The Many Faces of Anxiety

When I talk about mental disorders, I find it helpful to look at the definition. In other words, what criteria would a clinician look for if they were assigning a diagnosis? Giving a list of criteria can be problematic for a variety of reasons, which we can talk about later, but I feel strongly that to reduce misunderstanding and even stigma, we need to know what words really mean. Words matter.

Let’s take a look at Generalized Anxiety Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5):

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).

The person finds it difficult to control the worry.

The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms 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).

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

The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition and not better explained by another mental disorder.

What do these criteria actually look like in everyday life?

Depending on a person’s personality, genetics, environment, and a host of other factors, GAD could look like:

chest pains
increased heart rate
snapping at loved ones, friends, or coworkers
need for control
need for order and tidiness
excessive planning & preparing for planned events
excessive planning & preparing for imagined scenarios that may or may not happen
struggling to unwind
working well under pressure / feeling unmotivated when not under pressure
overwhelmed by decisions and/or paralysis by analysis
avoiding emails and messages
feeling brain fog
constant busyness
second-guessing and doubting yourself
constant need for reassurance
self-critical of “irrational” worries

Whew. Is it any wonder people don’t understand anxiety? Is it any wonder folks with anxiety feel misunderstood, criticized, and judged? 

Due to the many ways anxiety presents itself, you are very likely unaware of people in your orbit who live with this disorder. What questions do you have now about anxiety?

Drop me a note at or reach out on social media! I’d love to hear from you.

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