How is OCD Different from Generalized Anxiety?

OCD and generalized anxiety

How is OCD Different from Generalized Anxiety?

Previously thought of as a type of anxiety disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is now considered its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). As many people who have been diagnosed with OCD struggle with intense anxiety, they may first be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Sometimes, they are co-occurring, but, for most people, OCD is a more accurate diagnosis. On the other hand, while people with anxiety disorders may feel like they need to stick to a routine to cope with their anxiety, less than 10% of people with anxiety disorders meet the criteria for OCD due to several key differences.

Main Differences Between OCD and Anxiety:

  • The content of your anxiety: Generalized anxiety tends to be about “real world concerns.” Will I fail this test? Will I get this job? Is my friend angry at me? Obsessive thoughts related to OCD often involve more extreme outcomes.
    It’s not just “If I fail this test, I will fail the course” it might sound like “if I don’t do this ritual, then I will fail the test; and, if I fail the test, then something life-changing will happen the next day.” It may feel harder to explain to others, but feels logical according to their deepest fears.
  • The “stickiness” of your thoughts: Many people who struggle with anxiety become overwhelmed easily and are triggered by a variety of things. They may jump from one fear to the next once one fear feels resolves. People with OCD are more likely to have one or two specific fears and devote more attention to them rather than having a wide range of possible fears.
  • Whether or not rituals and compulsions are involved. This category can become tricky. What exactly is considered an “abnormal” compulsion? Technically, a lot of behaviors, like biting one’s nails or even drinking alcohol, are attempts to cope with anxious thoughts can easily become compulsive. One of the main differences is that OCD rituals are often carried out unconsciously, but may have stemmed from a belief that the behavior can keep a feared outcome from occurring.  


Some examples of OCD rituals and compulsions may include:

    • Visible: knocking on wood, washing your hands, checking the stove, touching or not touching a particular thing
    • Mental: counting steps, replaying conversations in your head, repeating special words or phrases, even trying to “neutralize” bad thoughts with good thoughts
    • Order: Symmetry, Arranging, Counting, and needing things to be Just Right 



How Can An Assessment Help?

While generalized anxiety (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder may have a lot of overlap, treatment that helps someone with GAD may not be as effective for someone with OCD, which makes getting a correct diagnosis very important. 

Typically, people with anxiety disorders are often encouraged to identify and challenge their anxiety-producing thoughts through a technique called “cognitive restructuring.” Their goal is to focus on how to improve their strengths and these positive thoughts. People with OCD tend to struggle more with rigid processing and are more likely to struggle to come up with an alternative belief. For them, it may be more useful to learn to tolerate negative beliefs without having to turn to rituals.

Comprehensive assessments in a residential program gives staff the opportunity to observe how teens act in different situations to ensure that they are seeing the bigger picture and identifying root causes of anxiety and rituals. This is particularly useful for teens who struggle to communicate their emotions or who don’t realize that the level of anxiety they are experiencing is affecting their everyday life.


ViewPoint Center Can Help 

ViewPoint Center, a mental health hospital for teens ages 12-17.9, is located just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The program provides stabilization, comprehensive assessments, and 24 hour nursing for teens struggling with mental and behavioral issues such as suicidal ideation, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Post evaluation, treatment plans are established to meet the unique needs of each student. By the end of the treatment period at ViewPoint, families have a clear understanding of the child’s diagnoses and are offered guidance on how to move forward into their child’s next steps towards healing. For more information about The ViewPoint Center, please call 855-290-9682.


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