The Main Differences Between Panic Disorder vs Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Published On: February 6, 2023|Categories: Mental Health|
Shot of a man looking stressed while sitting on the sofa at home

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, and there’s nothing abnormal about feeling anxious. In most instances, anxiety is simply a normal human reaction to caring deeply about something that’s important to us, like test results or a big job interview.

Sometimes, this anxiety progresses beyond what is healthy and develops into a mental health disorder where you frequently experience extreme worry, fear and panic — even when there’s no real cause to be experiencing that level of anxiety.

Two of the most common anxiety disorders are panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which, even though they share some similarities, are two distinct conditions.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at panic disorder versus general anxiety disorder, discuss their main differences and similarities, and briefly go over treatment options for both.

The basic distinctions

Panic disorder and GAD are mental health conditions most commonly seen in adults, though it is becoming increasingly prevalent in younger demographics. 

These anxiety disorders often are discovered in individuals who are already struggling with other mental health conditions, substance use disorders or unhealed traumas. Those potential traumas could have caused the symptoms to become exacerbated.

While the panic disorder is characterized by recurring panic attacks, GAD is characterized by the presence of excessive and pervasive worry. The effects of these disorders take a toll on both our mental and physical health, which is why seeking professional help is important. 

The constant “stress high” these disorders cause negatively impacts our thoughts and our brain. It negatively affects our thoughts because a chronic state of fear changes how we see ourselves, others and the world around us. It negatively affects our brain because the frequent release of stress hormones alters our brain chemistry and sometimes our overall ability to function in life.

Signs and symptoms

At first glance, the signs and symptoms of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are incredibly similar; some of them are the same, but there are subtle differences between these two disorders.

Some common symptoms of GAD are: 

  • Excessive worry, stress, fear and overthinking
  • Hyper-analytical and fear-based thought patterns
  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping restlessly, too much, or not at all)
  • Irritability, agitation and exhaustion
  • Cold hands and/or feet (poor circulation)
  • Digestive issues (acid reflux, nausea, diarrhea)
  • Feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness

In addition to the presence of recurring panic attacks, signs of panic disorder include:

  • Fear of losing control or going insane
  • Muscle tension, aches or soreness (that isn’t warranted)
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep patterns)
  • Feelings of being detached from who you are (depersonalization)
  • Feelings of being alienated from your surroundings or relationships (derealization)
  • Chest pain and shaking
  • Difficulting breathing normally (shortness or breath or rapid breathing)

Due to the wide range of symptoms of these two disorders, you should not attempt to diagnose yourself or others. Many of these symptoms are present in other disorders as well, due to the overlapping similarities between many mental conditions. Misdiagnosing can lead to additional and potentially harmful consequences that you can easily avoid by seeking professional help.

Common treatments

The nature of these disorders can be complex and even subtle at times, but with the proper care and support, they’re able to be treated and fully healed.

Common treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapies, lifestyle and dietary changes, the incorporation of grounding techniques (such as yoga, earthing, meditation, and breathwork) and if necessary, medication.

If you think you or someone you love is struggling with panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, send us a message today and we’ll speak with you about what your next steps can be.

Speak with an advisor today

Pyramid Healthcare is a leader in behavioral healthcare, specializing in providing highly effective and personalized therapy, rehabilitation and telehealth services to adults and teens.

We believe that physical and mental health conditions are rarely an isolated phenomenon, and are usually connected to other areas of our life where we are in pain, lacking or struggling. That is why each of our programs is not only fully tailored to your individual needs and goals but designed to treat you as a whole person, mind, body and soul.

You don’t have to go through the rest of your life feeling anxious or experiencing panic at every turn; you can heal to a place where you possess mental relief, calmness and hope for the future. We’re here to help you grow there.

Send us a message or call us today to get started.

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