Is OCD a Form of Anxiety? Here’s How They Differ

Is OCD a Form of Anxiety? Here’s How They Differ

It is normal for everyone to experience anxiety at some point in their lives. In fact, our bodies are designed to feel anxiety and allow it to motivate us to stay safe or solve problems. Anxiety becomes a problem when it impacts our daily lives and interferes with things that are important to us such as school, relationships, or even sleep.

How is anxiety connected to OCD?

People living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), experience anxiety following a repetitive, unwanted thought, urge, or image (obsession). The anxiety causes extreme discomfort, and compulsions are formed with the intention to make that anxiety stop. For those living with OCD, it feels like they must perform a compulsion to relieve the anxious feelings provoked by the persistent intrusive thought. The problem continues though, because compulsions do not satisfy OCD for long, if at all.

Does this mean OCD is an anxiety disorder? 

While OCD was historically conceptualized as an anxiety disorder because of the intense anxiety that accompanies persistent and unwanted obsessions, it has been reclassified as a separate disorder because there are meaningful differences in brain activity and function for each of these disorders. 

How is it different?

A key difference is that OCD is characterized by intrusive, obsessive thoughts that trigger feelings of anxiety, and are followed by compulsions to temporarily relieve it. In contrast, someone living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) will experience frequent worrying thoughts followed by anxious feelings, without the need to perform compulsions. 

Is Treatment Different for OCD?

Treatment for OCD is very different from treatment for GAD. When treating GAD, it can be helpful for individuals to reflect on and challenge worrying thoughts, and to receive supportive feedback from others to relieve anxiety. For those living with OCD, challenging an intrusive thought can engage OCD and lead to an increase in symptoms. Further, receiving reassurance from others can obstruct recovery from OCD as it prevents a person from going through the necessary process of being exposed to and getting more comfortable with difficult feelings of uncertainty. Thus, OCD requires specific treatment to target obsessions and compulsions. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy is the most effective treatment for OCD. With ERP, individuals work with a therapist to intentionally expose themselves to the source of their obsessions – while refraining from performing a compulsive action. 

If you or someone you love is looking for relief from OCD, we are here to help. Contact us  to speak with an expert OCD clinician and learn how ERP can change your life! Also, be sure to read all about our services.


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