Is OCD an Anxiety Disorder? 5 Interesting Things to Know

Despite being used a lot in casual conversation these days, OCD is much more than just a preoccupation with cleanliness. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness that needs to be medically diagnosed and can often affect one’s daily life in severely debilitating ways, even physically.

While in some cases, OCD symptoms1 might consist of intrusive thoughts, symptoms like skin picking, in other instances, can get physically painful.

So what is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Is OCD an anxiety disorder? What are its symptoms? How does it affect one’s daily activities? And how can one treat OCD? Read on to find the answers to all these questions and more.

1. What is OCD?

OCD is short for obsessive-compulsive disorder. As the name suggests, it is a mental disorder involving obsessions and compulsions, leading to the latter.

Obsessions are excessive unwanted thoughts that lead to compulsions, i.e., repetitive behaviours. Both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours generally seem irrational to other people.

It is like a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break. The obsessive thought patterns give rise to distress and other negative feelings. To overcome them, one resorts to compulsive behaviours.

However, since such behaviours also cause embarrassment to the person in social situations, the purpose of getting over the negative feelings2 caused by the persistent thoughts is not served.

One of the most common types of OCD known involves compulsively washing hands. In this case, the individual feels driven towards hand washing due to the fear of exposure to germs. This ritualized hand washing might have physical ramifications, such as the skin coming off.

2. OCD Symptoms

While the specific symptoms of OCD vary in every case, each has a set of obsession and compulsion symptoms.

Obsessions are fearful thoughts that might largely revolve around contamination concerns, ideas of self-harm thoughts, difficulty coping with ambiguities, and preoccupation with order and cleanliness.

Particular obsessions might include thoughts of inappropriate behaviour in public, sexual images, paranoia about everyday things such as locking the door, and urges to harm self or others mortally.

These obsessive thoughts lead to compulsive behaviours aimed at reducing the distress caused by the former. However, the distressing thoughts only increase in the long run.

Like obsessions, compulsions also have broad categories but can differ from case to case. The broad categories include counting, washing, craving validation, almost clockwork routine, and checking and rechecking.

Under these categories, specific compulsions might include hair-pulling disorder, skin picking, hand washing, constantly repeating a certain phrase, arranging objects in a certain pattern, and counting things.

organisation and symmetry
Image by Alevision from Unsplash © 2016

3. Anxiety Disorders

While there is nothing unusual in feeling anxious during stressful situations, the feeling cannot be termed an anxiety disorder. To understand the relationship between OCD and anxiety disorders3, let’s get an overview of this related disorder category.

Anxiety disorders cause a person to feel extreme distress and fear, even during mundane situations. Such feelings are mostly triggered by problems that are not really dangerous and seem irrational otherwise. They mostly start during early adulthood and often have lifetime prevalence.

Again, specific symptoms of every anxiety disorder a4re different, but they all share some commonalities. Feeling nervousness, having difficulty concentrating, and avoiding anxiety-causing triggers are a few of them.

Apart from these, anxiety also manifests through physical symptoms like increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, digestive problems, lethargy, and sweating. Here are the specific types of anxiety disorders.

Image by Uday Mittal from Unsplash © 2021

3.1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This disorder causes the person to feel extreme anxiety out of the blue about daily events. It is difficult to manage its symptoms, especially the physical ones, and it mostly occurs with other mental health disorders like depression.

3.2. Agoraphobia

People with agoraphobia tend to avoid situations or locations that might trigger negative feelings to prevent embarrassment and helplessness.

3.3. Social Phobia

Also known as social anxiety disorder, social phobia involves the extreme and irrational fear5 of being judged by people in social situations and avoiding them.

3.4. Separation Anxiety Disorder

This is a developmental disorder that takes root in childhood. Individuals suffering from this face difficulty in leaving their caregivers.

3.5. Specific Phobias

These phobias cause anxiety and fear due to exposure to particular situations or objects.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders And Their Symptoms

4. Is OCD an Anxiety Disorder?

Yes, OCD does fall under the category of anxiety and related conditions. It is a part of the psychiatric disorders that cause the person to feel sudden distress and excessive fear.

The very feeling of anxiety caused by the obsessions compels the individual to perform the compulsive behaviours known as rituals.

However, despite the attempt to overcome the feeling using the rituals, the individual suffers more harm than good due to such behaviours.

Indulging in rituals only provides temporary respite from the intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety but can seriously harm the individual.

People generally associate all anxiety and related disorders with generalized anxiety disorder. But nothing can be further away from the truth.

All anxiety-related disorders have their specific symptoms. Even phobias, a term used casually in conversation, are anxiety disorders. Similarly, OCD and anxiety disorders are also interrelated.

