Generalized Anxiety Disorder: How to Help – Psychology I Empathy Outreach


Have you ever felt extremely worried, but not known why? You have probably been nervous before, whether you’re anxious for a big test or upcoming event. But imagine feeling that anxiety for months on end – now you’re beginning to see what people who have GAD suffer from.

This is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, and in the United States, affects 3.1% of the adult population, which is roughly 10.2 million people, and 2.2% of adolescents. Although GAD is most common at about 30 years old, it occurs in about 1 out of 4 children at some point within their teen years. According to Laura King’s “The Science of Psychology: An Appreciative View,” it is described as persistent anxiety for 6+ months without a specific cause. GAD has many triggers, including genetics or family history, lifestyle factors, brain chemistry, or certain stressors like work or school. While GAD can seem isolating, it is very common, and chances are, someone you know and love suffers from the disorder. Many very successful people and celebrities suffer from GAD as well, like famous actress Emma Stone; Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex; and professional basketball player, Marcus Morris. It is something that’s very prevalent in our society, and therefore something more of us should know about. We’re going to give you some ways to recognize GAD and maybe help, if someone you know is experiencing it.

As stated, GAD is long-persisting anxiety, often without a known cause. Some common symptoms include trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentration, muscle aches and sores, or headaches. The symptoms go beyond these, but the ones listed are most likely the easiest to spot and know. For kids, GAD can manifest in overwhelming, persistent, and often irrational concerns around their performance at school or sporting events, safety among their family members, being on time, especially with catastrophic events. 

One of the first things you need to know when you want to help someone struggling with GAD, or even anxiety in general, is how to recognize it. No matter how hard we try, we can’t get inside of other people’s heads to know what they’re going through, so we can look for physical signs that they’re struggling. Some of the most spottable signs are sweating, shortness of breath and trouble concentrating, but muscle pains, headaches, tiredness and trouble sleeping are also hints they could be experiencing GAD as well as a withdrawal from their surroundings. One note is that if they are experiencing this persistently and for a long time, that’s a key hint that they could be experiencing GAD.

But how can we help when someone we know, whether it be a friend, family member, partner or any loved one, is experiencing this? Medical treatments include drugs and therapy, both of which the everyday person can’t exactly “administer” on a normal day. But that’s not to say we can’t use some of the same strategies a therapist would to help the person you know who’s experiencing GAD. One of the first things to know when trying to help someone who is struggling with GAD is that you can’t enable all they’re feeling – you don’t want to force them to face their fears’ full intensity, but you also can’t tell them all their demons are real and let them live in their fear forever. There’s a middle ground where you’re comforting them, but helping them to see past their fear, and that’s what you want to shoot for. Before you do or say anything, think of moments where you have felt anxious and just consider how you would react–just putting it in perspective before you act would help you to know whether or not it may help them.

Something we have to remember is that we’ve all been anxious before; we’ve all been nervous for that test, or scared of something big. That does not mean that we’ve all suffered through GAD. But it means that just because they’re experiencing this doesn’t make them weak or abnormal. And because we’ve experienced anxiety, we can relate to some of the things they’re feeling. So just remember – we’re all human and stuck on this Earth together. Be kind 🙂 

Finally, if you think you are suffering or know someone who might be suffering from GAD, please reach out to a teacher, our counselor Ms. Webb, or another trusted adult to get the support that you need. There is no shame in asking for help, and having a strong support network is helpful to manage symptoms.