Is OCD Neurodivergent?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is considered a type of anxiety disorder. While OCD can absolutely create anxious thoughts and foster anxiety-related symptoms, in more recent years, it has been also viewed as neurodiverse in origin. What does that mean? Someone who is neurodivergent has a brain that processes things differently, learns differently, or behaves differently than what is considered neurotypical.

When you look at OCD through the neurodivergence lens (in addition to an anxiety disorder), it’s easier to see why it can also be considered neurodivergent. However, if you’re still having difficulty making the connection or wondering why OCD is neurodivergent, let’s take a closer look. 

How OCD Fits In

When most people think of neurodiverse disorders, things like ADHD and autism come to mind. Obviously, there are some major differences between those disorders and OCD. However, they all have one thing in common—the brain works differently to process things in each condition. 

A person with OCD deals with intrusive thoughts, repetitive patterns, and/or behaviors. They might even have trouble resisting those compulsions or blocking the intrusive thoughts. Therefore, they process their thoughts differently and behave differently from what would be considered neurotypical.

The Warning Signs of OCD

For someone dealing with OCD, it can be difficult, at first, to spot some of the warning signs. You might just think you’re dealing with anxiety. You’re not just anxious—you’re thinking through things in different ways. That’s why it’s essential to understand how OCD impacts the brain and your thought processes.

Some of the warning signs of OCD include (but not limited to):

  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Resisting change
  • Obsessing over cleanliness
  • Redoing tasks multiple times until they feel “just right”
  • Taking a long time doing everyday things, including getting dressed and eating

If any of these signs sound familiar, consider what you’re thinking about when you’re going through them. If you have a deep desire to obsess over things and you feel distressed or anxious if you don’t do “the thing that makes it feel better and safe”, you’re likely dealing with OCD. 

What Causes OCD?

Neurodiversity can be caused by a variety of things. You might be neurodiverse because of genetics, an immune disorder, or even physical or emotional trauma. Most research suggests that OCD is often caused by genetics or the environment, as well as certain differences in the brain. This further proves that it’s neurodivergent and not just a unique anxiety disorder alone. 

How to Manage OCD

You can use strategies daily to combat OCD and ease the effect it has on you. Remember that OCD is still an anxiety disorder. Practicing mindfulness each day will help to reduce that anxiety and limit your intrusive thoughts, so you might not be as compelled to obsess over them or engage in compulsions that keep your OCD growing.

Self-care is a great way to manage your OCD symptoms and feel more in control. You should also prioritize sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise daily. Additionally, lean on your support system. Family and friends can make a big difference when it comes to the success of your OCD management. You might not always want to “give in” to their suggestions or even their redirection, but it’s important to consider that they’re on your team and want the best for you.

OCD doesn’t have to completely take over your life. The gold standard treatment for OCD is ERP therapy (exposure and response prevention therapy). With ERP therapy you can learn how to manage your intrusive thoughts and control your behaviors, essentially working to “rewire” your way of thinking and responding. If you’re really struggling with OCD and you’re just learning about how and why it’s considered neurodivergent, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. If you’re interested in setting up an appointment, feel free to contact me today.

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