Is OCD An Anxiety Disorder, And Do I Have It?

Updated February 05, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

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According to studies, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is quite a common psychiatric condition, at least compared to the past. Nowadays, it is frequently cited in lists involving the most common mental obstacles found in patients, alongside depression and addiction. Anxiety often tops these lists as well.

Anxiety is often a significant symptom in those who are affected by OCD, but is OCD an anxiety disorder? This article will guide you through information about OCD, such as its general symptoms, its various forms, and its categorization in the medical world. Lastly, treatment for OCD and anxiety will be discussed for those who think they may have the chronic condition.

What Is OCD? (Symptoms And Different Forms)

When people think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the thought of someone aggressively cleaning or being extremely hygienic usually comes to mind first. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more complicated than that and can encompass many different topics. Despite this, OCD, in general, has a specific diagnostic criterion. Here are some of the signs of OCD according to the DSM-5 [1].

Obsessions

  • Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive and cause marked anxiety or distress, in contrast to worrying about a real-life issue;
  • The person purposely tries to ignore these thoughts, impulses, or images, by thinking about other things.
  • The person knows that the obsessions are a product of his or her mind, as opposed to being delusional.

Compulsions

  • Repetitive actions (physical or mental) that the person feels compelled to perform in response to an obsession;
  • The behaviors or mental actions are designed to prevent or reduce distress towards a particular setting;
  • These actions might not always be affiliated with the content of the obsessional theme;
  • The symptoms of OCD are not caused by anything else, such as a concurrent psychiatric condition or a substance.

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Individuals with OCD and anxiety often find that their symptoms are excessive and unreasonable. Despite recognizing this, and that their conditions are not delusional, this condition is very burdensome and distressing to them [2].

Different Forms Of OCD

OCD can present itself early in life; it is most commonly seen appearing during adolescence and adulthood. No matter the age, OCD can take many different forms and can vary between individuals.

In the previous section, contamination was briefly mentioned. This type of OCD is just one of the themes that the disease can manifest as. OCD can have a darker side to it. Patients with OCD and anxiety commonly report that they fear to harm other people, have violent images that are intrusive, or may have unwanted sexual thoughts about things that are considered taboo or forbidden [2]. These thoughts can often be categorized as Harm or Sexual OCD.

It is important to note that someone experiencing Harm OCD is not a threat to anyone. These thoughts are intrusive to these people, and they are distressing. They are unwanted, and it seems like the thoughts are a result of some of their biggest fears. Hoarding, homosexuality, and religion are also common OCD topics.

No matter the particular subject of OCD, individuals can display common, time-consuming behavioral traits. With some examples, this can include [2]:

  • Repetitive actions (such as hand-washing)
  • An urge to check (to be sure a crime did not occur)
  • Mental rituals or mantras (counting or saying certain phrases)
  • Avoidance Behaviors (purposely staying away from triggers)
  • Ruminations (explicitly thinking about an intrusive thought over and over)

Because the fear and anxiety can be powerful, this is why people ask, "is OCD an anxiety disorder?" The following section will answer that for you.

Do I Have OCD or Anxiety? What's the Difference?

OCD can have many faces, but one thing is for sure: it is problematic and can be an initiator of severe anxiety and stress for many people. Since the two are affiliated, is OCD an anxiety disorder?

With the DSM-5 being released in 2013, OCD is no longer categorized as an anxiety disorder. This alteration was one of the most significant changes during the transition from DSM-4 to the DSM-5. [3]. Now, OCD is part of a new category known as Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. This category includes conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania (hair pulling), skin picking, hypochondria, and even Tourette's Syndrome.

So, to answer the question, "is OCD an anxiety disorder?" It would be accurate to say that it once was considered one, but clinicians believed that it was distinct enough to have a new category. This distinction resulted in its revision in the DSM-5. Despite this, OCD causes anxiety and worry to those affected by it, and it can be very debilitating.

By following the criteria, you can also answer the question, "Do I have OCD or anxiety?" If you are encountering any of the symptoms listed in this article, you may be dealing with OCD and not a case of anxiety. Someone with anxiety usually does not engage in the behaviors commonly seen in OCD.

Treatment Options

Treatments for OCD and anxiety are available. If you believe you’re experiencing symptoms, one of the first steps that you should take is to get a diagnosis from a licensed professional. This diagnosis will allow you to properly get treatment for OCD and anxiety, which is usually in the form of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

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A form of psychotherapy known as CBT, or cognitive-behavioral therapy, has been particularly successful in those who were suffering from OCD. It usually requires the individual to confront their sources of fear and anxiety. The confrontation strategy is a specific type of CBT, known as exposure and response prevention (ERP).

