Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting more than 6.8 million Americans (ADAA, 2021). Less than half of those affected seek treatment for this disorder, which increases their risks for depression and self-medication with drugs or alcohol. To help recognize signs and symptoms in your patients or clients, as well as understand more about available treatments, our authors have prepared this CE course “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
What Are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety affects everyone at some point in time. Those with generalized anxiety disorder have persistent anxiety symptoms that last longer than six months (NIMH, 2018). Examples of their anxiety symptoms include:
- Feeling or appearing constantly restless or on edge
- Problems concentrating on tasks or feeling as if their “mind goes blank” in situations where they need to answer a question
- Personality changes, such as irritability
- Feeling constantly worried or unsure
- Having difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep
Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects a person in almost all aspects of their daily lives. The condition causes problems in a person’s work/school and personal interactions. This disorder can be mentally and physically exhausting for a person, and treatments can help — but they must receive an official diagnosis first.
DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V identifies several criteria for a doctor to diagnose a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. These criteria include (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
- Experiencing excessive worry for six months or more.
- A person cannot control their anxiety symptoms.
- A person has at least three of the following six symptoms:
- Restlessness and feeling constantly on edge
- Feeling constantly tired
- Experiencing muscle tension
- Having problems concentrating
- Experiencing problems with sleep
- A person’s symptoms interfere with their daily life.
- There is no other outside cause (such as taking certain medications or using caffeine) that is causing the symptoms.
- A person’s symptoms aren’t the results of another disorder, such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A doctor can use a client interview, the client’s reports of symptoms, and their loved one’s reports to diagnose the condition.
Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
For those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, navigating a day is full of worry and sometimes fear. These symptoms can carry over into their fears of seeking treatment. They may be worried a medical professional will think they are “crazy” or will not take their symptoms seriously (ADAA, 2021). It’s important for a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder to know their condition is treatable, both through therapy and sometimes medications.
Psychotherapy is a common approach to treatment. This includes approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT (NIMH, 2018). This approach involves teaching a person to recognize their symptoms and how to better cope or react to them. There are other potential therapy approaches to Generalized Anxiety Disorder as outlined in the course.
In addition to therapy, some lifestyle changes can help a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. These include meditation, exercise, diet, and alternative therapies such as art or music therapies.
Doctors can also prescribe medication treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While these are covered in-depth in the course, some examples include benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and buspirone.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common occurrence that can be difficult to treat — often because clients are hesitant to seek treatment to begin with (ADAA, 2021). Recognizing the signs in a daily practice can help a person obtain a referral to receive needed treatment.
Call to Action: To gain an in-depth view of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, sign up to take Symptom Media’s full course on Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder.