Anxiety in children, adolescents, and adults can present in various ways where the stress can be clinical or subclinical. Subclinical anxiety is when being worried or stressed about something is appropriate for the situation and that person; it does not impact their day-to-day or major life goals and responsibilities. In other words, someone can be worried or shy, but it is not debilitating, or restricting someone from living their life to the fullest. In contrast, when stress impacts a person’s functioning in important areas of their life, like academics, occupational, social, etc., the anxiety becomes more clinical and should be evaluated as well as treated by a mental health professional. Criteria for one or more anxiety diagnoses can be met depending on the symptoms and triggers that make someone anxious. Two of the most prevalent anxiety diagnoses include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder. These disorders can be solely diagnosed or diagnosed comorbidly, which means someone meets both disorder’s criteria.
GAD and social anxiety disorder can be confusing diagnoses to distinguish, as they can have similar presentations. For example, an individual with either (or both) diagnoses can exhibit increased avoidance behaviors for a situation, person, etc.; excessively worry about a triggering thought or experience; and/or experience physical symptoms (i.e., stomachache, nausea, headache, etc.) that manifest when they are stressed. Although there are similarities, there are significant differences between GAD and social anxiety disorder, too. There are certain hallmark clinical presentations to determine if one or both disorders can be confidently and appropriately diagnosed. For example, someone with more general stress will be anxious about general concerns, including major life events as well as minor, day-to-day activities. Someone with more social stress typically worries about meeting new people, being observed, or performing in front of others because these are opportunities to be judged or criticized by others. Another way to think of diagnostic differences between these disorders is that individuals with GAD focus more on the ongoing nature of relationships while individuals with social anxiety disorder focus more on the fear of a negative evaluation from others.
Gaining psychoeducation about these diagnoses can be helpful, especially when you feel like your anxiety is in the clinical range. But it is important to remember the only way to truly know if you meet criteria for GAD and/or social anxiety disorder is to be properly evaluated. This is not something that can be self-diagnosed as it requires several years of graduate school education and training to diagnose someone. If you or a loved one wants to learn more about their stress and worries, please contact Marvelous Minds at (630) 474-4353. We offer pediatric neuropsychological evaluations and treatment for anxiety. Additionally, for adults 19+, we have referral resources for locations providing adult neuropsychological evaluations.