I used to think I was having a panic attack but I later found out it was actually an anxiety attack, and now I know the difference of when I am experiencing what which has been helpful to break it down and also for me to be able to identify the triggers, if there are any. So here are some of the differences between anxiety attacks and panic attacks as well as what they feel like…

My Anxiety Attack

I dropped to my knees, I couldn’t breathe, I started panting and hurling. I felt dizzy. My muscles had been aching, I felt like my body was about to explode. Once I caught a breath, the tears started rolling and hitting the floor like the sharp knives that I felt inside my chest. 

I couldn’t move. I was dizzy. My mind started whirling out of control. I could hear my daughters upstairs squabbling over felt-tips to decorate the mermaid they were creating for my eldest daughter’s birthday party which was due to take place the following day.

It was as if a tornado had engulfed my brain and all I could do was stay crouched down, in brace position as my dripping nose and leaking eyes provided the only relief away from my crumbled body. I prayed that I could disappear and seep into the floor boards like my tears did. 

Then my whir of panic and flooded emotions were interrrupted by: “Uhh.. What’s a matter?” It was my younger step-brother who’s autistic. I could feel his presence awkwardly hover behind me. 

It was like I was having an outer body experience. I could see him leaning over this crumpled mess that had become my life, well what my world felt like in that moment. 

Somehow, I managed to plea: “Just get my mum.” 

Am I having a Panic Attack or an Anxiety Attack?

I knew he would be freaked out by this situation and luckily it had happened at my mum’s house after we had all been to a charity dance event. Just a couple of hours earlier we had been laughing as we attempted to all take part in a community barn dance at the event. But the pressure of being in a social situation with my daughter’s party looming the next day had been building. 

It’s bizarre as I dance professionally for a living and I often teach women to dance too as well as presenting to hundreds or even speaking to thousands of people… but the pressure and emotions of dealing with organising and hosting a personal event, all the family dynamics and wanting my daughter to have an amazing birthday party after a tumultuous year, caught up with me. If you knew what I’d been through in recent times, it seems such a trivial thing to throw me to my knees as if I was in a “wailing” child pose (that’s a Yoga pose for those of you who haven’t heard of it, not the wailing part though!). 

My step dad came down first and tried to calmly talk me around. But I struggled to hear him. His gentle voice did soothe some of the panic I was feeling however. And then he then went to get my mum who had been busy entertaining my daughters whilst I had gone into the kitchen to cook a late dinner. 

My mum seemed to just know why I was like this. I was finally embodying all the emotions I had been feeling. You can read more about my challenging year below… But I wanted to share this latest “attack”… was it a Panic Attack or an Anxiety Attack?

What’s the difference between an Anxiety Attack and a Panic Attack? 

For many years I had dubbed such attacks as Panic Attacks. They seemed to fit the brief… shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling like I was going to die. 

But the main difference between an anxiety and panic attack is that panic attacks can come on for no apparent reason. Whereas anxiety attacks are normally triggered by an event or a build up of emotions. 

I hadn’t realised the difference until I made this vlog with Channel Mum about Anxiety and what I had experienced on camera had been an Anxiety Attack rather than a Panic Attack as I had first thought, as ITV This Morning TV Psychologist Emma Kenny described the difference to me. 

Also panic attacks can be quite intense and for a short period whereas Anxiety Attacks vary in severity from low to high.

Mine was definitely triggered by a perceived threat in my mind and life which had then become physical. 

Doctor’s appointment: “It’s just Anxiety.” 

“It’s just anxiety,” explained my GP in the week building up to the attack. My limbs had been feeling swollen for a while. My body numb. It felt as if my body was breaking down and yet my Doctor said that all this was “just Anxiety.” In the past I have noticed that through bouts of Depression and Anxiety my skin is dry, I either overeat or under eat. But I had never felt my Anxiety as I did at the weekend, as I have done for several months and as I do feel it now. 

