To get a better idea of differences and characteristics shared by these common conditions in people’s behavior and thinking, it’s necessary to examine them in detail.
Although there are specific changes made in classification of anxiety disorders, GAD and social phobia, or SAD, keep coexisting in the same diagnostic category nowadays. These conditions share some characteristics, but these anxiety types are distinct issues.
Both anxiety types are characterized by people’s persistent anxiety that can be either disproportionate or excessive to actual threats, which usually differ. Patients who have social anxiety disorder can experience different physical signs linked to anxiety, just like people with generalized anxiety disorder. Their catastrophizing or biased thinking is central to both conditions, too.
These mental conditions may occur together, and having one of them increases a risk of experiencing other anxiety disorders and depression, including obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Although thought traps can be quite similar, the main thought content distinguishes generalized anxiety disorder. Patients who have this condition usually worry about a number of matters. For example, their worries may include all kinds of major life issues, including their finances and health, and they also worry about the minor ones that other people don’t perceive so intensely. Social worries are common for GAD, but patients tend to focus on their ongoing relationships instead of a fear of being evaluated. There are different examples, including young men with this condition who uncontrollably worry about the consequences of a fight with their girlfriend and mothers who are overly concerned about the fact whether she made a good choice for her children to switch their school.
On the other hand, patients with social anxiety disorder usually worry about being watched, meeting new people and performing for others. This means that their thought content is targeted at possible rejection and negative evaluation. For instance, men with this condition can have difficulties starting a conversation, because they’re afraid to seem anxious or be ridiculed by co-workers. Single women with the same disorder can avoid dating due to their anxiety about embarrassing or humiliating themselves during the date.
One common thread is people’s pathological degree of worries that impacts their ability to maintain and develop relationships, meet their professional and personal potential and complete basic tasks.
Based on the fact that other elements of the main anxiety cycle, including thoughts and emotions, overlap, it’s easy to conclude that behavioral differences between social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders are subtle. They’re characterized by a lot of avoidance, but its underlying reasons are different. As an example, imagine men calling in sick on the presentation day at their work. If they have GAD, they avoid this important meeting, because they’re afraid that they didn’t put enough effort in it and they won’t finish it in time. If they have SAD, they avoid it because of their worries that others won’t like their ideas or may notice that these men sweat while talking.
When it comes to the average age of onset, it’s later for generalized anxiety disorder (31) compared to SAD (13). People with GAD start having different symptoms long before they decide to undergo any treatment. Certain stress factors of their early adulthood and adolescence when they normally experience a range of social transitions only exacerbate the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Different adulthood responsibilities, including career decisions and finances, can amplify the symptoms of GAD.
In older patients, associated behaviors and their content of worry may change a bit. As an example, if they have SAD, older people may feel embarrassment and anxiety about their impairment and appearance that forces them to avoid or at least minimize all social interactions. If older patients have GAD, the expression of physical symptoms is greater compared to the psychological ones. They may have uncontrollable worries about their well-being and family’s health.
It’s not rare for patients with generalized anxiety disorder to meet the main criteria for other psychiatric diagnoses during their lifetime. Depression is the most common co-occurring issue, but there are many people who struggle with co-occurring SAD and GAD. Besides, PTSD and GAD often occur together.
The good news is that treatments for both anxiety types overlap, and many drugs are effective. Doctors often advise cognitive behavioral psychotherapy for these conditions, because this treatment helps patients address their biases in thoughts and get rid of avoidant behaviors.
Although SAD and GAD share many anxiety symptoms, they have differences in their thought content and underlying reasons that cause specific behaviors.