In the last blog, we covered the differences between trait and state anxiety, and today, we’ll look at how trait and state anxiety differ from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Many people experience feelings of anxiety throughout their lives. Some only feel anxious in stressful situations (state anxiety), whereas others feel persistent anxiety throughout the day (trait anxiety). However, those who experience excessive anxiety regularly may begin to wonder whether they are suffering from something else.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder (usually shortened to GAD), is a common mental health condition. It is estimated that around 5% of adults in the UK are affected, and slightly more women are affected than men.
GAD is characterised by excessive and intrusive worrying. It is also fairly common for people to experience GAD alongside other mental health conditions such as mood disorders. Some of the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can include:
- Feeling on edge and unable to relax
- Being indecisive and uncertain of your choices
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Persistent worrying about many concerns even when they are minor
- Jumping to conclusions that situations will turn negative
GAD can also have many somatic symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches
Generalised anxiety disorder can have a considerable impact on how people live. While some may have mild symptoms and can carry out daily activities, others may have difficulty holding down a job, maintaining friendships, and enjoying life in general.
Causes of GAD
There is no one cause of generalised anxiety disorder. Many people may experience a combination of several factors that lead to it developing, whereas others may get the condition for no apparent reason. Some potential causes of GAD include:
- And imbalance of brain chemicals
- A history of substance abuse
- Having a parent or a relative with anxiety
- A history of traumatic experiences such as abuse or bullying
- Problems such as long working hours or bereavement
Health problems can also cause anxiety or make existing anxiety worse, as can financial issues, which may lead to more anxiety triggers about food and housing.
Anxiety and Personality
Many mental health experts now explore their clients’ personalities to learn more about what may contribute to their anxiety. Discovering how anxiety factors into their personalities and how they were taught to manage their feelings early on can reveal how anxiety influences their lives. For example, if someone with a naturally anxious disposition found that they performed better on tests because their anxiety made them study harder, anxiety may have become ingrained in their personality.
Personality types can also be used to explore the relationship between personality and anxiety. Those with Type A personalities are usually described as being competitive, organised, and ambitious and can often use their anxiety as fuel to succeed. However, this can quickly backfire, making them feel overwhelmed and like they are failing even when doing their best.
In addition, those who define themselves as introverts may be more likely to struggle with anxiety. Introverts spend more time alone to process their experiences and the world around them, and are more likely to use avoidant tactics than extroverts, who find energy from interacting with others.
Trait and State Anxiety
Those with trait anxiety may feel anxious more often, and it is considered a personality trait rather than being caused by a specific event or scenario. On the other hand, state anxiety is caused by a situation and passes quickly.
GAD is very different from state anxiety, as those with GAD feel anxious even when stressful scenarios have passed. However, there can be some confusion when differentiating between trait anxiety and GAD. On the surface, they seem the same, but they are, in reality, different.
Those with trait anxiety often feel milder anxiety than those with generalised anxiety disorder. In addition, their anxiety can ebb and flow, and although they may feel more anxious than other people, their anxiety may not be diagnosable. However, this isn’t to say that all those with trait anxiety do not have GAD. Indeed, some people develop GAD because of trait anxiety.
Treatment for GAD
No matter how generalised anxiety disorder is caused, there are a range of treatment options for those seeking help. Many people seek therapy for anxiety, and a therapist can help them confront their negative thought patterns and begin to make healthier choices despite how they feel.
Other people may benefit from medication to help cope with the symptoms of GAD. Antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help people manage their anxiety symptoms, although they may take around six to eight weeks to become effective.
Many doctors and mental health practitioners also recommend making lifestyle changes to manage symptoms of GAD. These can include:
- Exercising regularly
- Cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine
- Eating a balanced diet
- Cutting out or limiting the amount of alcohol consumed
Small lifestyle changes can add up and make those struggling with anxiety feel immeasurably better; however, lifestyle changes work best with therapy and potentially, medication.
Generalised anxiety disorder is a relatively common mental health condition that many people struggle with. In contrast to state anxiety, which fades after a fearful or anxiety-inducing situation, those with GAD constantly worry about scenarios beyond their control and struggle with many physical symptoms.
At first glance, trait anxiety (anxiety which is part and parcel of an individual’s personality) and GAD look the same. However, if you are constantly struggling with anxiety, contact a therapist or your doctor to diagnose which type you have. You don’t have to live with anxiety – help is out there.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anxiety, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential programme and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 “Overview – Generalised Anxiety Disorder In Adults”. Nhs.Uk, 2022, https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/overview/.
 Leal PC, Goes TC, da Silva LCF, Teixeira-Silva F. Trait vs. state anxiety in different threatening situations. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. 2017;39(3):147-157. doi:10.1590/2237-6089-2016-0044