Whats the difference between a panic attack and meltdown?

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Sora
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25 Sep 2011, 11:16 am

Distinctly different certainly, but I found many children especially but also a number of adults can't tell them apart as neatly as that.

They say they feel "bad (uncomfortable) and scared" or "anxious and overwhelmed" about both.

From working with kids, I can see how many are afraid of being unable to just do and say and understand all of what they can do outside of a meltdown. Just having their routines disrupted by someone makes them feel scared because they will need some time to function the way they're used to again. And most of those who feel like this do not yet understand why it upsets them if there is an unexpected change; they just know that they feel upset or anxious for some unknown reason.

For me, a meltdown is nothing like a panic attack and my meltdowns do not involve anxiety or panic at all. And come to think of it, a meltdown for me also is nothing like what most people think is an emotional breakdown or an impulsive outburst. I think I grew into telling them apart by now.


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micgrace
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25 Sep 2011, 3:48 pm

For me, a panic attack is a response to flee an unwanted situation like a loud party, the mall or something like that. It will turn into a meltdown if the panic attack is not taken care of by getting the hell out of the situation that is causing it.

Yes I suffer from both but am able to live a normal life by instantly responding to the panic attack symtoms nowdays and removing myself from the situation. I used to submerge and ignore the panic attack and go straight into meltdown, yes, throw something, beat something, generally scream, yell. Most unpleasant.



btbnnyr
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25 Sep 2011, 4:52 pm

I have never had a panic attack, only meltdowns, which are dominated by anger.

From descriptions of panic attacks, they remind me a bit of the physical sensations I experienced once during a severe allergic reaction that was anaphylactic shock. I did feel like I was going to die that time, but it was caused by an antibiotic.



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25 Sep 2011, 5:49 pm

when i was a teenager i had panic attacks a few times - always in highly populated areas. i could usually get myself to "safety", however it was common that psychosomaticism would end up crippling my hamstrings by the time i got there.

meltdowns however are much more of a: "HOW HARD IS IT TO JUST f**k OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE????" *smashes drywall*

haven't had either since i was about 21.



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26 Sep 2011, 9:04 am

I have things that look like meltdowns and things that look like panic attacks, but they mostly involve the same emotions - overwhelming fear, possibly with a dash of anger, sadness and/or other negative emotions mixed in. The big difference is in the behavioral expression.

Panic attacks involve behavior and nonverbal expression that is consistent with fear and only fear (eg freezing, crying in a scared way). Meltdowns involve behavior and nonverbal expression that is more likely to be interpreted as angry, or as a mix of emotions (eg yelling, crying, acting threatening).

But from my perspective, the only difference is that in a meltdown, I don't feel safe to show fear. Typically what I'm afraid of in a meltdown is the exact same person I'm trying to get comfort from, and so I do a bunch of indirect and antagonistic ways of getting that comfort. Whereas in a panic attack I'm afraid of something else and the person I'm seeking comfort from doesn't scare me at all.



TheBrain
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26 Sep 2011, 9:30 am

I read this because I had the same question. Thanks. I think you've cleared it up for me. I have both. Man, every time I think I've got this thing figured out it gets more complicated.

That helps explain why I got picked on so much in High School. People thought that it was funny when I lost control. I might beat the crap out of them, but that was only every once in a while. Mostly, I would yell, get really anxious and drop stuff or whatever, but I lost total control. Kids are mean.


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mds_02
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26 Sep 2011, 9:38 am

btbnnyr wrote:
I have never had a panic attack, only meltdowns, which are dominated by anger.

From descriptions of panic attacks, they remind me a bit of the physical sensations I experienced once during a severe allergic reaction that was anaphylactic shock. I did feel like I was going to die that time, but it was caused by an antibiotic.


Yes, from what I've heard of severe allergic reactions, panic attacks can feel very much like that. Just without the actual physical danger. Though, if you are not used to them, you might think you are dying.

For me, in a panic attack I become literally incapable of movement. It starts in my hands, but eventually every muscle in my body cramps up. I have trouble breathing, and my vision is distorted. I can barely speak; I might squeeze out a word or two out but nothing that's going to make sense to anyone else.

Thankfully, my gf and family are beginning to learn, when I say I need to get away from a situation (usually a big crowd, or some other sensory overload), to just let me go. And if it's too late and it's already started, to help me get to a quiet spot and then leave me alone I can just sit down, focus on my breathing, and ride it out.


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