Do You Suspect Your Anxiety May Be OCD?
Has crippling anxiety begun to impact your daily life? Are you avoiding the activities and social gatherings you once enjoyed with more frequency? Do the intrusive thoughts that you struggle with seem irrational, making you wonder if, rather than General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) you may be suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Although you might not be a stranger to anxiety, lately you may be questioning if there’s something more to it. As your anxiety becomes more entrenched, perhaps you have begun to develop habits to keep your fears at bay. Behaviors such as handwashing, lock-checking, or disinfecting every surface in the house have become routines you can’t seem to break. Or it may be that mental rituals—like reviewing something you did over and over, obsessively googling, or repeatedly asking people for reassurance—have become ingrained. Whenever you try to refrain from engaging in the habit, you might experience intense anxiety that cannot be neutralized until you eventually give in.
As long as OCD is in charge and you remain stuck in a fear-based existence, your world becomes increasingly smaller around you. Even though your worst fears rarely come to pass, you’re still negatively impacted by missing out on living the life you want. You may be frustrated and exhausted by OCD, wishing you could trade brains with someone else.
Fortunately, effective treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is available. With therapy, you can learn how to boss back OCD so that it’s no longer in control of your thoughts and your life.
There Are Similarities Between Anxiety And OCD
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “the lifetime prevalence of OCD among U.S. adults is 2.3 percent, equating to 7.5 million people.” Understandably, most of us who suffer from OCD want to understand where it came from. Although research shows that OCD runs in families, it appears that genes are only partly responsible for the onset of the disorder, leading some to speculate that environmental factors may also play a role.
What’s more, GAD and OCD are sometimes hard to tell apart because they share some of the same symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, difficulty tolerating uncertainty, and a tendency for symptoms to get worse over time. And although we don’t yet have conclusive data on why OCD develops, we do know how to effectively treat it.
How OCD Differs From General Anxiety
With anxiety, the intrusive thoughts that bombard us are everyday worries about life, such as our finances, job, and relationships with others. What makes OCD different is that the thoughts clogging up our brains are often more disturbing, bizarre, and unrelated to what is going on in our daily life.
Think of the OCD brain as missing its spam filter—even though everyone has irrational, impulsive thoughts that pop into their minds, normally these thoughts are fleeting. Not so with the OCD brain. With OCD, it’s not that our dark thoughts are any different than the average person’s, it’s that these thoughts get flagged as highly important. Frustratingly, we end up analyzing and obsessing over them until compulsive behaviors, habits, and rituals kick in to assuage the fear and anxiety these thoughts create.
Because OCD shares many of the same symptoms as GAD, the average person with OCD will go 12 years misdiagnosed with other anxiety disorders. But the good news is that treating OCD in both children and adults with Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can diminish these symptoms.
Therapy Can Help Free Your Mind When OCD Gets You Stuck
To treat OCD effectively, you must receive the right type of treatment. Many healthcare providers don't fully understand OCD and its nuances and may misdiagnose it or offer a treatment that is not evidence-based, such as psychoanalysis or traditional talk therapy. However, once connected with appropriate treatment, around 70 percent of people with OCD will experience an improvement in their symptoms.
What To Expect In OCD Counseling Sessions
First and foremost, the therapists at Find Your Shine aim to normalize the types of thoughts that accompany your OCD for you. We will help you reduce any shame you may be experiencing by helping you acknowledge that you are not your thoughts. The content of your obsessive thoughts, no matter how scary, does not make you a bad person.
Next, we will create a plan of attack that will allow you to "boss back" your OCD and not live according to its rules any longer. Once we harness the anxiety, compulsions, and rituals that are triggered by your thoughts, you will be able to relax, resume enjoyable activities, and live more consistently with your values.
How Exposure And Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) Helps Diminish OCD Symptoms
ERP is an evidence-based exposure therapy aimed at reducing the amount of time you spend engaging in compulsive behaviors. When utilizing ERP Therapy, we usually don't need to identify the core of the issue—the why—to treat OCD effectively. ERP uses structured exercises and tasks, as well as homework assignments, to help you pinpoint the obsession and gradually become exposed to the fears you usually avoid. In this way, we can eventually reduce compulsive behaviors and rituals.
Rarely do we find a form of OCD considered to be resistant to treatment. We will start with the least severe obsessions first that don’t cause as much anxiety as others, allowing you to gain confidence that ERP works. As you gain mastery over your tolerance for uncertainty and discomfort, we will continue to work our way up the ladder of fears. Building a higher tolerance for anxiety and uncertainty will result in neutralizing OCD, giving you back the freedom to live life on your own terms.
OCD is known as the “doubting disease” because the need for certainty is so intense and persistent. For this reason, traditional CBT is not recommended treatment for OCD. Because traditional CBT challenges thoughts and picks out irrational beliefs, engaging in the exercise of challenging irrational thoughts by imparting logic can unwittingly fan the flames of OCD thinking. Because there often isn’t a way to definitively convince the OCD brain that something catastrophic won’t happen, it prevents traditional CBT from being effective.
Successful management of OCD can be achieved with the support of a trained therapist providing you with the right treatment. When you’re ready to face the behaviors that keep you stuck, you can achieve freedom from OCD.
But Maybe You Still Wonder Whether OCD Therapy Is Right For You…
While I find myself obsessing over things, I don't carry out compulsions like handwashing or checking locks. Could I still have OCD?
Compulsions can include behaviors like washing/cleaning, checking, repeating, researching, and seeking reassurance. Compulsions can also be mental, like replaying scenarios over and over in your head, replacing "bad" thoughts with "good" ones, and excessive self-reassurance. OCD always involves some compulsion or ritual, but mental compulsions are typically harder to detect. It's best to get an evaluation from a licensed professional who specializes in OCD to determine if you have it and receive appropriate treatment if necessary.
With OCD, my obsessive thoughts are so scary, I don't think I could handle exposure therapy. Is there any other option?
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and does involve exposure. However, our therapists understand how intimidating exposure therapy can be. We aim to strike a balance between helping you confront your OCD so you can experience true freedom and working at a pace you can tolerate. Throughout therapy, you will remain in control and will always reserve the right to decline treatment until you feel ready.
Will my therapist also prescribe medication as part of my OCD treatment?
Find Your Shine Therapy does not prescribe medication. Because some people with OCD respond well to SSRI medication, your counselor may recommend that you receive an evaluation to determine whether medication would be appropriate for you. If so, we will refer you to a trusted medication prescriber in the community who has experience with OCD.
OCD Doesn’t Have To Be The Boss Anymore
Wouldn’t you like to be in charge of your life again? To find out more about OCD or therapy with us, please visit our contact page or call (480) 815-3211 to schedule a free 10-minute consultation with one of our therapists.
We also offer an OCD Support Group for adults who are over the page of 18.