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Are OCD and Anxiety Linked?

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States, next to depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, disorders of this kind affect 40 million adults each year, which accounts for more than 18 percent of the U.S. population. 

However, anxiety isn’t just one problem; it’s a category that includes several disorders that all produce problematic feelings of nervousness, insecurity, or fear. Generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety are the most common types of anxiety. 

However, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also falls within this category. OCD can cause anxious feelings that are tied to the disorder, but it can also come with co-occurring mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder. 

How OCD Works

OCD is characterized by disruptive obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior that’s difficult to resist. OCD is likely related to parts of the brain that control your perception that you performed a task correctly or incorrectly. 

The orbital cortex is designed to help you realize when a task was successful or unsuccessful. The cingulate gyrus is a part of the brain that affects motivation and behavior. It may react to the feeling that you did something wrong by causing anxiety to motivate you to correct your mistake. 

In people with OCD, these parts of the brain are hyperactive and cause more severe anxiety symptoms than people who don’t have OCD. In most people, when there’s a problem or mistake that you can’t fix or you already fixed, the part of your brain called the caudate nucleus can help you forget about it and move on. 

In people with OCD, this part of the brain may be less efficient. So when you feel something is wrong, and it causes anxiety, your brain may not allow you to switch gears and move on.

Day-to-day life for someone with OCD may include intrusive thoughts that create irrational anxieties. Most anxiety involves irrational fears. For instance, social anxiety may cause you to feel like if you stumble over your words at a party, you’ll embarrass yourself and end up with no friends. Someone with generalized anxiety might feel like they’ll get fired and end up homeless just because they are running late for work. 

This is called catastrophizing. It’s a common trait in anxiety, and it involves irrationally escalating problems in your mind that will likely never happen. However, these anxieties are based on real daily challenges, such as being late or stumbling over your words. OCD is often rooted in widely unlikely fears. For instance, you might think you’ll get a rare and terrible disease if you touch a door handle. The fear of the disease causes very real anxiety even though the perceived threat is very unlikely. 

Does OCD Cause Anxiety?

Yes, OCD causes anxious feelings, fear, and even terror in some cases. The anxieties caused by OCD may be born out of illogical thoughts you have that you may not even believe in your rational mind. 

For instance, you may think if you don’t wipe up a tiny drop of water, someone will slip on it and suffer a horrible injury. In reality, people may walk on that drop all day with no incident. You may even know this in your rational mind, but that frightening and intrusive thought continues to occur. 

Sometimes, you may have repeated intrusive thoughts that are contrary to your actual thoughts and beliefs, but you still have trouble putting them aside. These thoughts can lead to anxiety and compulsive behavior in an attempt to solve the problem. 

OCD and Other Forms of Anxiety

OCD may also come with co-occurring disorders like generalized anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by fear, discomfort, and insecurity, like other anxiety disorders. For that reason, it may be difficult to distinguish from OCD or any other type of anxiety. However, the anxieties that are caused by GAD are based on real fears, rather than illogical intrusive thoughts. 

For instance, GAD may cause you to be afraid that you’re going to fail a test, even if you studied for it. It may cause you to think a friend is mad at you if they fail to respond to a text message. These fears may still be unlikely and illogical, but they are generally more plausible than fears caused by OCD. 

For that reason, you can be diagnosed with both a general anxiety disorder and OCD. Treatment for both of these issues may be similar, and they may be remedied by some of the same treatment options. 

Why Seek Help?

Mental health issues can be complicated, and they can get worse over time if they aren’t addressed. OCD and anxiety can get out of control over time, and they could take over multiple aspects of your life if you don’t get the help you need. 

Though these mental health issues can be difficult to overcome, they are treatable. Treatment with psychotherapies or pharmacological options can help you manage your symptoms and learn to cope with issues in your life without relapsing back into negative symptoms. Take your first step toward better mental health by learning more about anxiety and OCD treatment today.

Sources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Healthline. (2015, April 14). Caudate Nucleus Function, Anatomy & Definition | Body Maps. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/caudate-nucleus

Mayo Clinic. (2017, October 13). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803

National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, October). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

Ursu, S., & Carter, C. S. (2009, August). An initial investigation of the orbitofrontal cortex hyperactivity in obsessive-compulsive disorder: exaggerated representations of anticipated aversive events? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2688401/

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