Understanding the types of anxiety: GAD vs. SAD

Understanding the types of anxiety: GAD vs. SAD

When someone is continuously occupied with worrying about something bad happening, he or she could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders of all kinds are serious mental health conditions that can lead to other more serious and debilitating mental disorders, trouble with relationships, health risks, substance abuse and suicide. Studies show that people with anxious worrying thoughts are more likely to commit suicide. (Kanwar 2013)

Some of the more well-known anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.1 percent of adults in the U.S. have met the diagnostic criteria for GAD within the last year. Similarly, around 16 million people in the United States (6.8 percent of the population) are affected by SAD.

There is less of a chance that a person suffers from an anxiety disorder if it is not hereditary or if he or she didn’t have anxiety as a child. If sudden panic or anxiety sets in out of nowhere, it’s possible that the anxious feelings or worrying could be a manifestation of a medical issue or another mental health disorder. Part of the ability to help those with an anxiety disorder is to understand the similarities and differences between some of the different forms of anxiety such as GAD and SAD.

Generalized anxiety disorder

GAD can be incredibly debilitating, as it consumes the thoughts and actions of the person suffering from it in a continuous manner. A person that has GAD will often have a very hard time concentrating on everyday tasks at home or work, due to constantly obsessing over his or her worries. GAD can develop in both children and adults and can also be a result of a precursor to other mental health disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM V), GAD symptoms must not be attributable to physiological effects of drugs or alcohol.  The symptoms normally exhibited by a person who is struggling with GAD include:

  • Being in a state of fear most of the time
  • Feeling anxious, tense and restless
  • Anticipating impending doom
  • Struggling to relax
  • Has interpersonal relationship issues
  • Struggling with trusting people
  • Worrying about thoughts
  • Being easily startled
  • Having trouble sleeping

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by the persistent and debilitating apprehension of others’ opinions. Studies show that SAD is one of the most prevalent mental disorders and is categorized as a social phobia in the DSM-V. Persistent symptoms impair communication at home and work and can last six months or longer.  Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Persistent and intense anxiety in social situations
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Racing heartbeat or pounding heart
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

Cognitive behavioral therapy for GAD and SAD

Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective modality for treating GAD and SAD. The basics of CBT involve educating patients on the repetitious thoughts they experience. Many times, people live throughout the day on “autopilot”, not necessarily putting much energy or effort into analyzing their thoughts or feelings, just doing what needs to be done for basic survival. It can definitely be beneficial to only focus on basic tasks needed for survival, and to keep things simple. However, when worrying thoughts and fears become repetitive and obsessive, addressing the reasoning behind the fears and worry is necessary in order to heal and change the cognitive behavior.  CBT can help individuals learn to:

  • Understand thoughts and keep track of how often they happen
  • Identify the thoughts that cause negative feelings or worry, determine how that thought is detrimental in daily life
  • Track emotional shifts, feelings of happiness and of sadness
  • Find the evidence, validity and rationality behind the thought
  • Identify whether a probability is being confused with a possibility
  • Practice exposure to the feared person, place or thing

Pharmacotherapy for GAD and SAD

Many people that have high anxiety or depression often have low serotonin levels. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) assist the nervous system and brain by circulating higher levels of serotonin. Lexapro and Paxil are two of the most well known SSRIs used to treat anxiety. Other medications that are often prescribed for anxiety are highly addictive and may be abused.  Benzodiazepines are also prescribed for anxiety, but aren’t considered the premier method of treatment, as they are highly addictive. These include medications such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan.

Finding help

If you would like more information on how to find treatment for mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, you can call the Mental Health Helpline at 855-441-4405 to speak to a member of our team and start the journey to recovery today.