While historically OCD was considered a form of an anxiety disorder, because the intrusive thoughts trigger an anxious response, most recently in 2013 OCD has been classified as its own disorder by the American Psychological Association. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. But there are several different types of anxiety. Some people struggle with social anxiety. Others are triggered by specific situations or events and develop phobias. Some have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is characterized by pervasive worry day in and day out. Others can have more complicated conditions that are associated with anxiety, including OCD. Research shows that while Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes anxiety which leads to the urge to complete compulsions, it is indeed, a brain-based disorder, with some genetic components that impacts millions of people.
Let’s take a closer look at the connection between OCD and anxiety. More importantly, I’ll cover what you can do to manage your symptoms and calm your anxious thoughts that trigger such behaviors.
The Similarities Between OCD and Anxiety
While it’s true that OCD causes anxiety, it’s important to understand that OCD and generalized anxiety are two very different things. As a result, OCD requires a different diagnosis. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety include feelings of irritability and nervousness, an increased heart rate, excessive worry, and even sweating.
People with OCD often deal with the anxiety of intrusive thoughts. They feel like they have to perform specific rituals or something bad will happen. They’ll become more obsessed with them and more anxious that something negative will occur if they don’t complete the compulsion. Unfortunately, that can lead to an overpowering urge to continue the OCD cycle if the rituals aren’t performed or delayed.
With that in mind, some of the common symptoms of OCD include unwanted thoughts that don’t seem to go away or become more persistent over time, heightened anxiety as a result, ritualistic behaviors, and significant time spent daily trying to avoid those intrusive thoughts and relieving the anxiety by completing the compulsions.
in a nutshell, the thoughts can be anxiety-inducing, creating another type of vicious cycle that’s hard to break away from without giving in to rituals.
What’s the Big Difference?
The major difference between OCD and anxiety is that OCD is a two-part issue. Someone dealing with OCD has obsessive thoughts and behaviors that they perform in response to those thoughts. Someone with anxiety, on the other hand, might have disturbing thoughts. They might even obsess over certain things. But, they don’t feel the “need” to respond to those thoughts with specific behaviors to seek certainty or reassurance.
Additionally, Generalized Anxiety Disorder can sometimes cause physical reactions, including nausea, vomiting, aches, pains, etc. OCD doesn’t typically trigger physical issues, especially when the person dealing with it is able to complete the behavioral rituals that temporarily stop the intrusive thoughts.
Keep in mind that someone can absolutely have both generalized anxiety and OCD. But they aren’t mutually exclusive. One doesn’t require the other.
How to Treat OCD and Anxiety
If you’re struggling with intrusive thoughts that impede your quality of life, the best thing you can do is receive an official diagnosis from a doctor or mental health professional. The good news? The treatments for OCD and anxiety can often be similar. Certain types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you manage symptoms and learn how to fight back against worrying thoughts. But, an official diagnosis of one condition or another will help the professionals you’re working with hone in on your specific needs and create a treatment plan that meets those needs. Finally, I find that a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is sufficient for managing generalized anxiety. But if OCD is the diagnosis, then Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy is the gold standard treatment and the most effective combined with CBT and ACT therapy. If you or a loved one have OCD, it will be important to seek support from a therapist trained in both CBT and Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy.
Take heart! Both anxiety and OCD can be managed effectively with the right help and support. However, it’s rare that either condition “goes away” on its own. Seeking professional help is important for your overall well-being. Not only will a mental health professional help you get to the root cause(s) of your condition, but they’ll teach you the skills necessary to work through it.
If any of the symptoms listed here sound familiar, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information or to set up an appointment. Together, we’ll work on pinpointing an official diagnosis and working through your thoughts and behaviors to help you get unstuck and regain control of your life again.