Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

Find out more about diagnosis for anxiety and the treatment available for you.  

Table of Contents

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder, sometimes also seen as GAD, is characterized by excessive and/or unrealistic anxiety about at least two aspects of life. This can include having unrealistic anxiety about a combination of aspects such as work, relationships, finances, or academic studies. Often, this anxiety is paired with physical symptoms like a racing heart (palpitations), shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness. 

What Generalized Anxiety Disorder Feels Like?

For many, the feeling of anxiety with generalized anxiety disorder can be frightening. The palpitations paired with shortness of breath may feel like a cardiovascular problem. This can worsen the symptoms and their severity, leading to increased anxiety about one’s health. 

Is GAD A Serious Mental Illness?

Anxiety disorders, including GAD, are the most common mental illness in the United States. As of 2020, more than 40 million adults suffer from an anxiety disorder — more than 18% of the population. GAD affects nearly 7 million individuals over the age of 18.1

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially in particularly stressful situations. However, anxiety that controls day-to-day life and inhabits typical functioning is often an indicator of excessive, ongoing anxiety with disorders such as GAD. 

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Like other anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder is a mental disorder that impacts how the brain responds to different stimuli and interacts with the rest of the body. As a result, many of its causes stem from areas surrounding biology and perception and may include

Risk Factors

Some people are significantly more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder than others. For instance, women are more likely to experience anxiety symptoms than men.2 Other risk factors for generalized anxiety disorder include

Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. However, with generalized anxiety disorder, there are a few specific behavioral and physical symptoms to be aware of. 

GAD Physical Symptoms

The most common GAD physical symptoms are shortness of breath and heart palpitations. However, these aren’t the only symptoms, nor are they the only physical symptoms. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder can also experience:

GAD Behavioral Symptoms

How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the disorders included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This means that certain steps, criteria, or tests can help diagnose a possible case of GAD. Depending on the severity of symptoms, professionals may need to utilize different forms of diagnostics before diagnosing an individual with generalized anxiety disorder. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Criteria

The criteria for generalized anxiety disorder as outlined in the DSM-5 is very similar to earlier editions of the manual.3 This seeks to generate a better understanding of the individual symptoms of GAD as well as how they impact the patient’s daily life.

As a result, much of the criteria focus on identifying common symptoms, such as those listed above. However, it also seeks to decide whether another mental disorder may be the cause of symptoms and whether a physical disorder is the cause of symptoms.

By evaluating the source and severity of symptoms, a medical professional can properly diagnose an individual.

GAD Criteria in Children and Teens

Many people experience anxiety for the first time as a teenager or even childhood. However, during these critical periods, it may be difficult for a child or teenager to understand that their anxiety is extreme for a situation or obsessive. 

For young people, the diagnosing criteria for generalized anxiety disorder may pay closer attention to behavior, noting things such as:

Children and young adults also tend to have anxiety about different things than adults, with much of their worries based on:

However, children and teenagers are often referred to a psychiatrist for mental disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder. Here, they may undergo additional testing, and the psychiatrist may wish to schedule interviews with close family members to help better understand the child’s behavior. 

How to Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

While there is no specific cure for generalized anxiety disorder, treatment is available. However, of the 6.8 million people affected by generalized anxiety disorder in the United States, only 43% receive treatment despite high rates of success.4

There are several forms of treatment available to help restore quality of life, both with the guidance of a medical professional and at home.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most utilized form of psychotherapy. It helps create a better understanding of the relationship between thoughts and actions, helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety and encourage mindfulness and healthy coping mechanisms. 

GAD Medications

In some instances, medication may help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as shortness of breath or palpitations. These medications help balance brain chemistry and navigate whether a situation is truly threatening, allowing for reduced anxiety. 

Home Remedies

In some instances, home remedies may be used alone or in combination with other forms of treatment to help reduce the severity of symptoms and promote long-term healing. While other forms of treatment help target the source of the problem, home remedies promote mindfulness and provide a way to manage and cope with symptoms safely. 

Finding Help at J. Flowers Health Institute

Seeking treatment for generalized anxiety disorder can be daunting. However, here at J. Flowers Health Institute, we strive to ensure that treatment is as comfortable as possible for our patients. We offer several forms of therapy and counseling to help you find the right treatment method and routine to best fit your needs.