5. How is OCD Diagnosed?

As mentioned, there is more to OCD than a preoccupation with cleanliness and order. It is a serious mental illness. Therefore, like all other mental disorders, it needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

The diagnostic criteria are specified in the manual, and it is advisable to consult a professional if you experience moderate symptoms for effective treatment.

To diagnose OCD, the mental health professional will undertake your psychological evaluation. This involves understanding faulty behaviour patterns that might be debilitating and talking to your family and friends for broader understanding.

Anxiety disorders can also occur with other mental illnesses, such as depression or schizophrenia, or even physical ones. Thus, the approach towards diagnosing OCD is holistic and aims at ruling out such possibilities.

6. OCD Treatment

Like most other mental illnesses, there is no sure-shot cure for OCD6. However, the symptoms can be brought down to a manageable level with proper treatment so that they do not interfere with the regular functioning of the person.

The treatment generally involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. The treatment plan, if followed religiously, goes a long way in reducing the adverse effects of the symptoms on daily life.

Cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT, is administered in most OCD cases. This involves identifying flawed thinking patterns and replacing them with functional ones to improve the quality of life7.

The component of CBT that most effectively breaks the obsessive-compulsive disorder cycle is exposure and response prevention, or ERP.

cognitive behavioral therapy
Image by Mark Williams from Unsplash © 2020

In this process, the person is exposed to their obsession in real life so that they can figure out ways to resist the compulsive mental acts. While it might not be a very pleasant and easy experience, it is highly effective in controlling OCD symptoms in the long run.

The commonly prescribed medications for OCD8 include antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors often prove helpful in managing symptoms, even when OCD persists with depression or other anxiety-related disorders.

While it is indispensable to consult a medical professional before taking any medication, it might take a while to figure out what works best for you, even prescribed medicines.

Another thing that must be kept in mind is the side effects. It is important to be aware of the side effects of any drug you might be consuming. Immediately consult a medical professional if the side effects get out of hand.

Moderate symptoms can generally be managed with medication and regular therapy. However, in case of severely debilitating symptoms hamper the individual’s daily functioning, the best treatment alternative is to take up a residential program that offers holistic treatment.

In addition, severe cases might require psychiatric treatments such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Both these treatments involve stimulating certain parts of the brain to control impulses.

OCD Treatment: Therapy & Medication Options For Obsessive Compulsive Disorder | Stanford

7. The Bottom Line

OCD falls under anxiety-related disorders and requires cognitive behavioural therapy and medication prescribed by a certified professional to be controlled.

It is very important to provide someone suffering from OCD with the proper care required for a functional life.

Now that you know quite a bit about OCD share this knowledge with your family and friends. Please let us know your views in the comments below, and seek professional help if you or your loved ones are showing any symptoms.

8. FAQs

Q1. Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder an Anxiety Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) DSM-IV-TR [American Psychiatric Association, 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, ed.

Q2. What Kind of Disorder Is Ocd?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-term disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts (“obsessions”) and/or behaviours (“compulsions”). several times.

Q3. Is Overthinking Ocd?

Confusion is a key feature of OCD, causing a person to worry, analyze, and spend a lot of time trying to understand or explain a particular idea or topic.

  1. Van Oppen, Patricia, Rense J. Hoekstra, and Paul MG Emmelkamp. “The structure of obsessive-compulsive symptoms.” Behaviour research and therapy 33.1 (1995): 15-23. ↩︎
  2. McKay, Matthew, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning. Thoughts and feelings: Taking control of your moods and your life. New Harbinger Publications, 2021. ↩︎
  3. Vigne, Paula, et al. “The relationship between obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders: A question of diagnostic boundaries or simply severity of symptoms?.” Comprehensive psychiatry 94 (2019): 152116. ↩︎
  4. Ladouceur, Robert, et al. “Specificity of generalized anxiety disorder symptoms and processes.” Behavior Therapy 30.2 (1999): 191-207. ↩︎
  5. Korgeski, Gregory. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Phobias: Everything You Need to Know About Irrational Fears—and How to Cope with Them. Penguin, 2009. ↩︎
  6. Abramowitz, Jonathan S. “Does cognitive-behavioral therapy cure obsessive-compulsive disorder? A meta-analytic evaluation of clinical significance.” Behavior therapy 29.2 (1998): 339-355. ↩︎
  7. Flanagan, John C. “A research approach to improving our quality of life.” American psychologist 33.2 (1978): 138. ↩︎
  8. O’connor, K. P., et al. “Cognitive behaviour therapy and medication in the treatment of obsessive–compulsive disorder.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 113.5 (2006): 408-419. ↩︎

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