Overcoming Stigma for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Confronting Fears and Barriers for Anxiety

Businessman sighing at desk. Credit: CaiaImage

Overcoming stigma for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of the biggest barriers to people seeking help. It's what mental health professionals call “social stigma.” Essentially, social stigma is the negative view that others can project onto people who reveal particular imperfections or problems.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Many people feel anxious from time to time, especially during times of stress.

However, when you worry excessively, so much so that it interferes with day-to-day activities, you might have GAD.

Some people develop GAD as a child while others do not see symptoms until they are an adult. Either way, living with GAD can last a long time. In many cases, it occurs along with other anxiety or mood disorders. In most cases, it improves with medications or talk therapy (psychotherapy). Making lifestyle changes, learning coping skills and using relaxation techniques also can help.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD symptoms can include:

  • Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that's out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind "goes blank"
  • Worrying about excessively worrying
  • Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
  • Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Being easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Headaches

Overcoming Stigma for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

One of the largest factors that makes stigma so powerful is that at an extreme level, it can lead people to reject or exclude others. It is common for someone with GAD or other psychological problems to think that if they reveal struggles to friends or seek professional help that they will suffer serious social or professional problems. Therefore, the threat of this actually happening in the social world can become a tremendous barrier. Fortunately, social exclusion is much more often the exception rather than the rule.

Since being “crazy” or “insane” carries significant stigma in American culture (think about how often that is used to insult someone), any possibility that one could be misunderstood and seen as crazy is significantly threatening. It is common for someone to worry that others will see them as crazy, but also that getting a diagnosis for GAD actually means that they are, which is absolutely false.

Stigma is real and can certainly have an impact in some cases.

However, for the overwhelming majority of people that I have worked with, stigma does not directly affect them. When they disclose their problems to close friends or family members, they often feel a dramatic enhancement of their relationships, not the exclusion or rejection that they fear. Furthermore, most people do not have increased social or work problems after they begin to own their struggles with anxiety.

Once you become educated about stigma and your potential problems with anxiety and worry, you can make can active choice to do something to improve your life. Sometimes doing things like this poses the risk of some negative consequences. But often the benefits of improvement vastly outweigh the difficulties that come with acknowledging that you may have GAD.


Mayo Clinic. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024562

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