What Is The Difference Between Anxiety And PTSD?

Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two conditions that can be very similar in terms of their causes and symptoms. Those with one or both of these conditions may struggle to function in their day-to-day life because their mind and body are unable to relax.

People living with PTSD may experience significant amounts of stress from normal daily activities like visiting the mall or grocery store or meeting up with friends.

Both anxiety and PTSD are serious conditions. Understanding the differences between the two is important to make an accurate diagnosis. This can allow people struggling with these disorders to get the right treatment, as recommendations for each condition differ slightly.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is your body’s normal response to stress or a perceived threat. It’s fear or apprehension about future events, like giving a speech or a presentation at work or worrying about money and financial issues.

Occasional anxiety is a normal response to stress, but chronic (ongoing) stress and anxiety over many months can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder, particularly when the anxiety causes difficulty with social or occupational functioning. Anxiety disorders can make life difficult for those suffering from the condition, interrupting normal daily activities.

Anxiety’s symptoms and causes

The symptoms of anxiety can affect both your mind and your body. Some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Overwhelming feelings of worry

  • Sleep problems like difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Irritability

  • Fear of social situations

  • Avoidance of people or places

  • Panic symptoms, such as palpitations, sweating, shaking, and dizziness

  • Fear of being outside of your home alone

Those suffering from chronic anxiety may also experience physical anxiety symptoms like indigestion and heartburn, excessive sweating, nausea, and muscle tension. 

Many potential causes of anxiety exist, most of which can often resolve themselves with enough time. When the causes don’t resolve, chronic anxiety can develop. Some of the more common causes of anxiety include:

  • Chronic stress

  • Medical or psychological issues like a chronic illness or depression

  • Substance abuse

  • Job burnout

  • Environmental problems like child abuse or domestic violence

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological condition that may occur in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event of some kind. Historically referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” PTSD is characterized by the failure to recover after a traumatic event. 

Soldiers often develop PTSD from the excessive and chronic stress of being in a war zone. However, anyone who experiences a traumatic event can develop PTSD; it isn’t specifically related to being exposed to war.

PTSD can last months or years, with places or situations triggering memories of the traumatic event, often accompanied by intense physical and emotional reactions. 

PTSD symptoms and causes

A primary symptom of PTSD is chronic fear and nervousness, so it’s understandable why it may get confused with a generalized anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders. Some common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Chronic and unexplained anxiety

  • Flashbacks or nightmares about the traumatic event

  • Intrusive memories about the traumatic event

  • Feelings of detachment or isolation from others

  • Fear of social situations or situations in which one may not be in control

Many possible causes of PTSD exist, but they all share the common theme of a highly stressful and threatening situation that overwhelms the person’s nervous system. Things like bombs going off, intense car crashes, or encounters with violence all have the potential to cause PTSD. 

What are PTSD triggers?

PTSD triggers can include sights, sounds, smells, or thoughts related to the traumatic event. These triggers could be as innocuous as a blue sky if the sky was blue when the trauma occurred. 

What's the difference between anxiety and PTSD?

The primary difference between an anxiety disorder and PTSD is how the condition arises. Those suffering from anxiety can develop the condition due to stress or environmental factors, genes or biological, or sometimes unknown reasons.

People with PTSD, however, often experience intense anxiety and related symptoms in response to exposure to a specific traumatic event. PTSD symptoms can be triggered by virtually any situation in the lives of those suffering from it, but the situations are primarily restricted to those similar to the original traumatic event.

What treatments are available for anxiety and PTSD?

The two primary avenues for treating or managing anxiety and PTSD are psychotherapy and medication. While both options have benefits, psychotherapy is often recommended before medications are prescribed. However, if PTSD symptoms are severe, both treatment options may be recommended.

Psychotherapy, often called talk therapy, aims to alleviate mental health issues by discussing one’s experiences. By reliving and processing the trauma in a safe environment, people struggling with PTSD may experience relief from their symptoms.

If talk therapy alone isn’t helping with recovery from symptoms, medication may be prescribed to assist in the healing process. Medications for anxiety or PTSD help the individual better manage overwhelming emotions, perhaps enabling them to talk about their experiences and benefit from psychotherapy more so than they would have without medication.

Common medications used for PTSD or anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). You can talk to your doctor about medications if you think that type of treatment may help. 

The lowdown

Chronic anxiety and PTSD are two conditions similar in symptoms but different in causes and treatments. Those suffering from one or both of these conditions can find relief from their symptoms through talk therapy, sometimes in combination with medication.

While these conditions can severely affect one’s life, both are treatable and can be managed with the help of a doctor or therapist.


Why is PTSD not an anxiety disorder?

PTSD isn’t an anxiety disorder as it involves many symptoms and emotions, like shame, anger, and grief, not just anxiety.

Can long-term anxiety cause PTSD?

Anxiety is unlikely to cause PTSD as PTSD is usually triggered by significant trauma.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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