Understanding The Generalized Anxiety Disorder DSM-5 Criterion

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Collectively, anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders around the world. However, several different types of anxiety disorders out there, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are one of them. In this article, you will learn about this very common mental health issue by covering the DSM-5 generalized anxiety disorder criteria, and what types of treatments are available.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

As the name suggests, generalized anxiety disorder is a non-specific type of anxiety disorder, and because of this, it’s one of the most common ones that people struggle with.

However, social anxiety disorder, a specific type of anxiety disorder with its criteria, is quite close.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 7 million adults, or 3 percent of the population, are affected by GAD annually, and that’s just in the United States alone and doesn’t include adolescents who also experience the condition at alarming rates and are at the highest risk of it. [1]

In a general sense, GAD can be described as having an excessive sense of dread or worry. Unlike social anxiety or specific phobias, GAD can affect people in virtually any way.

For example, someone with a generalized anxiety disorder might have worries about things happening in their social relationships, finances, work, school, or the future. In fact, it’s quite typical for people to have many sources of anxiety, not just one.

However, when it comes to diagnosing generalized anxiety disorder, there is a lot more to it than just having a sense of worry or feeling anxious. In the next section, you will become acquainted with the DSM-V generalized anxiety disorder criteria and better understand what goes into properly diagnosing people.

The Generalized Anxiety Disorder DSM 5 Criteria

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition by the American Psychiatric Association, GAD can be found in the anxiety disorders category, and the generalized anxiety DSM-5 code is 300.02 (F41.1)

Below you can find the current criteria for generalized anxiety disorder verbatim from the DSM-5: [2]

  1. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least six months, about several events or activities (such as work or school performance).
  2. The person finds it difficult to control the worry.
  3. The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms present for more days than not for the past six months).
  4. Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  5. Being easily fatigued
  6. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  7. Irritability
  8. Muscle tension
  9. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
  10. The disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., anxiety or worry about having panic attacks in panic disorder, negative evaluation in social anxiety disorder [social phobia], contamination or other obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation from attachment figures in separation anxiety disorder, reminders of traumatic events in posttraumatic stress disorder, gaining weight in anorexia nervosa, physical complaints in somatic symptom disorder, perceived appearance flaws in body dysmorphic disorder, having a serious illness in illness anxiety disorder, or the content of delusional beliefs in schizophrenia or delusional disorder).
  11. The focus of the anxiety and worry is not confined to features of an Axis I disorder (e.g., the anxiety or worry is not about having a panic attack [as in panic disorder], being embarrassed in public [as in social phobia], being contaminated [as in obsessive-compulsive disorder] being away from home or close relatives [as in separation anxiety disorder], gaining weight [as in anorexia Nervosa], or having a serious illness [as in hypochondriasis]). The anxiety and worry do not occur exclusively during posttraumatic stress disorder.
  12. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

Why The DSM-5 Criteria Is Important

When it comes to diagnosing mental health conditions in the United States, all doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists will refer to the DSM-5 because it’s published by the American Psychiatric Association, the leading authority on mental health in the U.S.

For this reason, the ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) by the World Health Organization isn’t widely used here.

Even though the ICD and the WHO are health authorities, it’s not centered specifically on the mental health aspect, and the primary goal is to reduce the negative impact health issues have on countries. Therefore, it has more of a global focus and an emphasis on developing areas. [3]

Nonetheless, both are helpful tools that health professionals have at their disposal, but when it comes to mental health treatment in the U.S., the DSM-5 is preferred.

Although our understanding of mental health will continue to change over time, the DSM-5 is the most current and up-to-date compilation of knowledge about all-known mental health issues.

Using the DSM5, anxiety treatment is straightforward because professionals can assess and give patients the most accurate diagnosis possible, which will help them get on the right plan.

In the next section, you will learn some of how you can treat generalized anxiety disorder once you have been diagnosed.

How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Is Treated

Just like how there are standardized criteria used to diagnose a generalized anxiety disorder, there are also treatment protocols shown to work for many individuals.

Below you will find some effective ways that you can manage GAD:

Counseling & Therapy

Out of all treatment options, therapy is the most recommended by professionals, and it’s been shown that it can be just, if not more, effective than medication because it addresses the problem directly and provides you with solutions. [4]

One of the most proven methods for anxiety disorders, as well as several other mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based approach that helps identify negative thinking patterns and works to change them into more positive, helpful, and productive ones, which can help gradually make you less anxious and improve your overall mood.

Other effective forms of therapy can be used, and many are viable because they can give you the skills you need to cope with anxiety and hopefully overcome it.


Like therapy, medication may also be recommended for a couple of reasons; however, they will also require a prescription from a doctor or psychiatrist.

Although they are classified as an antidepressant, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are often considered a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders and OCD. The neurotransmitter serotonin has been implicated in these disorders, and research shows that it can be very effective in providing relief. [4]

Other medications such as benzodiazepines are also effective, but they also carry risks and side effects and aren’t the preferred course of treatment for this reason.

However, they may also be prescribed to help reduce anxiety in specific situations and may be a short-term solution.


While assistance is available to help you with anxiety, there are plenty of other strategies you can try on your own that can help improve symptoms and make you feel less anxious.

Sleep is important for your mental health and making you sure you get an adequate amount of it can significantly impact how you function and feel throughout the day. Strive to get around 8 hours each night, if possible.

Committing to a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can also be extremely helpful and will also change how you feel positively.

You should also avoid substance use, including tobacco and alcohol. Even caffeine has been shown to make symptoms of anxiety worse because it is a neuro-stimulant. While you don’t necessarily need to eliminate it (a cup of coffee in the morning isn’t inherently harmful), you should try to be mindful of your consumption of it. For example, don’t take it too close to your bedtime since it can interfere with your ability to sleep well.

Still Unsure If You Might Have An Anxiety Disorder?

Suppose you’ve read this article and the DSM-5 anxiety disorders criteria and you’re still not quite certain you might be dealing with the disorder, or you want to be extra sure before visiting your doctor or mental health professional. In that case, you can also take a short, free anxiety test and find out if you have anxiety.

By clicking the link above, you can also find a therapist in your area if the results show that you do have anxiety, or you believe it confirms what you’ve thought all along.

However, this test is not a formal diagnosis. It’s still recommended that you speak with a professional as soon as possible who can properly diagnose you with the anxiety DSM-5 information and get you started on the right treatment plan.


Although anxiety is very common, it’s still a serious condition that can be difficult to control and make living life much more challenging. Luckily, anxiety is also one of the most treatable mental health concerns, and by being diagnosed carefully with the DSM, anxiety can be managed, especially with the right guidance.


  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (, 2020). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]. Rockville (M.D.): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (U.S.); 2016 Jun. Table 3.15, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/
  3. American Psychological Association. (2009, October). ICD vs. DSM. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/10/icd-dsm
  4. Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015 May 1;91(9):617-24. PMID: 25955736.