What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Feb 19, 2020

Maybe you've received a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, or you just want to know what it is. Well in this post, I'm going to walk you through the diagnostic criteria so you come away understanding what generalized anxiety disorder is… and what it isn't. And be sure to stick around until the end, as I'll share some insight into how lifestyle choices can positively impact mental health…and some words of encouragement.



Let's first define generalized anxiety disorder by its diagnostic criteria.


A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).


Let's break that down. The term "excessive" in relation to anxiety and worry is subjective and certainly depends on life circumstances, but "excessive" is in comparison to what would be considered a normal response to those circumstances. This pattern must go on for six months or more, for more than half the days in that time period. And finally, the excessive anxiety or worry has to affect more than one activity.


B. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.


Pretty straight forward.


Now here's where it gets more detailed.


C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months):

1. Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.

2. Being easily fatigued.

3. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.

4. Irritability.

5. Muscle tension.

6. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).


Three of those six symptoms need to be met in order to meet the diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. So if someone has restlessness and sleep disturbance with none of the others, for less than six months, for instance… that wouldn't warrant a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder.


D. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.


Basically, the anxiety is preventing you from being able to carry out your responsibilities.


E. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).


This is a very important criterion. If the anxiety is a result of another medical condition, then even if all the other factors are met, it's not generalized anxiety disorder. This is why it's very helpful to see a naturopathic physician or functional medicine doctor to get a comprehensive look at all your body systems to see if there is something else going on.


F. The disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder


Also self explanatory.


So there you have it. Generalized anxiety disorder. Does that mean that if you don't qualify for generalized anxiety disorder, that your anxiety is all in your head? No! If you're dealing with anxiety, you're dealing with anxiety. The diagnostic criteria is just a framework for clinicians and insurance companies to be able to put a definition on a set of symptoms. You are not your symptoms, and I want you to remember that.


So what can you do about anxiety? Actually, quite a bit. Now, nothing I'm about to say here is a substitute for individualized medical care or counseling. Please be smart and consult a medical professional or counselor before undergoing any sort of treatment plan. This is just for your information.


Studies are coming out showing a link between diet, the gut microbiome - which are the helpful or harmful bacteria that live in your gut, depending on the types of food you eat - exercise and other lifestyle factors and mental health. Your gut microbiome is responsible for up to 90% of the neurotransmitters produced in your body, so it makes sense that we'll want to treat them right by feeding them their optimal fuel, which is high fiber whole plants. And exercise and keeping the body in motion makes a huge difference as well. I'll link to a few other videos in the description that I think you'll find fascinating and helpful as it relates to nutrition, exercise, and anxiety.


If you've followed me for a while, you know I talk about my five pillars of everyday mental health: your psychology, relationships, nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Optimizing those lifestyle choices goes a long way towards building the mental health you deserve.


And whether you've received a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, or if you're dealing with anxiety in general, just remember… you're not broken. There is always hope.


Always remember, I believe in your greatness!


50% Complete

Reclaim Your Morning.

Unstoppable Mental Health.

Dr. K's Daily Journal is a neuroscience-backed approach to help you start taking action on the things that matter to you, especially when it's hard.

This simple, easy-to-use one-page journal helps you:

  • Create an unshakable morning ritual that helps you reclaim ANY rough morning
  • Create and monitor your personal and professional goals in a way that drives you to action
  • Create optimal everyday mental health by providing accountability
  • End of day reflection to end self-criticism