Differentiating everyday anxiety, stress, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks can be quite confusing. One of the reasons these different issues all blend together is that they exist on a spectrum. Even serious panic attacks, which conjure images of severe distress, vary a lot between subtle and incredibly distressing.
One of the reasons that it's important to understand the varying symptoms of panic attacks is that panic attacks are incredibly personal. "Anxiety can look and feel slightly different for each of us, and the way we interpret signs of anxiety and panic can be influenced by our cultural experience, the way we were socialized, and our own personal expectations for ourselves," licensed clinical social worker Laura Federico, MS, tells Bustle. "[...] Noticing the signs of anxiety, or interpreting panic symptoms as they begin to increase, may be challenging if we aren't taught how to validate our emotional experiences." Therefore, it's important to understand and validate that even a subtle panic attack is worth taking care of.
"All panic attacks do not look alike," Dr. Caitlin Simpson, director of clinical operations at Footprints to Recovery, tells Bustle. "While symptoms may be similar, they are often experienced differently from person to person. There are multiple symptoms that can be experienced during a panic attack, and therefore some people may experience some symptoms while others do not." So even if your panic attack doesn't fit the criteria of being severe, you still deserve to recognize that there's an explanation for your symptoms.
Here are seven ways a subtle panic attack can differ from a more serious one, according to experts.