Life at times feels like a chore. I love fitness and dance but I really have to drag myself to do things that take energy. 

But what I am grateful for is the stark reminder of how physical mental health can be. In this day and age, we are told to talk about mental health. And whilst that’s great I think that all of us still don’t quite appreciate the impact mental illness or mental health problems can have on our overall wellbeing. 

I used to say I “battle” or “struggle” with my mental health/illness but nowadays I prefer the term “manage.” As mostly, despite experiencing a whole lot of personal challenges in my life, I do somehow manage my mental health problems through fitness, blogging, vlogging, dancing, medication and spending time with my positive support network. But that’s just what is in my control, sadly in a lot of other areas of my life I don’t feel in control. Far from it.  

Why I had an Anxiety attack and my triggers

On reflection the Anxiety Attack, wasn’t just the pending birthday party… it was the culmination of a year of being scrutinised and judged in every possible way. It was the result of choosing to be gracious and not speak out about some of the most difficult things I had experienced in my personal life this last 9 months. It was my roar…. but as I couldn’t roar (out of respect for others, wanting to remain dignified and also, most importantly, for my children’s sake), this had been boiling up inside me and I don’t feel anger towards others just myself. 

It is and had been a deep pain as if my soul had been slaughtered. It was also a yearning for the truth of what had happened to me to be set free, for people to understand the truth. 

But my voice, trapped inside, as I had had to be strong and conceal it (for my children’s sake), had now taken its toll on me. 

I had tried so hard to put a mask on it… work hard, dress up, put on make-up and focus on building back up my life, my home, my health and fitness and to be there for my children… all whilst trying to remain optimistic. 

But I have been feeling suffocated by the gossip, the hate I was receiving and the fact that nobody, other than a handful of people close to me, really KNEW what had been going on in my home life.

I had desperately tried to pedal out this tension, this injustice, by focusing on fitness, career and sorting out my new home. And I had been focusing on the freedom which I now felt in waves… and I know I will be totally free one day. But this new Amir of focus and confidence had also resulted in a weird jealousy from people who thought I had it all together and was thriving, not just swimming but I was on “top.” 

But nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors. And whilst I am healing, I am mending and I am keeping on going… that does not mean that my strength isn’t fragile. Just because I may hit ‘milestones’ of what we deem as ‘success’ in this day and age from social media follower numbers to a nice house. That does not mean that a person is unbreakable. That does not mean that a person deserves the wrath of being shunned, being pushed aside or even abused. 

And just because that person may mostly wear her heart on her sleeve (when it comes to her own emotions and mental health)… does not mean that that person should be taken advantage of or not believed because they have mental health problems. 

So whilst I roar, it is quiet, I am strong but it is not in my nature to be fierce. I am fragile. I am sensitive and I know that I can hold my head high because the truth will be realised one day. I just have to deal with roaring quietly. 

ITV This Morning – Sophie Mei Lan / Mama Mei Mental health blogger and Vlogger

So whilst you may have been picturing me as a weak mess crumpled on my mum’s wooden kitchen floorboards… this is the result of someone who has tried to be fair. Tried to be reflective. And tried to remain dignified. This is a strong woman, not broken, but worn and kicked down by the world in which she finds herself in. 

Coping with Anxiety

As my Anxiety Attack showed me, I need to work on my roar as I would encourage other women to do so too. 

So whilst I will continue to be dignified, I will no longer be walked over, I will stand up for myself as I would do others. I need to use this latest attack to my positive (I have not been that bad for many years) and I need to empower myself as I would others… to set my own boundaries, spend time with the people who really do matter to me and love me regardless. 

Anxiety Attacks can last for prolonged periods of time so I have to be as kind to myself as I would do others.  For me this was the consequence of trying to love and trust everyone. 

I am woman. Hear me roar.

Interestingly, it is also women who are more likely to experience both Anxiety or Panic Attacks. 

Have you or do you experience Anxiety Attacks or Panic Attacks? And how do the impact you?