This type of therapy results in modification of thoughts, perceptions, and emotions to the problem areas. In a sense, the brain is being trained to react differently (or not respond at all) to something that was once dreadful.

As for psychiatric medication, this can be prescribed to those who have been diagnosed with OCD. Typically, antidepressants such as SSRIs (Selective-Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are the main course of prescriptions for OCD [2]. SNRIs (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) are another option if SSRIs are unsuccessful.

Keep in mind, antidepressants come with risks and side effects, and if they are unbearable, speak to your physician so you can taper off properly. It can be dangerous to stop the use of an antidepressant abruptly. Also, antidepressants take time to work. It may take weeks before improvement in OCD and anxiety is displayed, or side effects diminish.

Summary

OCD is a complex condition that can have different faces. The image of someone obsessing over cleanliness is misleading to just what the term entails. This article aimed to shed some light on what the condition is all about and to answer the question, "Is OCD an anxiety disorder?"

The main two symptoms of OCD consist of obsessions and compulsions. Within these symptoms, a patient may attempt to suppress their unwanted, intrusive thoughts. These thoughts cause anxiety and distress and individuals often realize that the images are materialized by their brains, and are not delusional. They understand that these thoughts are irrational.

Individuals may perform repetitive actions, frequently check things, avoid situations, or have other mental rituals to provide relief. These are the compulsive responses to the obsessions. OCD can manifest itself in different ways, but it will always have some of these symptoms.

OCD and anxiety usually go hand-in-hand. They were so close in symptoms that OCD was once classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM-4. As of the DSM-5, this is no longer the case. OCD is part of a new category known as Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.

Regardless of its category, there is treatment available for OCD and anxiety. First, a proper assessment should be made by a professional. Following diagnosis, therapy is often a useful and practical option for patients.

However, sometimes patients are afraid to talk about their OCD problems because they fear judgment (due to the content of the thoughts). Rest assured, licensed professionals deal with many cases of OCD every day, and know precisely what the condition entails. Patients can speak freely in these settings, and finding a therapist is accessible at BetterHelp.com.

Psychiatric medication is also an option for those who need or wish to get a prescription from their doctor. SSRIs are the main course of drug treatment for OCD and anxiety, followed by SNRIs. These drugs may come with side-effects and do take some to take effect. If you find that these don't work, always consult with your physician before stopping usage.

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Navigating OCD with BetterHelp

Research suggests that obsessive-compulsive disorder can be managed through online therapy services. A Cambridge study found that internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective in decreasing symptoms related to OCD. Researchers noted specifically that online interventions for OCD were an accessible option. These findings can be added to an already large body of research suggesting the accessibility of online therapy based on its cost-effectiveness, decrease in time constraints, and elimination of therapist availability issues. Internet-based platforms provide easy access to useful tools like counseling sessions, worksheets, and other remotely retrieved resources.

As mentioned above, if you’re living with OCD, online therapy can be a vital component in your treatment plan. With internet-based counseling through BetterHelp, you can meet with a therapist from the comfort of your home. And you’ll have the opportunity to reach out to your counselor outside of session time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or as though you’re repeating unhelpful behaviors, you can send a message in the moment, and your therapist will get back to you as soon as they can. BetterHelp’s qualified mental health professionals can give you the tools to manage your OCD. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Liza has been tremendous. We have worked through my OCD issues with incremental steps and I really feel that I can tell her anything without judgment. I really appreciated that she validated my feelings and helped me on getting through my OCD journey. Thanks again Liza!”

“Very friendly, empathetic, and excellent communication. Fantastic descriptions of how our brain works and the thought functionality. Streamlined and easy to follow “homework”. He helps me stay on track (I am one giant tangent) and get to the root of the issue and he helps create a step by step game plan on how to effectively assist me with my anxiety and OCD.”

References

  1. Fenske, J. N., MD, & Petersen, K., MD. (2015). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician, 92(10), 896-903. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1115/p896.pdf
  2. Pittenger, C., MD, Ph.D., Kelmendi, B., BS, Bloch, M., MD, Krystal, J. H., MD, & Coric, V., MD. (2005). Clinical Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 2(11), 34- 43. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2993523/.
  3. Fornaro, M., Gabrielli, F., Albano, C., Fornaro, S., Rizzato, S., Mattei, C., . . . Fornaro, P. (2009). Obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders: A comprehensive survey. Annals of General Psychiatry, 8(1), 13. doi:10.1186/1744-859x-8-13

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