What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized anxiety disorder is the diagnostic name for kids, teens, and adults who meet the criteria. Oftentimes people will say they have anxiety, or general anxiety, without quite meaning that they meet all of the criteria. You can find a screening tool* for kids and for adults put together by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (*which gives you information, but you will want to meet with a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist for a true screening). 

What makes anxiety a disorder?

Generally speaking, an anxiety disorder gets in the way of your everyday life, and is harder to manage. It comes up in multiple environments, so home and school, or work and home. 

Physical symptoms of anxiety - your body clues:

Physically, generalized anxiety disorder makes you more prone to experience the fight/flight/freeze response in your body. Your muscles start to tense, your breathing rate either speeds up or feels like it significantly slows, and your heart starts to pound. You may notice muscle tension or increased heart rate throughout the day. This is different from a panic disorder, wherein you experience significant panic attacks rather than low level anxiety with spikes of more significant stress.

Is my anxiety disorder misdiagnosed?

Some people misdiagnose GAD as a panic disorder, or as ADHD as your attention is divided between the tasks at hand and managing your stress. It's also important to assess for any past trauma. Therapists frequently have people come see them for what they feel is an anxiety disorder, but ends up being PTSD. Working with kids and teens, parents will frequently call me for anger management tips, not recognizing that the anger is masking the underlying anxiety.

What to do about anxiety:

Anxiety responds very well to cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes the anxiety is so significant, though, that people start psychotropic medication along with therapy, and then gradually decrease their dosage with the help of their psychiatrist while still maintaining weekly counseling sessions. I've found that my clients start to report feeling better even by session 2 or 3. 

Curious to hear more? Kelsey Torgerson specializes in anxiety and anger management for pre-schoolers, elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, teens, and college students. She provides cognitive behavioral therapy through her Clayton office. Families come from University City, Ladue, Creve Couer, Town and Country, Brentwood, and surrounding St. Louis areas. Reach out via kelsey@compassionatecounselingstl.com or you can set up a free phone consult right here.