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What is The Difference Between Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, LPC, NCC

Do you hear people use the terms Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder interchangeably? Well, though they are somewhat similar, both mental health conditions are distinct in their own way. It is quite normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, whether about home life, job stress, relationships, and kids; However, when these worries turn to ruminating thoughts that are difficult to turn off and even impact daily functioning, it can certainly be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. On the other hand, a hallmark symptom of Panic Disorder is the presence of panic attacks that can be brought on by stress or anxiety or can appear out of the blue. These panic attacks often feel physical in nature, as they can involve trembling, feelings of tightness in the chest, pounding heart, and even dizziness.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 3.1% of adults in the USA suffer from GAD and around 3% of adults suffer from panic attacks. Women are twice as likely receive an anxiety diagnosis. Though a person experiencing a panic attack might also be suffering from GAD, certain differences must be comprehended before heading towards its treatment.


✓ Generalized Anxiety Disorder tends to involve to day-to-day affairs. The individual often worries about a multitude of things without subsequent physiological symptoms.

✓ When a person suffers from panic disorder, the symptoms are frequently

physical in nature and may appear with little to no warning. Those experiencing a panic attack often report that they were not particularly worried about anything, despite eventually experiencing a sudden panic attack.

✓ In GAD, the patient deals with excessive worry about multiple things throughout the week, with little relief. In panic disorder, the symptoms typically come on quickly, peak, and then subside within a few hours. 



Despite having their distinct features, both GAD and panic attacks have similar treatment modalities. So, how to treat and manage the two mental conditions? Read on to explore the different ways:


Psychotherapy or talk therapy is considered to be the most effective and long-lasting treatment of GAD and panic disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is used to help the patient talk about their sentiments and sensations with a professional therapist. The therapist makes sure that the situations are recreated with the patient in an empathizing manner and gradually the patient starts gaining control over the apprehensions and surging feelings. This happens for some weeks, with regular sessions. Talk therapy helps to relieve the distressful emotions and leaves a cathartic effect on the patient. Therefore, this step is considered to be the most effect


When symptoms become unmanageable and the patient experiences severe anxiety or panic attacks, it is advisable to visit a psychiatrist who can evaluate and ultimately prescribe medication to mitigate panic attacks or ruminating thoughts. These medications include antidepressants, sedatives, or even beta-blockers, or a combination depending on the patient and their condition. While medication can sometimes provide a ‘quick-fix’, are it is surely not a permanent solution.


Meditation and mindfulness are proven ways to “reclaim your calm. Choose a favorite spot in your home or outside and sit with your eyes closed and simply allow your thoughts to come and go like waves without allowing yourself to chase them. This will provide you temporary escapism and help to give your mind a break from the excessive worry. Furthermore, relaxation exercises like yoga and deep belly breathing help in overcoming stress, anxiety, With regular practice, GAD or panic disorder can managed more effectively with the help of these tools.


Words are powerful. Just like negative words or thoughts can impact the way that you feel, daily practice of positive self-talk ad an affirmation can uplift you. Simple affirmations like, “I can overcome my challenges!” or “I am strong and can cope with just about anything!” can work wonders while combating GAD or panic disorder.


Self-care is an important component of mental and physical well-being. What type of self-care can help and how? Simply put, it can be anything that you enjoy or that allows you to truly relax. Going out for a walk, connecting with nature, taking a spa day, painting, or just about anything that makes you feel happier and less anxious will work. When you indulge in self-care, you cater to your personal needs, and consequently, the symptoms of anxiety may lessen. 



In short, GAD and panic attacks are very different disorders, but both can benefit from treatment. If you wish to read more on the different characteristics of GAD and Panic Disorder, just read this journal and see the comparative study.


If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of GAD or panic disorder, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling and get paired with a counselor today!

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