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What is OCD and How is It Different from GAD?

Almost everyone has experienced worry or anxiety at some point or the other. However, people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience anxiety in a different way. It often compels them to perform repetitive compulsive rituals, and they might also find themselves plagued with persistent intrusive thoughts. So the question remains – How different is it from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)? Although GAD and OCD are closely related, the latter usually requires a separate diagnosis. In this blog post, we will discuss the main differences between OCD and GAD, and the ways in which they overlap. But before that, it is important to develop a good understanding of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

What is OCD?

OCD is known to affect around 2 to 3 percent of individuals in the United States. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) usually manifests in the form of unwanted recurring thoughts and ideas in people. People experience obsessions or sensations that drive them to do certain things repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors can consist of continuously checking things, hand washing, or cleaning. Not performing these behaviors can cause a significant amount of distress and anxiety in people with OCD. OCD tends to have a debilitating effect on an individual’s daily life, activities, and social interactions.

OCD is usually diagnosed in individuals by detecting compulsions and/or obsessions that cause them significant distress and affect their social functioning.

Obsessions can be in the form of intrusive thoughts, images, and impulses that cause anxiety and distressing emotions in people. This distress is often not resolved by reasoning or logic. People experiencing obsessions often try to suppress or ignore them or try to distract themselves by engaging in other activities. Common obsessions consist of –

· Fear of contaminated environment and/or people.

· Disturbing sexual images and thoughts.

· Losing something important.

· Concern about symmetry, order, and precision.

· Intrusive thoughts of images, sounds, numbers, and words.

Compulsions refer to the repetitive behaviors that an individual performs as an excessive response to an obsession. They are usually performed to reduce the distress that is related to an obsession. In many cases, compulsions can make the normal routine and life impossible for people. Common type of compulsions include –

· Excessive hand washing, teeth brushing, showering, etc.

· Excessive cleaning around the house.

· Seeking reassurance and approval.

· Continuously checks switches, locks, and appliances.

Some differences Between OCD and GAD

1. Behavioral component

There are differences in the behavioral patterns of people diagnosed with GAD and OCD. While people with GAD usually have persistent worrying tendencies, they do not engage in ritualistic and compulsive behaviors. People with OCD, on the other hand, usually resort to compulsive behavior to ease the obsession-related stress. This compulsive behavior usually stems from the belief that doing them can prevent the occurrence of the feared outcome.

2. Thinking

The thinking pattern of people with OCD differs markedly from those diagnosed with GAD. People dealing with GAD usually tend to worry excessively about concerns related to real life. The concerns can be about major issues in life like finances, health, and relationships. However, they can also be about day-to-day problems that are not apparent to other people.

3. Catastrophizing

Many people with GAD tend to imagine the worst possible outcome (catastrophizing). They might also experience distortions in decision-making and thinking (biased thinking). People diagnosed with OCD also find their obsessions hard to control. However, the difference is that in OCD, the thoughts extend beyond worrying, as obsessive thinking can be recurrent and/or persistent thoughts or urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance; as intrusive and/or unwanted.


From the above-mentioned points, it is evident that there are some differences between OCD and GAD. However, it is also common for people with GAD to be diagnosed with other disorders like OCD and depression in the course of their lifetime.

The most effective treatment for both these disorders is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), however, a more focused type of CBT known as Exposure and Response Prevention works more effectively for OCD. Also, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be used for more distress associated with traumatic memories. Especially, if the person has a past history of childhood trauma.

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