Generalized Anxiety Disorder vs. Normal Worry

Medically Reviewed

Everyone worries, to some degree, about things at work or home. And with news of violent incidents and uncertainty about the economy, who doesn’t consider worst-case scenarios? Almost everyone seems to experience worrisome thoughts. So how do you know if you have a medical condition like generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are similar to the “normal worry” that everyone experiences from time to time. The difference is that with generalized anxiety disorder, the symptoms are more frequent. For example, one study found that people without generalized anxiety disorder tended to worry an average of 55 minutes a day, while those with generalized anxiety disorder worried for 310 minutes each day.

Here's how to distinguish between normal worry and generalized anxiety disorder.

Normal worry: Worrying does not interfere with your job or social life.

Generalized anxiety disorder: Worrying significantly interferes with your work or social activities.

Normal worry: You feel that your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with at a later time.

Generalized anxiety disorder: You feel that your worrying is out of your control.

Normal worry: Your worries cause only mild distress.

Generalized anxiety disorder: Your worries are very distressing and pervasive.

Normal worry: A specific cause initiated your worrying.

Generalized anxiety disorder: Worrying began for no reason.

Normal worry: Your worries are limited to a specific topic or a small number of topics.

Generalized anxiety disorder: You worry about a broad range of topics, like job performance, money, personal safety, or the safety of others.

Normal worry: Significant worrying lasts only for a brief period.

Generalized anxiety disorder: You have experienced excessive worrying for six months or more.

Normal worry: Your worrying is not usually accompanied by physical or other psychological symptoms.

Generalized anxiety disorder: Three or more physical or psychological symptoms occur with your worrying (such as sleep problems, irritability, tense muscles, problems concentrating, fatigue or restlessness)

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. An exam will ensure that a physical problem isn’t responsible. Generalized anxiety disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.