GAD and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

GAD and PTSD Are Some of the Most Commonly Confused Disorders

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If you have experienced something traumatic in your life, you may have some anxiety in response, and you may be confused about whether you are experiencing a normal response or may be developing an anxiety problem.

If you do have an anxiety issue, identifying the exact nature of the disorder can be difficult.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are possibilities, and there are common misunderstandings about the differences between the two.

Understanding each disorder can you help and your doctor identify the right course of treatment for your needs. 


The major markers of GAD are significant, persistent and uncontrollable anxiety and worry about a wide range of situations and things in life. People with GAD may be identified by their friends as “anxious people” or “worriers.” Additionally, people with GAD experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as muscle tensions or headaches, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and irritability. Often, the response someone with GAD has towards whatever is making them anxious is irrational or out of proportion. 


The major markers of PTSD are the experience of some symptoms in response to a traumatic event or experience. These symptoms come from three clusters:

  1. Re-experiencing: Symptoms such as flashbacks, physiological responses similar to those during the trauma, and feelings of distress while reminded of the event
  1. Avoidance: Symptoms such as avoiding discussions or thoughts about the event, difficulty remember details of the event, and feeling distant from others
  2. Hyperarousal: Symptoms such as difficulty with sleep, bursts of anger, and feeling on guard

Rather than GAD, where anxiety is persistent about a wide range of issues, PTSD reactions are normally linked to triggers to the traumatic event.

For instance, someone who was the victim of a crime may re-experience her feelings of fear when confronted with reminders of the incident, such as the sound of police sirens. 

Telling the Difference Between the Two

The key difference between GAD and PTSD is in how the disorder comes about. People with GAD often have a long and consistent history of anxiety across a wide variety of circumstances and situations. People with PTSD, on the other hand, often find an intense experience of anxiety and related symptoms in response to a major life event; although there can be some generalizing to other situations, the experience is often limited to the event. People can have both disorders, and a traumatic event can make the anxiety associated with GAD more severe, so it's important to visit a professional for an official diagnosis so the right treatment can begin.

While each disorder can severely impact your life, it's important to know that they can both be treated with therapy or medication, or a combination of both. Talk to a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders. He will be able to help you develop coping skills, overcome anxiety or trauma reactions and put you on the path to recovery.



American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition. 2013. 

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