Generalized and Social Anxiety Disorder Differences

People with GAD worry about more than just social situations.
People with GAD tend to have broad worries. DigitalVision/LifesizeImages/Getty Images

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) share many similarities but differ in one important way:

If you experience GAD, your worry tends to be broad and not limited to particular situations or circumstances.

On the other hand, if you have SAD, the symptoms you feel are always related in some way to social or performance situations in which you expect scrutiny or evaluation by others.

Features of GAD

If you have GAD, you will experience the following list of symptoms:

  • an unhealthy tendency to worry about a variety of things (e.g., work, family, money, health)
  • a tendency to anticipate the worst and to worry over trivial matters
  • an inability to control your worry
  • physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, restlessness, muscle tension and trouble sleeping
  • behavioral symptoms, such as irritability

Features of SAD

When you have SAD, you will share characteristics, such as a tendency to worry and anticipate the worst, an inability to control anxiety and trouble sleeping, with GAD.

Your anxiety, however, is always triggered by social and performance situations. In addition, you know that your anxiety is irrational and out of proportion to the event that triggers it.

Examples of GAD and SAD

When you have GAD, you may fear embarrassment in front of others, but it is not your main focus.

As an example, consider a professional athlete with each of these disorders:

  • The athlete with GAD may worry excessively about his ability to compete and provide for his family as well as his physical health -- in this way, his anxiety is very broad in scope.
  • On the other hand, the athlete with SAD will also worry excessively, but the worry will be focused on the anticipation of these competitions, where he will be evaluated.

    Seeking Treatment

    If you believe that you may have GAD or SAD, talk with your doctor about the symptoms that you are experiencing. Ideally, you should receive a referral to a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. While treatments for both disorders may be the same, it is important that you receive help that is appropriate to your unique combination of symptoms.


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    Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):617-27.

    National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders