Is OCD An Anxiety Disorder or Something Different Altogether?
You are anxious, worried, and terribly afraid that something bad is going to happen to you if you leave your house. These thoughts tend to pop into your mind at the most inopportune times, causing you to break out in a cold sweat and your hands to shake. You wring your hands, tap your feet, and grit your teeth out of nervousness. You do not know what to do or where to turn. You are lost. You just want it all to stop because it is making you miserable.
You do not know what to do, but you know that you have to do something to get some much-needed relief. So, you tape up cracks and crevices in your house so germs cannot infiltrate it and infect you. You clean your home from top to bottom several times a day and you place black curtains up so no one can see inside of your home.
And, once you have finished all of that you check your doors and windows at least 25 times to ensure that everything is safe and sound. You are terrified. But are you doing all of this because you are just anxious, due to the recent COVID outbreak, or is something else going on altogether? You feel a little OCD so could that be what is plaguing you? Is it possible to be anxious and have OCD? Or is it the same thing? You are confused and need answers so where do you turn? To this article, of course!
First of all, please understand that anxiety conditions are extremely common. In fact, millions of people struggle with an anxiety condition each year, so you are by no means “alone.” And, while OCD is not as devastating as some other mental health conditions, it can still be debilitating and life-altering, if left untreated. The good news is there is OCD help available. With the right OCD treatment, you can finally get the relief that you need and deserve!
Wondering if OCD is an anxiety condition or something else altogether? If so, look no more because this article will help you better understand the connection between OCD and anxiety, so better understand what is happening to you.
What Are Anxiety Conditions?
Anxiety is either linked to a mental health condition or considered one. Anxiety conditions can trigger a host of unpleasant, upsetting, or in some cases, frightening emotions, such as excessive worry, concern, fear, uneasiness, nervousness, doubt, etc. These feelings can be so powerful ad all-consuming that they disrupt your health, well-being, and daily life. There are a variety of anxiety conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, panic use disorder, panic attacks, etc.
Understand that everyday angst (anxiety) is not the same as a diagnosable anxiety condition, like GAD. For instance, an anxiety condition tends to last longer and be more intense than everyday angst (anxiety). An anxiety condition can make you feel out of control and unable to properly cope with your thoughts and feelings. And, while everyday angst (anxiety) can temporarily cause problems in your life, it typically resolves itself in a day or two. An anxiety condition, on the other hand, tends to not only be chronic, but also cause problems at work or school, and in your self-esteem and relationships.
What is OCD?
OCD is an acronym for “obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
OCD is a mental health condition that involves unwelcome and intrusive or “pesky” thoughts, fears, doubts, mental images, urges, or emotions (obsessions) about germs, dirt, contamination, relationships, danger, harm, etc. These unwanted thoughts, urges, fears, etc., can often (but not always) lead to stress-relieving behaviors (compulsions).
Compulsions can involve rituals or routines designed to lower your stress level, control your obsessions, and alleviate your anxiety. For instance, an OCD sufferer may harshly scrub their bodies clean multiple times a day out of a fear of being contaminated by something or becoming ill by a virus or infection.
So, Is OCD An Anxiety Condition Too?
Yes, OCD is also considered an anxiety condition too – at least by most OCD therapists.
The truth is OCD can take on a variety of forms, however, it always presents a real problem for people suffering from it. OCD can also trigger extreme stress and anxiety for some people. Although most OCD therapists consider OCD an anxiety condition, some believe that it is distinct enough to have its own category. It is this belief that led to a slight revision in the DSM-5.
According to the DSM-5, OCD belongs to the “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders” category, which also includes body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling), skin-picking, hypochondria, Tourette’s Syndrome, etc. Still, the general consensus is that OCD is a type of anxiety disorder because it causes severe anxiety in the people, who struggle with it.
How Are Anxiety Conditions Similar to OCD?
Both anxiety disorders, in general, and OCD are mental health conditions that can significantly impact your quality of life. But, although, there are some similarities between anxiety conditions and OCD, there are also fundamental differences.
Listed below are some key similarities between anxiety conditions and OCD:
- Emotional Distress
Both anxiety conditions and OCD disorders can trigger extreme emotional distress. This distress may stem from a fear that something or someone will “activate” your obsessions and/or compulsions.
Or, it may trigger an intense fear that you will experience panic attacks or phobias. Common signs of emotional distress include an accelerated heart rate, profuse sweating, a constant feeling of being “on the edge” or a feeling of being “smothered” or controlled by your thoughts, fears, doubts, emotions, etc.
- Stressful Events
Stressful events can trigger both anxiety conditions and OCD. Stressful events may include a major life event, like a wedding and/or marriage, the birth of a child, entering adulthood, pregnancy, an illness or injury, the death of a loved one, starting a new job or school, moving to a new city, state, or country, etc.
- Inattention (A Lack of Focus)
Both anxiety-sufferers and OCD-sufferers have a hard time focusing on tasks. Because these individuals spend the majority of their time worrying, being fearful, and experiencing anxiety, most are unable to concentrate on anything else.
- Intrusive Thoughts, Fears, Emotions, Doubts, and/or Images
People, who suffer from an anxiety condition and those, who suffer from OCD can experience involuntary and unwanted intrusive thoughts, fears, emotions, doubts, and/or images. Both sets of individuals may be afraid that something horrible is going to happen, doubt the facts or the sincerity or loyalty of others, or continuously “see” unpleasant or scary images in their minds.
People with an anxiety condition and people with OCD tend to avoid people, situations, events, and activities that can cause them anguish and trigger anxiety and OCD symptoms (obsessions and/or compulsions).
Both anxiety conditions, in general, and OCD are long-term conditions. In other words, both conditions can persist for months, years, or forever, in some cases. However, the good news is that anxiety conditions and OCD can be successfully treated and managed with the right OCD treatment.
How Are Anxiety Conditions Different From OCD?
While many believe that OCD is an anxiety condition, because of its numerous similarities, OCD is sometimes viewed as a separate and distinct condition, based on the differences between the two conditions.
Listed below are some important differences between anxiety conditions and OCD:
- Different “Fixations”
People with OCD tend to “fixate” about or obsess over very specific things, while people with an anxiety condition may fear or worry about different issues. For instance, someone with OCD may “fixate” on the idea that they will develop COVID if he or she does sanitize his or her hands until they crack and bleed. On the flip side, someone with an anxiety condition may worry about a variety of things, such as his or her appearance, likability, job performance, workplace morale, family and friends, relationships, and health.
- Rational vs. Irrational Obsessions
OCD-sufferers typically understand that their obsessions are illogical and false – even though they cannot control them. However, anxiety-sufferers tend to believe that their concerns, worries, fears, and doubts are logical and valid.
Some people with OCD feel compelled to engage in specific behaviors or perform certain actions (compulsions) to reduce their stress and angst and control their obsessions. For instance, someone who fears that his or her house will be broken into may continuously check and recheck their doors and windows to make sure they are locked.
He or she may also keep the blinds closed, and install an alarm and surveillance system to monitor who comes close to his or her house. The goal of these compulsions is to avoid harm or danger and provide reassurance that nothing is going to happen to him or her or his or her home. People with anxiety may also perform rituals or routines to quell their fears, thoughts, doubts, and worries, however, these behaviors are not as rigid, repetitive, or time-consuming as OCD compulsions.
Are Anxiety Conditions More Common Than OCD?
Yes, anxiety conditions are more common than OCD. Approximately 19% of adults in the US suffered from an anxiety disorder in 2021. What does this suggest? It suggests that one in five people struggle with an anxiety condition. On the flip side, only 2-3% or 1 in 40 people struggle with OCD.
Listed below are possible reasons why anxiety conditions are more common than OCD:
- Anxiety Conditions Involve Natural Human Emotions
Natural human emotions are one possible reason why anxiety conditions are more common than OCD. The truth is most if not all people experience anxiety from time to time. Anxiety only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and disrupts your life in some way. When anxiety interferes with your daily functioning and quality of life, you are most likely suffering from an anxiety condition that requires treatment.
- Anxiety Conditions Have Many Different “Faces”
There are many different types of anxiety conditions, which is another reason why they are more common than OCD. Some of the most common anxiety conditions are panic disorders, panic attacks, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. OCD, on the other hand, is less common and more specific, in nature.
- Anxiety is Often Misconstrued
Because OCD is less common than other types of anxiety conditions, it is often misconstrued, misdiagnosed, and misunderstood. Most people equate OCD with being a more intense version of general anxiety or “anxiety of steroids.”
What Should I Do If I Have Recently Been Diagnosed with An Anxiety Disorder and/or OCD?
If you think that you may have an anxiety condition, or specifically OCD, the first step is to obtain a diagnosis and seek treatment for it from a licensed and experienced therapist.
With a diagnosis, you will be able to get the appropriate help for your condition. Anxiety conditions and OCD are usually treated the same – with therapy (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and/or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), medications (antidepressants or SSRIs, like Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.), or both.
Lifestyle changes (i.e., a healthy diet, plenty of rest and sleep, and daily exercise), natural remedies (i.e., CBD, vitamin and herbal supplements, etc.), stress-management techniques (i.e., mindfulness meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, etc.), and self-tools (i.e., online OCD treatment programs, like Impulse Therapy, hypnosis, healthy coping skills and strategies, books on OCD, OCD management apps, OCD forums, and/or OCD support groups).
Listed below are steps you can take if you have recently been diagnosed with an anxiety condition or OCD:
- Take Your Medication(s) As Prescribed
As mentioned above, all anxiety conditions, including OCD, are sometimes treated with medications (i.e., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), atypical antidepressants, beta blockers, azospirodecanediones, antipsychotic medications, antihistamines, monoamine oxidases inhibitors (MAOs), benzodiazepines (tranquilizers), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), alpha-adrenergic antagonists, etc.).
Medications are typically prescribed to control anxiety symptoms (which is a key component in anxiety conditions and OCD) and when two conditions occur simultaneously (comorbidity) – i.e., anxiety and substance abuse, OCD and substance abuse, OCD and depression, etc.), especially if you doctor believes that another condition is contributing to your anxiety or OCD.
- Go To Your Therapy Sessions
You will also need to go to your therapy sessions. An OCD therapist can address your anxiety needs and your OCD needs. More specifically, an OCD therapist can teach you healthy coping skills and strategies so you do not become so overwhelmed by your obsessions (i.e., intrusive thoughts, urges, fears, worries, mental images, doubts, emotions, etc.) that you feel compelled to perform certain actions or engage in specific behaviors (compulsions).
An OCD therapist can also provide you with an objective perspective, information, self-help tools, and some much-needed support. OCD therapists are adept at helping people conquer their anxiety and reduce their OCD symptoms. But, to ease your anxiety and OCD symptoms, you must attend all of your therapy sessions.
Note: The most common therapies for anxiety and OCD include: CBT, ERP therapy, ACT, addiction therapy, individual therapy, couples or marriage therapy, etc.
- Attend Support Group Meetings
Just like it is important to attend your therapy sessions, it is also important to attend support group meetings. OCD support groups can provide you with support, while you work to lower your stress and anxiety levels and alleviate your OCD symptoms.
Support group meetings are beneficial because they help you connect with other anxiety and OCD sufferers, so you feel more supported and less alone.
You can learn different ways of coping with the stress and anxiety you feel. But, similar to attending therapy sessions, you must attend all of your support group meetings to get a grip on your anxiety and OCD symptoms.
- Develop A Support System
One of the most important things you can do in your quest to reduce or alleviate your anxiety and OCD symptoms is to develop a strong support system. There is probably no time in your life when you need a strong support system as you do now. If you are going to get a grip on your anxiety and OCD symptoms you are going to need people who are in your corner.
In other words, you will need people who care about you and want the best for you. You need your “ride or die” friends and loved ones to hold you up when you feel weak, celebrate when you are victorious, and wipe your tears away when you fall down.
You also need people in your life who are going to tell you the truth – even when you do not want to hear it. In other words, you need people in your orbit who will hold you accountable for your actions – or lack thereof. Lastly, you need people, who can and will provide you with emotional stability when you are experiencing emotional distress.
- Stress-Management Techniques
Finally, stress-management techniques, like yoga, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation can help you better manage your anxiety and OCD symptoms. These techniques are designed to “calm” your mind and body, so you can concentrate on positive thoughts, mental images, experiences, sensations, and feelings. The hope is that practicing these techniques will reduce your stress, which in turn, will ease your anxiety, and “quiet” your OCD symptoms.
- Invest in an Online OCD Treatment Program
An online OCD treatment program, like Impulse Therapy, can be extremely beneficial if you suffer from OCD or another anxiety condition. This program is not only accessible and convenient but also highly affordable. Online OCD programs, like Impulse Therapy, offer a wealth of OCD information, lifelong OCD support, CBT techniques, and a variety of OCD self-help tools and resources. The goal of these programs is to help you get a grasp on your anxiety and OCD symptoms so you can live a happy and productive life – free of angst and obsessions and/or compulsions.
Note: ERP therapy, a type of CBT, is typically the “go-to” treatment for both anxiety conditions and OCD. ERP therapy involves confronting your fears, doubts, worries, urges, and anxiety to “train” your brain to react to upsetting, stressful, or overwhelming thoughts and experiences in a different way. The theory is that if you are exposed to an OCD trigger enough times you will eventually become desensitized to it. What happens next? The intrusive thoughts, worries, fears, etc., stop and you no longer feel the need to perform certain actions to ease your stress and anxiety.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2022). Any anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
- Monteiro, P., & Feng, G. (2016). Learning from animal models of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 79(1), 7–16. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.04.020
- BeyondOCD.org. (n.d.). Facts about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved from https://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2022). Mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness