General Anxiety Disorder – DSM5

Disclaimer: Use this information for reference only. Please do no self diagnose. You must see a doctor or a mental health professional to get proper diagnosis.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria 300.02 (F41.1)

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).

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

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);

Note: Only one item is required in children.

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).

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

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).

F. 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).

Diagnostic Features

The essential feature of generalized anxiety disorder is excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation) about a number of events or activities. The intensity, duration, or frequency of the anxiety and worry is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the anticipated event. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry and to keep worrisome thoughts from interfering with attention to tasks at hand. Adults with generalized anxiety disorder often worry about everyday, routine life circumstances, such as possible job responsibilities, health and finances, the health of family members, misfortune to their children, or minor matters (e.g., doing household chores or being late for appointments). Children with generalized anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively about their competence or the quality of their performance. During the course of the disorder, the focus of worry may shift from one concern to another.Several features distinguish generalized anxiety disorder from nonpathological anxiety. First, the worries associated with generalized anxiety disorder are excessive and typically interfere significantly with psychosocial functioning, whereas the worries of everyday life are not excessive and are perceived as more manageable and may be put off when more pressing matters arise. Second, the worries associated with generalized anxiety disorder are more pervasive, pronounced, and distressing; have longer duration; and frequently occur without précipitants. The greater the range of life circumstances about which a person worries (e.g., finances, children’s safety, job performance), the more likely his or her symptoms are to meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. Third, everyday worries are much less likely to be accompanied by physical symptoms (e.g., restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge). Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder report subjective distress due to constant worry and related impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following additional symptoms: restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep, although only one additional symptom is required in children.

Associated Features Supporting Diagnosis

Associated with muscle tension, there may be trembling, twitching, feeling shaky, and muscle aches or soreness. Many individuals with generalized anxiety disorder also experience somatic symptoms (e.g., sweating, nausea, diarrhea) and an exaggerated startle response. Symptoms of autonomic hyperarousal (e.g., accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness) are less prominent in generalized anxiety disorder than in other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder. Other conditions that may be associated with stress (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, headaches) frequently accompany generalized anxiety disorder.


The 12-month prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder is 0.9% among adolescents and 2.9% among adults in the general community of the United States. The 12-month prevalence for the disorder in other countries ranges from 0.4% to 3.6%. The lifetime morbid risk is 9.0%. Females are twice as likely as males to experience generalized anxiety disorder. The prevalence of the diagnosis peaks in middle age and declines across the later years of life.

Individuals of European descent tend to experience generalized anxiety disorder more frequently than do individuals of non-European descent (i.e., Asian, African, Native American and Pacific Islander). Furthermore, individuals from developed countries are more likely than individuals from nondeveloped countries to report that they have experienced symptoms that meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Development and Course

Many individuals with generalized anxiety disorder report that they have felt anxious and nervous all of their lives. The median age at onset for generalized anxiety disorder is 30 years; however, age at onset is spread over a very broad range. The median age at onset is later than that for the other anxiety disorders. The symptoms of excessive worry and anxiety may occur early in life but are then manifested as an anxious temperament. Onset of the disorder rarely occurs prior to adolescence. The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to be chronic and wax and wane across the lifespan, fluctuating between syndromal and subsyndromal forms of the disorder. Rates of full remission are very low.

The clinical expression of generalized anxiety disorder is relatively consistent across the lifespan. The primary difference across age groups is in the content of the individual’s worry. Children and adolescents tend to worry more about school and sporting performance, whereas older adults report greater concern about the well-being of family or their own physical heath. Thus, the content of an individual’s worry tends to be age appropriate. Younger adults experience greater severity of symptoms than do older adults.

The earlier in life individuals have symptoms that meet criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, the more comorbidity they tend to have and the more impaired they are likely to be. The advent of chronic physical disease can be a potent issue for excessive worry in the elderly. In the frail elderly, worries about safety—and especially about falling—may limit activities. In those with early cognitive impairment, what appears to be excessive worry about, for example, the whereabouts of things is probably better regarded as realistic given the cognitive impairment.

In children and adolescents with generalized anxiety disorder, the anxieties and worries often concern the quality of their performance or competence at school or in sporting events, even when their performance is not being evaluated by others. There may be excessive concerns about punctuality. They may also worry about catastrophic events, such as earthquakes or nuclear war. Children with the disorder may be overly conforming, perfectionist, and unsure of themselves and tend to redo tasks because of excessive dissatisfaction with less-than-perfect performance. They are typically overzealous in seeking reassurance and approval and require excessive reassurance about their performance and other things they are worried about.

Generalized anxiety disorder may be overdiagnosed in children. When this diagnosis is being considered in children, a thorough evaluation for the presence of other childhood anxiety disorders and other mental disorders should be done to determine whether the worries may be better explained by one of these disorders. Separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often accompanied by worries that may mimic those described in generalized anxiety disorder. For example, a child with social anxiety disorder may be concerned about school performance because of fear of humiliation. Worries about illness may also be better explained by separation anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.\


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients and establishes consistent and reliable diagnoses that can be used in the research of mental disorders. It also provides a common language for researchers to study the criteria for potential future revisions and to aid in the development of medications and other interventions.

artwork by: Toby Allen