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What People Don’t Understand About Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northeastern chapter.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is more than just feeling a bit nervous before an event. It is more than having a little test anxiety or being nervous before an interview or a date. It is like an endless storm cloud of painful worry and unease that surrounds you almost constantly, often with no warning or provocation. 

As someone who has been diagnosed with GAD since I was twelve years old, my goal here is to get rid of the misconceptions surrounding GAD and give attention to the actual impact it has on people’s lives. Additionally, I want to talk about how crucial it is to tread carefully when communicating with a friend or a significant other with GAD. A comment or gesture may inadvertently aggravate GAD symptoms rather than alleviate them. With all of this in mind, I hope to help others understand GAD more deeply to better support their friends and family based on my personal perspective.

Misconceptions Regarding GAD 

As said above, GAD is much more than just a little anxiety. I do not speak for everyone with GAD, but I will speak from my experience. Living with GAD gives you almost constant anxiety every day that varies in magnitude. At times, I feel dreadful anxiety over something worth only mild anxiety: an important exam, opening night to a play I am performing in or an interview for a job I really want. However, for me, it’s more than just simple anxiety. Events like these create such horrible worry and concern for me that my mind narrows to that feeling alone, making it hard to focus on the things that gave me anxiety in the first place. 

Even if there’s nothing to be anxious about, I will still feel this awful anxiety. I will just be going about my day. Nothing is coming up that I should be nervous or worried about, yet I feel that way. Then, when there’s nothing to worry about and I feel that anxiety, it provokes me to worry about what could happen. Something horrible could happen at any second at any place, and I use that to justify my senseless anxiety. If I am already anxious over something that could theoretically occur, then if it does happen, I could be better prepared for it because I was already ruminating about it happening in the first place. I understand that this is illogical reasoning, but at the same time, I can’t help but have this anxiety looming over me. 

At times, my anxiety can be so detrimental that it causes physical symptoms. In the past, I have been so anxious that it causes intense stomach pain, or I get incredibly dizzy or light-headed. There have been many times that my anxiety has contributed to insomnia. I will be lying in bed at night, and I’ll be experiencing anxiety that is so bad that it is occupying my mind and preventing me from sleeping. I will be worried or concerned over events happening the next day, or at times, I will be anxious over nothing. I will be tossing and turning at night, anxious over something (or nothing), and then I become anxious that I am losing sleep because I am anxious; it’s just a continuous cycle. 

I want to open up about how GAD affects me and my daily life so that people understand it is so much more than just a fleeting worry. As described above, it’s a chronic condition that affects so many aspects of my life. By sharing my experience, I want to shed light on the misconception that GAD is merely random nervousness. It is a constant presence that seeps through my thoughts, emotions and actions. 

Because of these misconceptions and many people being uninformed regarding GAD, many people do not know how to best support a friend or a significant other with GAD. In my experience, many people have attempted to help me in the best way that they can. However, their efforts are unhelpful, and they may unwittingly exacerbate my symptoms… Therefore, In the next section, I hope to give my personal tips on what to do and what not to do when communicating with someone with GAD. 

What You Should NOT Do 

  1. Dismiss or minimize someone’s anxiety 

Do not tell someone that there is nothing to worry about or to just relax. Telling someone to stop worrying feels invalidating and is just unhelpful. Telling someone to stop worrying or to stop being anxious will not automatically make their anxiety or nervousness go away. Instead, listen to their concerns or worries (no matter how trivial they may seem), and offer your support. 

  1. Disregard their boundaries 

If you know that certain things make someone anxious, never pressure or push them to leave their comfort zone. Someone who struggles with GAD should be able to take charge of their own boundaries and allow themselves to go out of their comfort zone if they want to. Pressuring someone will only increase their anxiety and obstruct their progress. 

  1. Compare their anxiety or experiences to others 

Never compare someone’s anxiety or their experiences to your own. There is no threshold as to what can make someone anxious. If you compare someone’s anxiety to your own, this trivializes their own struggles and prompts them to feel that their own anxiety is not important or valid because others may have it worse off than them. It sends them the message that their feelings, thoughts or emotions are unwarranted, which can be detrimental. 

 What You SHOULD Do Instead 

  1. Listen 

When someone opens up about their mental health, you should listen. Mental health is a sensitive topic for many people, and many feel vulnerable talking about it with others. If people open up to you about their mental health, they most likely trust you immensely, so be sure to actively listen to what they have to say. 

  1. Be Patient and Understanding 

This is so important because acknowledging someone’s anxiety symptoms and understanding what they are going through builds an empathetic environment and not one filled with hate or judgment. Demonstrating patience and understanding shows that you respect and care for the person, and this helps them feel valued and supported. 

  1. Check-In on them occasionally 

Due to their symptoms, individuals often struggle with feelings of loneliness due to their symptoms, which can frequently exacerbate their anxiety. Regular check-ins make them feel supported and respected. Additionally, check-ins can give the individual with GAD more opportunities to open up about their struggles and their feelings. This communication is good, enabling you to better support them in any way they need. 

If you want any additional information on how to best support your friend or significant other with GAD, here are three websites with useful information. 

To conclude, I shared my story to help break down the stigma surrounding this disorder. I hope that my story contributes to a better understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with GAD and helps foster compassion and respect. Furthermore, knowing what to do and what not to do when communicating with someone who has GAD is so important because it builds a supportive community where individuals feel valued and heard despite their disorder. 

Grace Ulferts

Northeastern '25

Hello! I'm Grace I am a third-year Behavioral Neuroscience and Philosophy major. I'm originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is my second year being a part of Her Campus, and I absolutely love it! I love to write, and Her Campus is such a warm and welcoming community! :)