What Is The Generalized Anxiety Disorder Criteria In The DSM-5?

Published 11/04/2020

The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, frequently referred to as the DSM, is used by healthcare providers to categorize and diagnose mental disorders. The most recently published version of the DSM at this time is the DSM-5, which was released in 2013. In the DSM, there are various categories of mental health disorders, including neurodevelopmental disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, bipolar and related disorders, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, trauma and stressor-related disorders, feeding and eating disorders, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, and more. Generalized anxiety disorder is a common condition that is identified under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder In A Nutshell?

To understand the current diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, you must first understand what it is on a basic level. Simply put, generalized anxiety disorder, often referred to as GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by pervasive and excessive or disproportionate worry. Paired with the other symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, this excessive and disproportionate anxiety can impact a person's life in multiple areas, including work, education, interpersonal relationships, and the ability to engage in daily tasks or obligations. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder are often misunderstood, which can make them even harder to live with. That is one of the many reasons why it's important to break the stigma surrounding mental health conditions like GAD.

Signs Of General Anxiety Or Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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By definition, generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry, but there are more signs and symptoms of GAD that one can look out for. Other signs and symptoms of GAD may include:

  • Impending feelings of doom
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing, with no other cause
  • Nausea or GI upset
  • Feelings of distress
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Hypervigilance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Panic attacks

When anxious, someone with GAD may also experience symptoms such as a pounding heart, rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations. To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, you will have to meet the criteria for GAD listed in the current DSM.

DSM-5 Criteria For Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Here is an overview and explanation of the DSM criteria for someone to be diagnosed with GAD:

  1. An individual experiences excessive anxiety and worry about varying events or activities for six months or more
  2. The individual finds the worry difficult to control
  3. The worry, anxiety, or other symptoms of GAD, such as physical symptoms, cause significant distress or impede on a person's ability to function in important areas of their life (work, school, social ventures, and other obligations or daily activities)
  4. The excessive worry and anxiety one experiences are accompanied by three or more of the following symptoms, with at least some symptoms present for more days than not for the past six (or more) months:
  • Restlessness or feeling "keyed up" or on edge
  • Fatigue (becoming fatigued easily)
  • Muscle tension/tension in the muscles
  • Trouble concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or unsatisfying, restless sleep)

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Additionally, the DSM criteria clarifies that the disturbance (anxiety) one experiences must not be more appropriately explained by another mental health condition (for example, someone may experience worries and disturbances better explained by post-traumatic stress disorder or an eating disorder, in which case they may not have GAD). It is possible to have other mental health conditions in addition to GAD, but the worries considered for the diagnosis of GAD specifically must span outside of those affiliated with other disorders. For example, if someone with anxiety related to their eating disorder also experiences fear or worry related to driving, talking on the phone, work, and school, they may have both GAD and an eating disorder. To be diagnosed, it's also included in the DSM criteria that the GAD symptoms one experiences are not attributed to substance use or a mood disorder (though these can co-occur). In the DSM, the generalized anxiety disorder code is F41.1.

Who Gets Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Anyone can get generalized anxiety disorder. However, it is more prevalent in certain populations, and there are risk factors that may contribute to the development of the condition. Statistics indicate that generalized anxiety disorder impacts 6.8 million individuals aged 18 and up in the United States alone. Of those adults, it's said that around 32.3% experience serious impairment as a result of the disorder. Although people of any gender can have generalized anxiety disorder, according to the AADA, women are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder than men are. It's also said that women notice more physical or somatic symptoms as a result of anxiety. GAD is also prevalent in children and teens, and it is said somewhere from around 2% to 6% of kids and adolescents. Certain conditions, like depression, are known to co-occur with anxiety disorders. This doesn't mean that if someone has anxiety, they will also have depression, but anxiety is more likely to be seen in those who are also diagnosed with depression as opposed to individuals who are not diagnosed with another mental health condition. In fact, roughly one half of individuals with an anxiety disorder diagnosis also have depression. Sometimes, the symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap (for example, both may cause or contribute to trouble concentrating or focusing), so it is essential to see a professional for the correct diagnosis.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

There is no known single cause for generalized anxiety disorder, but the following risk factors may play a role in the development of the disorder:

  • Family history of anxiety or another mental health condition
  • Personal history of another mental health condition
  • Temperament or personality traits
  • Trauma and/or life experiences

Treatment For Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

There are several treatment approaches to anxiety disorders. These treatment approaches often include different modalities of therapy or counseling and options for medication. Some people choose to use therapy alone to treat their anxiety, whereas others prefer to use a combination of therapy and medication. One of the most common and effective types of therapy for generalized anxiety disorder is called cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a non-invasive form of treatment that helps people to identify cognitive distortions and reframe or rework thoughts and thought patterns to make them more adaptive. It can be conducted both remotely and in person, with studies showing that CBT remains just as effective when conducted online. CBT is the first line of treatment for GAD due to its efficacy. Medications used to treat anxiety disorders may include antidepressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, and anticonvulsants like Neurontin. Always consult your prescribing clinician before starting, stopping, or changing medications or anxiety treatments. For

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If you believe that you may have GAD and would like a diagnosis, your first step will be to contact your doctor or to consult a psychiatrist. The evaluation process for GAD is relatively non-invasive and straightforward. When you go in for an evaluation, a psychiatrist will ask you questions and diagnose you based on your answers. If you ever receive a mental health diagnosis that you don't agree with, you can seek a second opinion from another mental or medical health professional who is qualified to diagnose mental health conditions. If you find yourself searching for "generalized anxiety disorder definition psychology," "illness anxiety disorder definition," "gad anxiety," or similar terms while hoping to find an answer to your symptoms, seeing a mental health professional can help.

Note that if you're unable to seek a diagnosis at this time, you can still see a therapist. A diagnosis is helpful for insurance purposes and a variety of other reasons, such as receiving accommodations at work or school, but people see counselors or therapists for a variety of different reasons, including life stressors, grief or loss, and relationships. If you have GAD or think that you might, you don't have to face it alone.

Other Mental Health Disorders

Similar disorders to GAD include panic disorder, selective mutism, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and separation anxiety disorder. It is also noted that someone may experience anxiety from substance use or other mental health conditions. These are disorders that are also listed under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM 5. Some people use substances to cope with anxiety, and some individuals also find that it exacerbates their anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are no longer listed as anxiety disorders, but they are also common conditions, like depression, that may impact people with anxiety disorders. Other mood disorders and conditions like eating disorders or personality disorders can exist with anxiety disorders, as long as the symptoms of these conditions aren't the explanation for GAD symptoms.

Additionally, anxiety can co-occur with personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD). Having an "anxious personality" doesn't mean that you have a personality disorder, and if you feel that way, it is best to get an evaluation for an anxiety disorder from a mental health professional. Note that while there's no such thing as "anxious personality disorder," there are personality disorders that are characterized by fearful or anxious behavior. These are considered cluster C personality disorders in the DSM. Cluster C personality disorders listed in the DSM-5 include obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or OCPD (which differs from obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD), avoidant personality disorder, and dependent personality disorder.

Take The Anxiety Test

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Many people search for "the best online anxiety test" or "general anxiety disorder test" to find the most efficient online anxiety texts. While an online anxiety text cannot provide or replace a diagnosis, they can help you to acknowledge and understand your symptoms. The Mind Diagnostics test is free, and the results will go to your email address immediately after taking the test and submitting your email address. Copy and paste this link into your browser to take the free anxiety test: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/anxiety-test.