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Difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder & Social Anxiety Disorder

Understanding How Social Phobia and GAD are Different


Updated May 21, 2014

Stressed businesswoman with head in hands
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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) are both classified as anxiety disorders in DSM-IV. This means that they share a general commonality of involving anxiety--but there are also some important differences. The following will identify the hallmarks of both disorders and also highlight similarities and differences.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The main characteristics of those diagnosed with GAD are persistent and difficult control of anxiety and worry, as well as a variety of other symptoms like sleep problems, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Read more about the complete overview of diagnostic criteria for GAD.

Social Phobia

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by intense difficulty controlling anxiety in common social situations. It can be limited to one specific situation (like public speaking) or more broad situations (talking with anyone other than close friends or relatives, for example). People with social phobia generally have a significant fear of being judged or evaluated. They often realize that their fears are disproportionate or irrational, but still have difficulty. People with severe social anxiety may experience sleep problems, worry days in advance about a situation, and have difficulty fulfilling work or school obligations.

Similarities & Differences

There are a few ways in which these disorders are similar. They both:

  • involve intense anxiety and worry.
  • involve other similar symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping.
  • can greatly influence a person’s ability to fulfill basic obligations.

A key difference to note is that GAD is a much more broad experience of anxiety and worry. People with GAD often have significant anxiety around social situations, but it is not limited to them, whereas social phobia is.
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