6 generalized anxiety disorder criteria mental health pros use


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We all struggle with our mental health sometimes. But it’s not always easy to recognize if you’re experiencing symptoms of a diagnosable mental health disorder or having average emotions and behaviors in response to problems or circumstances.

While everyone feels anxious or nervous from time to time, that doesn’t mean that everyone has generalized anxiety disorder. If you feel like you’re experiencing persistent or worsening anxiety, it’s important to see how your symptoms align with the requirements for an anxiety disorder diagnosis. What is the criteria for a generalized anxiety disorder? That’s what we’re here to answer.

Read on to learn about the basics of generalized anxiety disorder, the criteria that a mental health provider requires for a diagnosis and the next steps to take.

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder, commonly referred to as GAD or anxiety, affects about 3.1% of the U.S. adult population. That adds up to more than 6 million people. GAD centers on feeling excessive stress and concern, often without reason. 

Anxiety can cause you to feel alone and isolated. GAD makes it hard to maintain healthy relationships and complete your daily responsibilities.

There are factors that can contribute to the possibility of developing anxiety, including:

  • Trauma 
  • Family history of anxiety
  • Personality
  • Stress
  • Other mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder

What is the generalized anxiety disorder criteria used by mental health professionals?

There are many emotions, thoughts and behaviors that can be perceived as an anxiety symptom. But it’s important to recognize how you align with the criteria of a GAD diagnosis. Then you can determine if you should seek further assessment by a mental health provider.

The diagnostic criteria for a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis is determined by the American Psychiatric Association in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” We will be referencing the newest edition, DSM-5-TR, which is the fifth edition.

The diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder in DSM-5-TR is outlined as:

  1. Feeling excessive worry more days than not for at least six months

  2. Having difficulty controlling or reducing the worry

  3. The worry is associated with three or more related symptoms: restlessness, easily fatigued, concentration, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Some of the symptoms must be experienced for at least 6 months. For children, only one symptom is required.

  4. The worry or physical symptoms interfere with your ability to function in social and occupational settings.

  5. The worry or disturbance doesn’t stem from a medical condition or substance use.

  6. The worry or disturbance can’t be better explained by a different mental health disorder, such as reminders of trauma that could stem from post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety about having a panic attack that could stem from a panic disorder.

What to do after you assess the generalized anxiety disorder criteria

Once you compare your emotions and behaviors to the DSM-5-TR diagnostic criteria for GAD, the next step in your mental health journey is to determine the likelihood of a formal diagnosis. We have a generalized anxiety disorder quiz that you can take to see how much you align with the GAD symptoms.

It’s important to note that even if you don’t feel like you fit the bill for a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis, you’re likely still experiencing mental health distress that should be further assessed by a mental health provider. A therapist can help you look at your anxiety from every angle and figure out the root of your distress as well as how to cope with it in the future. 

Lightfully Behavioral Health can treat your anxiety 

There can be relief in finding the answers to your distressing thoughts, emotions and behaviors. If you fit the criteria for a generalized anxiety disorder, you can find the support and treatment you need to manage your symptoms and live a more fulfilling life. 

We offer four programs at our treatment centers to assist with your generalized anxiety disorder symptoms: Residential Treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step to help your anxiety, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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