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Panic Disorder vs. Anxiety Disorder: What You Should Know

If you frequently experience feelings of panic or anxiety, you might assume that the two are so similar, there’s no difference between them. Although this is understandable, it’s unfortunately not entirely true.

Panic disorders and anxiety disorders are two separate conditions and may require separate treatment. The providers at 2nd Chance Treatment Center explain more. Read on.

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder is more than just feeling a bit worried about something stressful in your life. When you have panic disorder, you may experience a rapid onset of discrete panic attacks, where you respond to an object or situation with intense fear and feelings of extreme stress and distress you can’t easily resolve, affecting both your mental and physical health.

Many people have even sought treatment from hospital emergency rooms, mistakenly believing that they were having a heart attack. The fact that it’s “only” a panic attack doesn’t in any way make it less serious of a concern.

One of the worst things about panic attacks is the gut-wrenching fear that you'll have another one. You may fear having them so much you avoid certain situations where they might occur.

What is anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder is similar in some ways to a panic disorder, in that both types of disorders involve extreme reactions to worrisome events. But anxiety disorders tend to build more gradually, while panic disorders often have instant reactions. And, anxiety disorders can take a variety of different forms, including the following:

Both panic disorders and anxiety disorders tend to be chronic and disrupt a significant portion of your life.

Common symptoms you may experience

Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks share many similar symptoms, which may affect your mental health as well as your physical health. Symptoms may include the following:

While these are only some of the possible symptoms of panic or anxiety attacks, they’re usually a pretty good indicator that you’re experiencing it.

How is panic disorder different from anxiety disorder?

It may seem difficult to tell the difference between panic disorder and anxiety disorder because symptoms overlap, but there’s a clear distinction between the two.

With an anxiety disorder, your body doesn’t realize at first that you’re worrying about something that isn’t a real threat, so your brain releases a flood of stress hormones. You can begin to calm down as you realize that your worries aren’t based on real threats. We can teach you ways to cope with these reactions so they cause you less suffering.

However, with panic disorders, your body doesn’t go through the normal phase of de-escalation in response to fear (or what we would call “down-regulation”). Your brain doesn’t recognize that the terrible event you fear isn’t actually happening. Instead, it believes that it actually is happening, causing a cascade of physical and mental/emotional reactions that can be difficult to stop. We focus most on helping you to prevent feelings of panic in the first place.

How to treat these disorders

Both panic disorders and anxiety disorders involve treatment customized to your individual mental health concerns. 

Medications are usually one component of your treatment. It may take a while for the medications to work. Sometimes, the first medication you try may not be the one you respond to the best, although we make every effort to choose what we believe is the most appropriate one to start.

Therapy is another component of treatment. Usually, this involves both one-on-one therapy and group therapy. Individual therapy focuses on your specific issues, as well as providing techniques to retrain how your brain reacts to feelings of panic or anxiety. Group therapy most often takes place with 5-7 other individuals with similar circumstances, which is facilitated by a trained specialist.

If you feel that you may need treatment for anxiety or panic disorders, we can help. Contact the providers at 2nd Chance Treatment Center by phone or online.

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