What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when I was 16. At the time, I was struggling intensely with Depression, self-harm, and a budding eating disorder. I started seeing a therapist at the strong recommendation of my pediatrician and was officially diagnosed with GAD and Chronic Depression by the end of the first session. It’s been over nine years since that first appointment and while the eating disorder and self-harm are thankfully only alive in my past now (we’ll discuss their long-term effects and ongoing recovery later), four other therapists have since reconfirmed my Anxiety and Depression over the years.

The Chronic Depression comes and goes but GAD is a daily battle. I can finally say that I’ve gained a firm upper-hand on it this year, though, and hopefully The Anxiety Diaries can help others start to work towards being more in control of their Anxiety, too. 

So what is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? According the DSM-5, the diagnostic criteria for GAD is as follows (1):

  • Excessive anxiety and worry that occurs more days than not for at least six months and is about a variety of different events and activities
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • The anxiety/worry is associated with three or more of these six symptoms:
    • Restlessness/feeling on edge
    • Being easily fatigued
    • Difficulty concentrating or your mind going blank
    • Irritability
    • Muscle tension
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless/unsatisfying sleep
  • The anxiety isn’t due to another disorder or to the side-effects of substance use or abuse
  • The anxiety, worry, or related physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in daily functioning.

Personally, I am well aware of just how much I meet all of the criteria. I regularly experience all six of the symptoms and have 100% had days when my Anxiety is absolutely crippling, which isn’t uncommon. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants” (2).

For me, I can measure the progress I’ve made with my Anxiety by how often I’m able to effectively stop the worry cycle. There were many years when I would just get stuck and spiral out of control multiple times a week – now it happens less and less often. Being able to calm myself down before my Anxiety escalates to the point of a breakdown or Anxiety Attack is crucial. 

I’m nowhere near “cured” and realistically never will be, as that’s just not how mental illnesses work. Staying in control most of the time is a huge accomplishment, though, and something that I’ll always be working on. Not working on my Anxiety does nothing positive for me. In fact, when I don’t work on my Anxiety, it wins. I start to anger and isolate my loved ones and feel more and more alone with it, which is exactly what the Anxiety wants. And while I can’t banish my Anxiety completely, I’ll never let it win – and neither should you.

With all of that said, I hope that reading this post has made GAD a little clearer for you. 

If you’re here because you love someone with GAD, I hope this has helped you to understand more about the basics of what they’re going through. Of course, asking them about it is always the best way to really understand, but this is a great starting point if you’re not ready to have a conversation yet.

If you’re here because you also have GAD, I hope this has helped you to feel less alone. Please feel free to reach out and share your experiences, or send this post to your loved ones.

If you’re here because you think you might have GAD, please know that this post is not meant to serve as a self-diagnosis tool. I am not a licensed medical or mental health provider and cannot give you a diagnosis. If you think you might have GAD, please talk to your doctor.

Ultimately, Anxiety is something that should be taken seriously. It’s incredibly common, with an estimated 18% of American adults and 8% of American children being affected (3). We shouldn’t be ashamed to speak out or seek help for Anxiety or any other mental illnesses. We need to work to #EndtheStigma and should always approach mental illnesses with the same love, support, and compassion that we approach physical illnesses. 

❤ B. Elizabeth