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catlover55

41d

What's the difference between autistic meltdowns and panic or anxiety attacks? I recently learned about meltdowns and I'm wondering how I can tell if that's what I'm experiencing or if it's just a normal anxiety attack.

Top reply
    • Bre19

      15d

      @Ash.G the experience is different for everyone is very true

    • Ash.G

      16d

      Meltdown from my experience has a longer warning period before the inevitable reaction. It is a different experience for other people though.

      • Bre19

        15d

        @Ash.G the experience is different for everyone is very true

    • justanothercryptid

      16d

      it can be difficult to tell them apart sometimes, especially early into discovering that you are autistic. in that case, you’re likely highly masked and already diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. meltdowns are caused by any kind of overwhelm, like sensory overload and/or intense emotion. they’re inherently stressful, so you obviously can experience anxiety during meltdowns. similarly, panic attacks can make sensory issues worse because you’re in fight-or-flight and your senses are heightened. symptoms of both meltdowns and panic attacks vary for everyone and can vary based on the cause. during panic attacks generally, you’re flooded with intense fear and racing thoughts. you could experience racing heart rate, breathing difficulties, trembling/shaking, chest pain/discomfort, a choking/smothered feeling, lightheadedness/feeling unsteady, chills or feeling overheated, numbness or tingling in extremities (hands and feet), sweating, nausea, etc. thoughts can range from feeling out of control to feeling like you’re dying. you may dissociate and experience feelings of unreality or feeling detached from yourself. just before a meltdown, you could feel very agitated, stressed, irritable, or anxious because you’re so overwhelmed. meltdowns are a true loss of control compared to panicking and feeling out of control. it could present like a panic attack or you could be shouting and feel like the outburst is uncontrollable. you could hyperventilate, cry, stim uncontrollably, experience verbal shutdown (“going nonverbal”), etc. there’s some overlap in symptoms and meltdowns could cause a panic attack. generally, though, you can feel yourself get progressively more stressed when you’re panicking. you do become more overstimulated and overwhelmed leading up to a meltdown. but this could feel like it comes on much more suddenly and feel more out of your control. I personally experience shutdowns far more than meltdowns, which aren’t talked about as much. they’re a more muted response to extreme overload and stress. like meltdowns, they’re a result of the same thing and are a true loss of control. during shutdowns, you’re much more likely to dissociate, withdraw, and could experience verbal shutdown. you may feel like you can’t move or feel like you have to leave your current environment. sorry this was long but hopefully this helps 😅

    • neurospicey_diabetic

      29d

      First of all, alike, that response was everything I was struggling to verbalize. To offer my autistic two cents- autistic people take in way more information from the world at large than neurotypical people. As a result, a lot of us struggle with various forms of processing (audio, visual, etc.) when our nervous system can't take in and process any more external information, our brains become overwhelmed. For me, it feels like I'm suddenly surrounded by a whirling tornado of sandpaper, screaming in my ears. My vocal cords lock, and all I can do is keen and wail. I lose sight of my surroundings, and all my muscles contact. Standing is physically impossible. It takes every ounce of cognizant thought I have to keep myself from hurting myself. I'm fortunate in that the worst times have been at home, and my husband has developed a routine of putting a tv in whatever room I'm in, putting on my most calming show, leaving me my soft fuzzy pj's, a drink, and a snack, before quietly waiting nearby, out of sight. But every autistic person experiences their world differently. That's what my meltdowns feel like as a result of more inputs than my system can process. It's kind of like repeatedly sticking a branch in your bike tire until the spikes break. Anxiety and panic attacks happen as a result of a perceived fear of that. Ie- the thought of grocery shopping makes me anxious and gives me panic attacks. The act of shopping is such an assault on my nervous system, that it causes my system to become overwhelmed leading to totally restaurant collapse.

    • Quinnifer

      29d

      For me I can tell I’m having an anxiety attack or a panic attack by the sensations in my body. A meltdown for me usually feels more instant or suddenly overwhelming whereas a panic or anxiety attack the first sign I have is that my hands starts feel bigger than they actually are and my brain fog gets very bad. Where as a meltdown usually starts with agitation and more aggressive of a reaction internally. I don’t know if this helps but that is my experience.

☝ This content is generated by our users and it is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision

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The main difference between an autistic meltdown and a panic attack is that during meltdowns, individuals may feel incredibly overwhelmed and experience intense general fear, but they typically do not have the visceral sense of impending death that is often associated with panic attacks. From a psychological standpoint, panic attacks are a hormonal over-reaction to initiate an intense response to danger, while a meltdown is a hormonal response to intense emotions that autistic brains are unable to process and/or regulate. Both are extreme responses to stress, but panic attacks are a disproportionate reaction to a stimulus that the individual's brain should reasonably be able to handle, while meltdowns are a loss of control caused by an experience the autistic brain is reasonably unable to handle.

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