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What Is The Difference Between Panic and Anxiety Disorders?

teen feeling anxiety

It is normal for young people to experience bouts of panic and anxiety during their adolescence and after. However, if a teen experiences pervasive spells of anxiety and/ or panic that prohibit him or her to function regularly in his or her daily life, it may be indicative of a panic disorder and/ or an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, the symptoms that often accompany panic disorder and/ or anxiety disorder can greatly affect one’s quality of life. Although panic disorder and anxiety disorder share some common symptoms, it is important to note that they are two separate and distinct mental health conditions. Both panic disorder and anxiety disorder are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). There are many clear differences and several nuanced disparities between panic disorder and anxiety disorder. Gaining a basic understanding of these two disorders can help illuminate the best path to treatment. 

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is often referred to as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The Mayo Clinic characterizes GAD as “severe ongoing anxiety that interferes with daily activities.” Excessive worry may manifest in a teen for a variety of reasons. For example, a teenager may be irrationally worried about a family members’ safety, punctuality, catastrophic events (i.e. nuclear war, hurricanes, earthquakes…etc.), academic performance, and more. A young person with excessive worry may lack confidence, constantly seek peer approval, and/ or external validation, which can contribute to his or her anxiety. Physical symptoms that an individual with GAD could develop include any combination of the following examples, as provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea 
  • Chronic headaches

Every person is different and the symptoms of GAD can manifest in a range of severity, lasting different lengths of time. In order to be clinically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a young person must experience ongoing, debilitating symptoms for more than six months. Young people with generalized anxiety disorder will excessively worry over everyday life events. The anxiety is typically derived from usual life circumstances, which quickly develops into unmanageable worrisome thoughts. 

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by the sudden onset of recurring panic attacks that occur spontaneously and without cause. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition defines a panic attack as an unexpected episode of intense and debilitating fear without the presence of danger. A panic attack is classified when a teen experiences four or more of the following symptoms simultaneously, as provided by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): 

  • Excessive sweating
  • Fear of dying
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of choking
  • Trembling
  • Tingling sensations and/ or numbness
  • Fear of losing control
  • Difficulty catching one’s breath
  • Excessive shaking and/ or shivering
  • Abdominal distress
  • Accelerated heart rate

Some teens may experience limited-symptom panic attacks, which can feel as uncomfortable as full panic attacks, but consist of less than four of the above symptoms. When a teen has a panic disorder, it is important to note that each panic attack is different. A teenager that regularly experiences panic attacks may not present with the exact same symptoms as a previous panic episode. Panic attacks are extremely intense experiences, and the intensity does not ease with each subsequent attack. Although some panic attacks may last longer than others, most panic attacks typically occur without warning, peak within ten minutes, and then begin to subside. Some young people with panic disorder may experience panic attacks in succession, which can, in turn, make it difficult to determine when one panic attack ends and another one begins. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

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