger attacks, and they are interfering with your work or relationships, talk to your doctor or mental healthcare provider.

Together, you can work to develop an anger management plan, which might include identifying your triggers, behaviors, and reactions and learning and practicing relaxation techniques such as the following:

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help reduce your symptoms. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, that can be used to effectively treat panic attacks also work for managing anger attacks.

Good self-care routines can also help. Self-care may include exercising, eating well, managing your sleep habits, and building a solid support network.

Attending local or online support groups and ongoing therapy are also viable options. Through therapy, you can learn to better control your anger and cope with your panic or anger attacks in a healthy way. By following through with treatment and embracing healthy lifestyle choices, you can expect to have both issues in check.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an anxiety disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Painuly NP, Grover S, Gupta N, Mattoo SK. Prevalence of anger attacks in depressive and anxiety disorders: Implications for their construct?. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011;65(2):165-74. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1819.2010.02177.x

  2. Painuly NP, Grover S, Mattoo SK, Gupta N. Anger attacks in obsessive compulsive disorderInd Psychiatry J. 2011;20(2):115–119. doi:10.4103/0972-6748.102501

  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.

  4. Fava M, Rosenbaum JF. Anger attacks in patients with depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 1999;60 Suppl 15:21-4.

  5. Giancola PR, Levinson CA, Corman MD, et al. Men and women, alcohol and aggression. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2009;17(3):154-64. doi:10.1037/a0016385

  6. Ballester J, Goldstein T, Goldstein B, et al. Is bipolar disorder specifically associated with aggression?. Bipolar Disord. 2012;14(3):283-90. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2012.01006.x

  7. American Psychological Association. Controlling Anger Before It Controls You.

  8. Farnam A, MehrAra A, Dadashzadeh H, Chalabianlou G, Safikhanlou S. Studying the effect of sertraline in reducing aggressive behavior in patients with major depressionAdv Pharm Bull. 2017;7(2):275–279. doi:10.15171/apb.2017.033

Additional Reading

By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC
Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders.