Panic Attacks in Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in America. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder and approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Anxiety disorders, as explained by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) “are a group of related conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” The American Psychiatric Association recognizes several different types of anxiety disorders, some of which include: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia).
Generalized anxiety disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and is characterized by “chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.” To be clinically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a young person must experience ongoing, debilitating symptoms for more than six months. Young people with a generalized anxiety disorder will excessively worry over everyday life events. The anxiety is typically derived from usual life circumstances, which quickly develop into unmanageable worrisome thoughts. 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 a teenager with GAD could experience may include any combination of the following examples provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle aches
- Chronic headaches
The Mayo Clinic explains a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” While panic attacks have been reported by patients with generalized anxiety disorder in response to catastrophic worry, they are not a hallmark symptom of this condition. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that not all teens diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder will experience panic attacks.
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