The Difference Between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Worrying

It’s normal to worry. Whether you’re an adolescent or adult, life responsibilities might trigger worry or concern, and this is natural. Worrying accompanies the stress we might feel when we have a large school project to accomplish or a problem among friends or a family conflict. The stress in everyday life can trigger anxiety. However, usually that anxiety is manageable and the right amount of stress and worry can even facilitate achievement.


However, when anxiety becomes excessive, that’s when it might need special tending to. When worrying develops around normal daily activities, presents an unusual amount of stress, and begins to interfere with daily life, there might be a mental illness.


For instance, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis given to those who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. The excessive anxiety interferes with the ability to function and usually consists of extreme anxiety for everyday matters. In the case of GAD and other anxiety disorders, the level of worrying is

  • Excessive – more than what’s appropriate for the situation
  • Intrusive – interferes with daily life
  • Persistent – worrying continues to happen even if a situation triggering the anxiety changes.
  • Debilitating – prevents a teen from attending school or gets in the way of forming friendships


For instance, worry or anxiety before a major event in one’s life or prior to an exam, for example, is considered normal behavior. However, experiencing anxiety every morning upon waking might be symptomatic of a disorder. Another example is a teen who watches the news and hears of a burglary that took place in a neighboring city. Most teens might feel a temporary sense of unease or worry, while a teen with GAD might worry all night and fear that his or her home might be burglarized.


In fact, those with anxiety disorders tend to have free-floating anxiety, which is anxiety that is unrelated to a realistic, known source. Teens might feel anxious or nervous before performing in the school play, but feeling anxious for no defined reason is one symptom of a mental health condition. An individual who carries an underlying feeling of anxiety and tension throughout the day may very well have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.


It’s important to note, however, that GAD is not like experiencing a phobia. Many teens experience social phobia, the fear of social situations and the judgment and embarrassment in those situations might invoke. This is a specific trigger for anxiety, where the fear is targeted. However, GAD can be an experience of pervasive worry with a sense of dread regarding the entire world.


Fortunately, the prognosis for healing from GAD is very good. With the right treatment, including psychotherapy and medication, a teen can experience a worry-free life. Psychotherapy, sometimes known as “talk therapy”, might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  This form of therapy can be particularly effective because it invites a teen to closely examine thoughts and related behaviors, as well as reactions to certain situations. This can help unravel the anxiety inside by untangling the mess of thoughts and feelings.


Medication for treating anxiety disorders often includes anti-anxiety medication and even anti-depressants. Although antidepressants are incredibly effective, they do come with risks. For teens in particular, it is essential to know that anti-depressants can cause suicidal thoughts and even attempts at suicide. This doesn’t mean to dismiss medication as a treatment modality, but to keep this risk at the center of your discussion with a psychiatrist. Of course, anyone taking psychotropic medication should be closely monitored, especially at the beginning of treatment.


If you feel that your teenager is experiencing excessive amounts of anxiety, be sure to work closely with a mental health professional to be sure that your teenager is appropriately diagnosed and treated.