OCD And Anxiety: Can You Have Both?

Published 06/22/2022

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly experienced mental health conditions. About 18.1% of those aged 18 and above in the United States alone experience an anxiety disorder annually. That's 40 million people! This isn't counting the number of children and teens under 18 who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders. On the other hand, obsessive-compulsive disorder impacts about 2.3% of the United States' adult population. So, what's the difference between OCD and anxiety? Can you have both? Keep reading to find out.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental health condition or disorder that is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. People with OCD have obsessions and perform compulsions to temporarily relieve said obsessions, fears, and worries. Symptoms of OCD include:

  • Obsessions or obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Ritualistic behavior
  • Repetitive words, phrases, or actions
  • Mental compulsions
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of fear
  • Feelings of depression
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from others

One thing that a lot of people don't know about OCD has that there are actually different OCD subtypes or types of OCD that someone can struggle with. The most commonly spoken about the type of OCD is the contamination of OCD. Contamination OCD or contamination OCD with cleaning compulsions is the type of OCD where someone is obsessed with preventing contamination and cleans, washes excessively, or uses other behaviors to avoid contamination. However, this form of OCD only impacts a quarter of those with OCD.

OCD Subtypes

Common subtypes of OCD include:

Contamination OCD, which, as stated above, refers to a fear of contamination, which often pairs with cleaning compulsions, washing compulsions, or other compulsions that attempt to relieve one's obsession with contamination.

Symmetry OCD With Ordering Compulsions refers to a type of OCD where someone is obsessed with symmetry and orders or arranges objects compulsively to relieve the obsession.

Harm OCD With Checking Compulsions, which refers to a type of OCD where someone's obsessed with potential harm (this could be sickness, injury, being the victim of a crime, or something else) and uses compulsions to avoid harm (for example, someone might fear that something will happen to a family member and call excessively or fear that their house will burn down and check to make sure that all appliances are off multiple times).

Obsessions Without Visual Compulsions, which refers to a form of OCD where someone struggles with obsessions but no visual compulsions.

These are by no means the only manifestations of OCD. Someone might also have relationship OCD, religious OCD, or another form of OCD. Though anyone can develop OCD, certain risk factors may predict the development of OCD. These risk factors include but aren't limited to family history, personal history of another medical or mental health condition, and trauma. According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), the onset of OCD can transpire at any age, but it is common for the onset of OCD to occur in those aged 8 to 12 between one's late teens and young adult years.

Is OCD An Anxiety Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not an anxiety disorder. That said, if you're confused or think that you've heard OCD referred to as an anxiety disorder, there's a reason. Until the DSM-5 was released, OCD was indeed considered an anxiety disorder. The same is true for PTSD, another common mental health condition. The DSM or diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders is a manual used by professionals to diagnose mental health disorders or conditions. It outlines criteria for various sets of mental disorders, including anxiety disorders and OCD. OCD is listed under a DSM category called "obsessive-compulsive and related disorders," which includes the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder and hoarding disorder.

What Is Anxiety?

The American Psychology Association (APA) dictionary defines anxiety as "an emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune." Anxiety disorders are a set of diagnosable mental health disorders marked by an excessive and disproportionate worry that impacts a person's life and ability to function in areas such as work, school, interpersonal relationships, etc. Common anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Or GAD

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder that's characterized by excessive and disproportionate worry. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include:

  • Excessive worry
  • Irritability
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Restlessness
  • Rumination
  • Heart palpitations or a rapid heartbeat
  • Body aches or muscle aches
  • Tension
  • Panic attacks
  • GI distress

Social Anxiety Disorder Or SAD

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by severe anxiety surrounding social interactions and/or social settings.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include:

  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or offending others
  • Heart palpitations or a rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Blushing or facial flushing
  • Panic attacks

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by the fear and avoidance of public spaces and situations that can cause panic, helplessness, embarrassment, anxiety, or judgment from others. A person with agoraphobia will often fear leaving home and struggle to do so.

Symptoms of agoraphobia may include:

  • Fear of leaving one's home (either alone or at all)
  • Fear of being in a crowd of other people
  • Fear of waiting in lines
  • A fear of open spaces, such as parks or malls
  • A fear of enclosed spaces, such as elevators or shops
  • A fear of public transportation
  • Distress when leaving home or encountering situations listed above
  • Avoidance of the situations listed above
  • Fear of having no "escape" when in the situations listed above

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks. Someone with panic disorder will often fear future panic attacks.

Symptoms of panic attacks may include:

  • A pounding heart, rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations
  • Trouble breathing or heavy breathing
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling "out of it" or feeling disconnected
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

Other forms of anxiety disorders include selective mutism, specific phobias, unspecified anxiety disorder, other specified anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.

Is Anxiety A Form Of OCD?

Just as OCD is not categorized as an anxiety disorder, anxiety is not a form of OCD. With that said, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders do have some qualities that tend to overlap. For example, people with both OCD and anxiety may experience things like hypervigilance or rumination. If you read the OCD symptoms and the signs of anxiety disorders listed above, you'll notice some overlap. Even though anxiety disorders are highly treatable, statistics indicate that only 36.9% of people with anxiety get treatment. Both OCD and anxiety can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT, so if you believe that you may benefit from treatment for either disorder, don't be afraid to reach out for help.

Can You Have Both Anxiety And OCD?

You can absolutely have both OCD and an anxiety disorder. In fact, one could have OCD and multiple anxiety disorders. OCD and anxiety disorders are common comorbidities. Although the word "comorbidity" might sound scary, all that it actually means is that you have multiple diagnoses. It's said that well over half of those who have OCD have anxiety and that 90% of people aged 18 and older who have OCD have another mental disorder of some kind, which could include an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, or something else.

Support For OCD And Anxiety

Whether you have an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or both, therapy can help. Here are some ways to find a counselor or therapist:

  • Ask your doctor for a referral.
  • Search the web for counselors or therapists in your area who specialize in the specific concern you face. For example, if you are looking for a therapist who works with OCD, you might type "OCD therapist near me" in your search engine of choice.
  • Contact your insurance company or look on their website to see what they offer.
  • Look into your employee assistance program, if applicable, to see what it offers.
  • Use an online therapy website such as BetterHelp. Online therapy or counseling websites are often more affordable than traditional in-person therapy or counseling without insurance.
  • Use an online directory or a provider search tool such as the Mind Diagnostics website to find someone who meets your needs.

If you are low income, visiting a community center, religious organizations, or college/university are all ways to get free or low-cost services. You can also ask counselors and therapists if they offer services on a sliding scale basis or if they have sliding scale rates.

Take The Mind Diagnostics OCD Test

Do you think that you could have OCD? If so, consider taking the Mind Diagnostics OCD test. Although it is not a replacement for a diagnosis or evaluation from a medical or mental health professional, taking the OCD test can help you gain insight into what you're going through, and it might just be the first step to getting the help that you need. The Mind Diagnostics OCD test is for those aged 18 and above, and it is fast, free, and confidential.

Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics OCD test.

*For all information regarding specific treatments, please consult a medical or mental health professional.