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Generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder share several common symptoms, but they are two distinct mental health conditions.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at generalized anxiety and panic attacks, the differences that distinguish one from the other, as well as the causes and treatments for each.

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) means that you’re experiencing chronic worry and feelings of distress, and cannot control either of those experiences. This is not the same as experiencing occasional anxiety, which is not a disorder and a normal part of life. 

Just because you sometimes experience anxiety, doesn’t mean you have anxiety — in reality, anxiousness is a common, natural response to many encounters, situations and environments.

Generalized anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is the unnatural, persistent feeling of nervousness or dread, so much so that it interferes with your ability to lead a full, happy, healthy life. People struggling with GAD can experience chronic anxiety for weeks, months and even years when left untreated.

You might be so used to feeling anxious all of the time that you’ve come to think it’s “just the way you are”, but that’s not true. Anxiety is a symptom of a greater issue, not a personality trait.

Causes of generalized anxiety disorder

The causes of GAD are many, the specifics of which will vary based on the individual, their personal situation and background.

Some of the influences of GAD include:

  • Genetics
  • An inability to handle stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • A diet heavy in processed foods (hot dogs, fast food, boxed dinners)
  • Certain medications
  • Substance abuse
  • Relationship or environmental stress
  • Chronic illness or disease

GAD usually begins gradually, most often during childhood and adolescence, but it’s important to remember it can develop in adulthood as well. It does not discriminate and affects men and women of all ages, races, educational backgrounds, or financial and social statuses.

Treatments for generalized anxiety disorder

Healthcare providers who truly put you first will not prescribe a one-size-fits-all treatment plan to you; rather, they will take into consideration all of your individual factors when advising treatment.

Typically, treatment for generalized anxiety disorder includes—counseling, working with a therapist to foster better mental health and healthier coping mechanisms, making lifestyle changes to reduce stress, as well as potentially going into rehab if an addiction is present.

What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense terror that triggers extreme physical reactions in a person, even when there’s no real threat or danger around. Individuals suffering from panic attacks typically experience multiple symptoms while they are actively in an attack, such as heart palpitations; shortness of breath; dizziness or “blankness”; fear of death; nausea and sweating; chest pains.

Frequent panic attacks are the result of a panic disorder, which is a form of anxiety that’s specifically characterized by consistent panic attacks.

What causes panic attacks?

Panic attacks, like GAD, cannot be limited to one cause alone, not only because every person’s situation is different, but because there are typically multiple factors that lead to the development of a disorder.

Some of the common causes of panic attacks are:

  • Mental health conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety
  • Intense insecurity and dangerously low self-esteem
  • Alcohol or drugs, or withdrawal from each
  • Side effects of medication (whether obtained legally or illegally)
  • The development of a chronic illness such as cancer
  • Experiencing a breakup or the death of a loved one
  • Significant life changes (positive or negative)
  • Being in an abusive relationship

Due to the nature of many of the causes of panic attacks, it’s important to seek professional help if you or someone you love is struggling with panic disorder.

Panic attack treatments

Depending on the causes of the panic disorder and other contributing factors influencing the individual’s mental and physical health, the doctor will typically prescribe therapy, counseling and sometimes medication.

Get personalized support today

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and you aren’t sure what to do next, send us a confidential message.

Here at Silvermist Recovery, our top priority is helping people tackle any mental and behavioral challenges they’re experiencing. The road to recovery can be full of ups and downs, which is why we’re here to guide and support you every step of the way.

We provide comprehensive, trauma-focused psychiatric mental health treatment that’s designed to help you not only recover in the short term but thrive in the long run.

To learn more about which of our programs is the right fit for you, call us today at 724-268-4858.