OCD and Anxiety: Are they linked?

Updated: Mar 22

You might be wondering, “are OCD and Anxiety linked?”

Maybe you have a diagnosis of OCD,

Anxiety or both and have had trouble identifying what's what when symptoms occur. Perhaps you're not sure which diagnosis fits you best and are doubting your experience.

Let’s talk about the relationship between OCD and Anxiety!

The relationship between OCD and Anxiety

If you are reading this blog post then you might be wondering one or more of the following questions:

  • Are OCD and Anxiety linked?

  • How do I know if I have OCD or Anxiety?

  • What is OCD?

  • What is Anxiety?

  • Can I have both OCD and Anxiety?

  • How do you tell the difference between Anxiety symptoms and OCD?

OCD and Anxiety used to be within the same family of diagnoses and recently had been split into two completely separate diagnoses in the DSM 5. Many people will still refer to them as being in the same category or family of mental health disorders. Broadly, OCD and Anxiety are both Anxiety disorders, however, they are distinctly different in how they function and in how they are treated.

What is Anxiety?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves excessive worrying, fear, irritability, fatigue, poor concentration, sleep and muscle tension. GAD often occurs in ‘expectation’ or ‘apprehension’ of something such as a test or exam. Often, the experience of worry or stress occurs in relation to a real stressor but is often looked at by the individual as more stressful or overwhelming than it may actually be. This experience can be difficult especially when the individual feels helpless in how they respond to stressors in their life or lack coping tools.

A common term referenced in Anxiety disorders is “catastrophizing” which means responding to something with the belief that the worst possible outcome will occur.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder often involves the cycle of an intrusive thought(s), anxiety, compulsion(s) and relief. OCD often involves a specific fear, phobia or intrusive/obsessive thought(s). This cycle is what keeps the OCD alive and often the actual problem is that individuals are engaging in ‘compulsions’.

Here are some common themes of OCD:

  • Contamination

  • ‘Just right’

  • Checking

  • Harm

  • Relationship

  • Scrupulosity

  • Symmetry

  • Sexual

  • Perfectionism

Treatment of OCD and Anxiety

OCD is treated using ERP (exposure response prevention) whereas GAD is treated using CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). This means that although an individual can experience both anxiety and OCD, they would be looking for 2 different approaches in how to manage them.

Often individuals will work through their OCD by finding an ERP therapist, and oftentimes the therapist will also utilize CBT methods as well. However, it is less common for someone to seek out therapy for anxiety with a CBT therapist and that therapist be able to also support them with their OCD using ERP.

The takeaway here is that it is more proactive to look for an ERP specialist who also utilizes CBT.

Self-Help for OCD

On our website, we have an ERP worksheet where you can begin to experiment with ERP on your own. We also have an Instagram where we post many helpful resources for OCD and Anxiety.

Looking for ERP and CBT-trained therapist?

Some of the best places to look are IOCDF and Psychology Today.

Want to book a consultation with me? Let’s connect!