Anxiety can mean many different things to many different people. When handled in the correct way, a little bit of anxiety is usually helpful. It warns us to be careful if we sense danger. It can remind us of consequences we once had to live with. By maintaining some anxiety around these issues, we are able to avoid unwanted outcomes.

Obsessive compulsive disorder stems from a healthy type of anxiety and morphs into something all-consuming. OCD is a psychiatric disorder that involves repeated and unwanted intrusive thoughts, feelings, ideas, and behaviors that must be done over and over again. While checking to make sure the stove has been turned off is an important task for safety, repeatedly checking it several times before any other task can be accomplished, is not.

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) also worry to extreme. They may become preoccupied with dread and a feeling of impending doom when thinking about the future. Unlike people with OCD, they do not typically engage in ritualistic behavior to deal with their fears.

Another difference between OCD and GAD lies in the worries themselves. GAD usually involves worries that are strongly based in real-life concerns. While the worries may be extreme, the topics a person with generalized anxiety festers over, are appropriate. These topics concern issues such as: health, personal relationships, finances, work, etc.  

OCD worries can involve the prevention of something catastrophic from happening. For instance, a common popular concern from OCD patients includes chronic hand-washing. Some people may feel they must wash their hands a certain number of times in order to prevent something from happening.  

Six Common Categories of Compulsions Include:

  • Contamination. A person may become preoccupied with body fluids, germs, or environmental contaminants.
  • Losing Control. Anxiety about harming oneself or others is a popular concern as well as violent images in one’s own mind or blurting out obscenities.
  • Unwanted Sexual Thoughts. Forbidden sexual thoughts or impulses may become intrusive.  
  • Religious Obsessions. Offending God or excessive concern about right vs. wrong can also be obsessive.
  • Harm. Harm thoughts include the fear of being responsible for something terrible happening such as, a fire or burglary.
  • Perfectionism. This can manifest in the concern of exactness or the fear of losing something.

The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale check list can be found here

Common symptoms of GAD includes:

  • Frequent panic attacks. This may include feeling faint, sweaty palms, racing heart rate, AND feeling dizzy when very afraid or fearful.
  • Persistent worry. Whether the worries are about small things or big events, if they are intrusive and unrelenting, there may be a problem.
  • Inability to relax. If it is hard to calm down while on vacation or away from the worry, this can have lasting effects physically as well as psychologically.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Can you read a chapter in a book without worrying?
  • Extreme difficulty handling uncertainty.

If you suspect you may have GAD or OCD, cognitive behavioral therapy is the gold standard for treatment. There are also many helpful medications that work best when in congruence with therapy.

To receive the best treatment, find a therapist as soon as possible. The tendency to analyze symptoms and “think your way out” of a psychiatric disorder may only make things worse. Once you have found a doctor suitable to your liking, be sure to describe all of your symptoms. Even if you feel they are embarrassing, each worry has a reason. When a patient understands that resisting all discomfort will prolong treatment, the therapy may work much more effectively with less time spent on each problem.

If a doctor is not working or results are not made within six months, consider switching doctors until you find someone that does. Not all doctors work for every patient. Persistence in seeking help is key.