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Anxiety Vs Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What Is the Difference?

Anxiety VS Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


Many people feel anxious from time to time, and anxiety is a normal human experience. In fact, in dangerous situations, it is a beneficial reaction that triggers the “fight or flight” stress response. But how do you know if your anxiety isn’t normal anymore and has become an anxiety disorder?

When you worry excessively that it interferes with your daily life, then anxiety can be diagnosed as a mental illness. This means you may have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or another type of anxiety condition. Recognizing the difference between normal anxiety vs GAD can be difficult due to their similar nature and symptoms. So, read on, and we will help you solve this query and learn to differentiate between normal and chronic anxiety and GAD.

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What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

The most important aspect to note about anxiety is that it is something we all may experience and that it is completely normal. There are numerous everyday concerns that can cause anxiety. For example, awaiting the results of a medical test or thinking someone has said something negative about you. Another consideration is that anxiety can be beneficial: it can make you study harder for a test or drive more carefully in a rainstorm.

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but commonly, it can affect your physical and mental health in the following ways:

  • Being nervous or unable to relax.
  • The sensation that the world is speeding up or slowing.
  • Thinking something bad is going to happen (ruminations).
  • Stomach-churning sensation.
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Agitated or unable to sit still.
  • Fast breathing.
  • An irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Perspiration or hot flushes.
  • Requiring the toilet more or less frequently.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Stress

The line between stress and anxiety is thin. Both are emotional reactions, but stress is usually the result of an external trigger. The trigger can be immediate, such as a work deadline, or long-term, such as chronic illness. Stress causes mental and physical symptoms, including irritability, muscle pain, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep difficulties.

Whereas anxiety is characterized by persistent, extreme worries that can be experienced even in the absence of a stressor. Anxiety causes symptoms nearly identical to stress; however, mild stress and mild anxiety both respond favorably to similar coping mechanisms. If your stress or anxiety does not improve with coping techniques, then you might be suffering from chronic anxiety that needs professional treatment.

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Most of the time, GAD is characterized by persistent anxiousness, not only in stressful situations. The worries in GAD are intense, continuous, and disrupt an individual’s everyday functioning. Even small events, such as household chores or being late to work, can become the focus of anxiety in GAD, resulting in uncontrollable worry and the fear that something terrible will occur.

If the particular signs are present for six months or more, and on most days, then you may have GAD. These include physical symptoms and excessive worrying to the point where daily activities such as working or socializing become difficult:

  • Feeling anxious about multiple activities and events.
  • Finding it hard to stop worrying.
  • Difficulty performing routine tasks.

Three or more of the following symptoms also need to be present to be diagnosed with GAD:

  • Feeling agitated or tense.
  • Getting tired quickly.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Experiencing irritable muscle tension (e.g., sore jaw or back).
  • Sleeping difficulties.

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Can you test yourself for anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Vs. Anxiety

It’s important to know when it’s anxiety only and when it becomes more serious. Normal anxiety makes us extra vigilant about the environment. Clinical anxiety, or GAD, on the other hand, is a full-fledged disorder.

Normal Anxiety GAD

Anxiety can be managed.

Anxiety is more severe.

Anxiety levels are proportional to the severity of the situation.

You become more anxious than the situation deserves.

You tend to worry about things related to anxiety-provoking situations.

You worry about most things and situations all the time.

You can calm yourself through coping techniques.

You have difficulty finding comfort, calm, and time away from your worries.

Can You Test Yourself for Anxiety?

An anxiety disorder is only diagnosed by trained mental health professionals. However, there are many tools available that can help you to check your tendency to be anxious or to develop persistent anxiety. Hamilton rating scale (HAM-A) is among the most used tools to measure anxiety symptoms’ severity. It is a fourteen-item questionnaire that analyzes both physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Every item is rated on a scale of 0-4, and the overall score of 25-30 on the HAM-A inventory indicates high anxiety, 18-24 is mild to moderate anxiety, and a score less than 17 indicates mild anxiety.

Coping Strategies for Anxiety and GAD

Following coping techniques are extremely beneficial for your anxiety whether it’s normal or clinical:

  • Deep breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose until your chest and belly expand, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat for two to three minutes, or until it works.
  • Identify anxious thoughts. Identify any fearful thoughts that are running through your mind. Many of these thoughts are “What if?” statements, such as “What if this happens?” or “What if I failed?” Replace the fearful self-talk with comforting and positive statements like, “I’ve dealt with this before and can deal with it again,” or “I can control my anxiety and still deal with this situation.”
  • Healthy diet. A healthy diet, avoidance of stimulants such as caffeine (which have been shown to worsen anxiety), regular exercise, and creative endeavors divert your mind from anxious thoughts and help you develop a sense of purpose in life.

Wrapping Up

Knowing the difference between anxiety and GAD can help determine what kind of professional assistance you require and which coping strategies are most likely to provide relief. If you are experiencing symptoms of clinical anxiety contact us at MEDvidi. We provide effective online treatment for anxiety and develop personalized plans for every client.

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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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