From “being dramatic” to “it’s all in your head,” there are many myths about generalized anxiety disorder. Understanding the realities of anxiety can help those affected and their loved ones.
Generalized anxiety disorder is marked by excessive worry. As with many mental health conditions, myths about generalized anxiety disorder are common as the condition is not well understood by the general population. Since many Americans suffer from this condition, it is important to know the facts about generalized anxiety disorder. Gaining a better understanding of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can help people get the treatment they need, and friends and family members can better support their loved ones who have anxiety.
1. Myth: People with GAD blow everything out of proportion.
Fact: It’s not about drama.
While it may be frustrating and tempting to see generalized anxiety disorder as simply a matter of being dramatic, for someone experiencing this condition, the worry is difficult or impossible to control. While you may feel worried about an upcoming test, someone with generalized anxiety disorder may fixate on the worst-case scenario and it will cause them significant distress and even physical symptoms.
2. Myth: Because it’s generalized, GAD isn’t that bad.
Fact: GAD can be quite severe.
Generalized anxiety disorder can negatively impact a person’s life. Diagnosis of the disorder requires the presence of physical symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep issues
In addition to these physical symptoms, a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder requires the anxiety to be severe enough to prevent someone from functioning optimally in different areas of his or her life. If the person cannot control the worry and it causes him or her significant distress, generalized anxiety disorder may be present, and telling someone to calm down will not be helpful.
3. Myth: People with GAD fake panic attacks to get attention.
Fact: Panic attacks are not fake.
While panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are different conditions, they are not mutually exclusive, and people with panic disorder are not faking these attacks for attention. In fact, 28.3% of people will have a panic attack throughout their lifetime, and many of these people won’t be diagnosed with panic disorder. The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that the condition is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack. Although people have associated generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks, each of these conditions can exist without the other.
4. Myth: Generalized anxiety disorder is rare.
Fact: GAD is relatively common.
Generalized anxiety disorder statistics show that this condition is not rare. So, exactly how common is generalized anxiety disorder? The lifetime prevalence of generalized anxiety is approximately 7.7% in women and 4.6% in men. Overall, generalized anxiety disorder affects roughly 6.8 million Americans a year.
5. Myth: Generalized Anxiety disorder is always obvious.
Fact: GAD can be invisible to the outside observer.
While some people may worry and panic outwardly, others suffer in silence. There are physical signs of generalized anxiety disorder, such as palpitations and trembling; however, since everyone is different, warning signs of generalized anxiety disorder may appear differently in each individual. Some of the warning signs include:
- Worrying excessively about everyday issues
- Trouble controlling thoughts
- Worrying more than usual
- Feeling on edge
- Easily startled
Just because someone isn’t exhibiting obvious symptoms doesn’t mean they are not affected by GAD.
6. Myth: Generalized anxiety disorder has no physical symptoms.
Fact: GAD can absolutely affect someone physically.
Even though GAD is a mental health condition, it can cause very real symptoms in the body. Physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive restroom use
- Headaches, stomach aches or unexplained pains
All of these symptoms must not be attributable to another illness in order to diagnose someone with generalized anxiety disorder and must be present with other diagnostic criteria.
7. Myth: People with generalized anxiety do not enjoy socializing.
Fact: Individuals with GAD can be social people.
Some people with generalized anxiety disorder may have social-based worries such as fear of public speaking, and may miss out on work opportunities due to fear of saying the wrong thing; however, this is not necessarily the case.
Generalized vs. social anxiety can be easily confused due to some overlapping symptoms; however, they are different. While people with generalized anxiety disorder experience fears and worries about multiple concerns, social anxiety is very specific to social situations. About 8% of people will experience social anxiety in their lifetime.
8. Myth: All anxiety medications are addictive, so you shouldn’t take them.
Fact: Not all anxiety medications are addictive.
While some medications such as benzodiazepines can be habit forming, most commonly used anxiety medications, such as antidepressants, are not addictive. However, they still need to be used responsibly and according to directions. Some anxiety medications do cause symptoms when an individual stops using them, a phenomenon called “discontinuation syndrome.” To minimize these symptoms, individuals should come off these medications gradually, with medical supervision.
9. Myth: Medication is the only way to manage generalized anxiety.
Fact: Many treatment methods exist to help manage generalized anxiety disorder.
Everybody’s journey to recovery from anxiety is different, but most experts agree that counseling is an effective option whether or not someone uses medication. Therapy for generalized anxiety disorder is effective, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, which allows someone to challenge their fears and insecurities in order to overcome them. Alternative anxiety treatment options may include other types of therapy or relaxation techniques, but they can be combined in a way that works for the individual.
10. Myth: There’s nothing you can do to help someone with GAD.
Fact: Empathy is the first step to help someone with GAD.
It might seem difficult to know how to help somebody with generalized anxiety disorder, but trying your best to understand and listen to what they’re going through is a great first step. It is also good to watch out for signs that someone might be using substances such as alcohol or drugs to help manage their anxiety on their own.
If you recognize that someone you love may need help to overcome generalized anxiety disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. Call today to learn more about getting the help you or someone you love may need to recover.
Informedhealth.org. “Treatment options for generalized anxiety disorder.” October 19, 2017. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Harvard Health. “What are the real risks of antidepressants?” March 29, 2019. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Canadian Mental Health Association. “Social Anxiety Disorder.” Accessed June 12, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder when Worry Gets Out of Control.” Revised 2016. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).” Accessed June 12, 2019.
Locke, A.B.; Kirst, N.; Shultz, CG. “Diagnosis and management of generalized […] disorder in adults.” American Family Physician, May 1, 2015. Accessed June 12, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.