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Is OCD An Anxiety Disorder?

According to the National Library of Science, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is classified as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. In many ways, this would be seen as the final say. However, a growing body of work is connecting OCD to non-anxiety disorders like disordered eating and autism. As a result, the DSM-5 does give OCD its own category. In the meantime, as it should, the research continues.

However, everyone agrees that OCD and anxiety orders — at the very least — have a significant amount of overlap. Therefore, it makes sense to keep this in mind when diagnosing and treating patients with certain symptoms.

Can You Have OCD and an Anxiety Disorder?

The numbers supply this question with a clear “yes” answer. At least one-third of those in a 2021 study had both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Someone with GAD and OCD will usually display symptoms that overlap, for example:

  • Unexplained muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Ongoing anxiety without an obvious, discernible cause

In that study, there was a higher incidence of the following condition in people with OCD and GAD:

  • Panic Disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Social Anxiety
  • avoidant behavior
  • Type II Bipolar Disorder

It goes without saying that more study is required. But, in the name of providing effective and appropriate treatment, studies like this alert practitioners to trends that must be factored in. This is especially true since other studies have found that someone with anxiety and OCD may be at a higher risk of suicidal ideation.

photo of a woman who's face is covered by her hair as she leans forward crying into her handIsn’t Anxiety Part of OCD?

It absolutely is. But the cause of that anxiety is an important distinction. With GAD, the worries and fears are rooted in reality. They may be very exaggerated or misplaced, but they arise from events that could happen or perhaps have happened in the past. Think of it as typical nervousness but on steroids.

People with OCD take anxiety to a different place. With GAD, you can struggle with health-related anxiety. With OCD, it could be more extreme, e.g. believing that touching a doorknob will definitely result in a terminal illness. It’s not a random thought either. OCD anxiety is part of a pattern — repetitive, intrusive thoughts that cause progressively more distress. Then comes the compulsions part of the cycle. The presence of compulsions is what truly separates GAD from OCD.

In response to concerns that are knowingly irrational, someone with OCD conjures up rituals to cancel out the possibility that disaster is looming. These are compulsions. They are automatic reactions to obsessive, anxious thoughts. Compulsions are often more irrational than obsessions — and the person knows it.

What Does All This Mean For People in Need?

It’s not hard to see why OCD is categorized as an anxiety disorder. By the same token, it’s equally as logical to carefully distinguish the two conditions. In the end, for the person being impacted by either disorder (or both), what matters most is getting the help they need and deserve. This begins with a proper diagnosis.

You may be struggling with OCD but you’re getting treated for GAD. Truth be told, you might be getting treated for something like Borderline Personality Disorder. Hence, the road to recovery begins by finding a practitioner with the experience and expertise to understand what’s going on.

As a starting point, keep a diligent journal of symptoms, signs, triggers, and solutions. Identify patterns. This will be valuable evidence for the therapist you choose. With all this in mind, I invite you to reach out today. Let’s connect for a free and confidential consultation and get this process started for anxiety treatment.

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