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How Is Social Anxiety Different From Generalized Anxiety?

In recent years there have been many changes to the classifications of anxiety disorders. However, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia continues to coincide within the same indicative category.

Although the two share many features, they are two distinct issues in themselves. People with GAD can experience physical symptoms, as do those with social anxiety disorder. Catastrophizing is dominant in both types of disorders as well.

The features shared between the two can include persistent or excessive anxiety that is inconsistent to an actual threat. The ‘threat,’ however, is different between the two disorders. Generalized anxiety and Social anxiety can occur together, which also increases the probability that the person will also experience depression or another type of anxiety disorder. These can include obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Differences In Thinking

Although the thought patterns can be similar between the two disorders, it is the content of the thoughts that distinguishes between the two. GAD sufferers worry about a broad range of topics from health and finances to relationships and daily stress, where SAD sufferers worry more about social engagements like meeting new people, speaking in front of people or being observed or watched. GAD sufferers do commonly have social worries; however, their focus is not on the anxiety of meeting new people or social situations, but more focuses on ongoing relationships with friends, family or partners.

SAD sufferers, however, typically centers on the thoughts of negative evaluation or rejection. People with social anxiety will usually find it challenging to begin conversations for fear of saying ‘something stupid.’ SAD also makes it difficult for sufferers to date due to the anxiety or fears experienced about possible humiliation or embarrassment.

Differences In Behavior

Given that emotions and thoughts of the anxiety cycle overlap, the behavioural variances between GAD and social anxiety disorder are subtle. Although the underlying reasons for it differ between the two disorders, both conditions are categorized by a high degree of avoidance.

Developmental Issues

The average age of onset for GAD is 31, and for social anxiety disorder, it is age 13. However, most people with GAD have symptoms long before they are treated.

At times when people are experiencing many social transitions of adolescence and adulthood, the stresses of these times often aggravate social anxiety symptoms. However, the tougher responsibilities of being an adult exaggerate GAD symptoms.

Older sufferers of SAD can often experience embarrassment and anxiety relating to their appearance or physical impairments like hearing problems. This can often lead to minimal social interaction.

GAD in older adults is more commonly related to physical symptoms, rather than psychological, and they are more likely to have uncontrollable anxiety about their health or the well-being of their family members.

Treatments For GAD & SAD

Because depression is also a common side issue related to both types of anxiety, treatments tend to overlap for the three. Many suffer from both SAD and GAD as well as depression, and it is also common for GAD sufferers to also experience PTSD simultaneously.

Many medications are helpful for both anxiety and depression, and other forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive behavioural therapy and behavioral activation are used widely for treatments. Behavioral therapies help sufferers to address thought biases to eliminate the avoidant behaviour associated with anxiety.