anxiety vs panic: do you know the difference?

unless you have experienced both, the likelihood is that you don’t.

but it’s (probably) not your fault. when you google ‘anxiety attack’, smarty pants google says:

Panic attack

Consult a doctor if you have a medical concern.

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which you have repeated attacks of intense fear that something bad will happen.


an anxiety attack is not a panic attack.

I REPEAT. they are two very different things.

panic attacks are a symptom of a panic disorder, not an anxiety disorder. while anxiety can lead to panic, they are definitely not the same thing.

you know this morning when you posted on facebook that your fourteen year old daughter started her period and you had a full-blown panic attack? that is not only incorrect, but it is a lie, and it is offensive and disrespectful to those who suffer from panic attacks.

I can tell you that with confidence because I have had both.

I suffer from anxiety attacks often because of the nature of my illness. anything that is outside of my schedule and or routine ie anything more than going to work in the morning or staying in in the evenings and on weekends causes me anxiety. I don’t like people because people, specifically newish people, are unpredictable and they are therefore untrustworthy and my brain translates that ideal into paranoia aka fear. I’ll sit in my house backed into a corner for an indeterminable amount of time until I either force myself to go outside or say fuck it, and make all my friends hate me, but that’s entirely another thing. the point is, it is very easy to get anxiety: you might say to a friend ‘my pen is out of ink’ and that may cause you anxiety because you can’t finish your journal entry or you can’t do edits or you’re not going to get a project to your boss on time; you know, whatever. anxiety is a thing, but it’s not a THING.

it’s not a THING until it becomes a THING. and that, my friends, is called a panic attack.

panic attacks are a force to be reckoned with, to say the least. I had one a few weeks ago, and one after that, but since then, I haven’t seen a panic attack in more than ten years. they used to wake me up in the middle of the night when I was a kid, I guess, because my mother used to tell me that I’d appear terrified, breathing heavily and clawing at my chest. lucky for me that I never remembered them, like some distance dream. lucky for me because once you’ve had a panic attack, you can’t stop having them until you learn how not to have a panic attack about having a panic attack.

they are that fucking horrible.

imagine driving, minding your own business listening to your favorite band, and suddenly your heart is beating so hard against the walls of your chest that you think you are going to die. seriously, you are going to die. you cannot breathe and your blood is boiling and these tears are leaking out of your eyes, so hot they are like steam, and you are going to fucking die. at the very least, you’re having a heart attack.

nope. doctors will say that you’re fine. some off thing that’ll never happen again or you imagined it. until you come across a doctor who 1. actually cares (not likely) or 2. has a panic disorder and provides you with medications/diet/regimens that will actually help you because if they don’t, you will live out the rest of your days miserable or broken or both, until you eventually kill yourself out of fear.

a panic attack is the most terrifying experience anyone has been through, ever.

so if you’re having a panic attack because your daughter just got her period:

1. you probably have a serious mental illness or:

2. you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

probably the second one. again not your fault, but I imagine that when the folks on facebook who suffer from these disorders see you say some dumb shit like that, they feel the same way as I feel when All The Writers In The World Ever refer to themselves as crazy because they ‘hear voices’.



Allison Burke, Editor and Staff Writer

Allie Burke is the no-makeup-wearing, simultaneous-YA-and-Vonnegut-loving, Nike-obsessed bestselling author and acclaimed Selfie Queen of the Universe. She’s written in various forms for an indeterminable amount of time, climbing up the Amazon charts and ultimate geekery from small time book-reviewer to literary editor, until the authory culture pushed her off the bridge of artistic literature.

She now writes shit she’ll probably never publish, never shuts up about John Green, only reads books she wasn’t asked to review, and drinks coffee at all the wrong times.

She is the creator of Organic Coffee, haphazardly. 


2 thoughts on “anxiety vs panic: do you know the difference?”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I experience anxiety often. It’s usually over little things like missing a deadline at work, or over my fear that I’ll forget something (having post concussion swiss cheese memory is GREAT for that), or that the post I just made in a private group was actually public. I’ve also had panic attacks. Lots of them.

    I was practically crippled by panic attacks from age 18 to 32. For a good chunk of that time I was medicated (story for another day). From age 32 to the present day I’ve only had two panic attacks worthy of attention. Both recent (in the last few months) happened for no particular reason. My normal triggers weren’t present, and that in of itself is terrifying. Knowing there’s a whole new set of completely unknown things and unpredictable circumstances lurking around the corner waiting to make me feel like I’m going to die isn’t my idea of a good time.

    So yeah, unless you’ve had a panic attack, and you’d fucking know it if you had, cut the shit.


  2. Thanks for writing this, Allie! I’ve had both–anxiety and panic attacks–and yeah, they’re two different animals. I blame the media for a lot of the confusion. On TV and in movies, people are always talking about panic attacks when they’re really having anxiety attacks. Not that anxiety attacks are any fun, but panic attacks? Hoping never to have another one of those.


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