How to tell the difference between OCD and GAD?

Do you feel constantly anxious?

Unfortunately, you are not alone. There are a lot of people out there who have anxiety disorders. Today, I’ll talk about the 2 conditions that I am suffering from: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
I am a very lucky person, am I not? Having one of them would be perfectly enough and then I have both, but let’s look on the bright side: at least, I can share my stories with you!

So first of all, let’s take a look at the definition of these two disorders

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or OCD) means that you have unwanted and repeating thoughts (intrusive thoughts), obsessions and behaviors that force you to do certain things over and over again (so, kind of compulsions). In most of the cases, you know that your thoughts are completely irrational and that your compulsions do not make sense either – but you just can not stop having those thoughts and can not stop acting on your compulsions (click here to see more examples). Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated anxiety about simple, everyday life things – with no apparent reasons for worry. Now based on this definition, you may think that most of the people around you have GAD – or you may even do a self-diagnosis. But do not jump into conclusions: in this article, I’ll share a couple more details about GAD and you’ll see that it’s much worse than being stressed.

What are you worried about?

One of the biggest differences between OCD and GAD is what sufferers are worried about. If you have OCD, it’s likely that many (or all) your worries are simply irrational – because OCD is a big liar. While those who have GAD are worried about more realistic things, however, their anxiety is way too exaggerated.

So, let’s see a couple of examples.

As I have already mentioned, I’m “in a very lucky position” – because I have both OCD and GAD. Sounds absolutely fabulous, doesn’t it? Now the good thing is that I can share a few of my examples.

Typical OCD thoughts include:
what if I did something wrong and I do not remember?
what if I jump off the cliff?
– what if I set my own house on fire?
– what if I harm someone I love?
– what if I catch HIV?
– what if someone dies because I did not clean the table well enough?

So as you can see, many of these thoughts are completely irrational and even the ones that sort of make sense are way too exaggerated. For example the HIV one: that’s an obsession I used to have (thanks God, I have managed to overcome it). I used to be afraid of catching HIV on the tube which is absolutely nonsense and I knew that it would be impossible – but still, I’d wash my hands hundred times a day and avoid public transport: because you can never know, can you?

Now for GAD, it’s much more difficult to give you a “list of worries”, simply because one of the main issues is that GAD can make you worry about pretty much everything.
So if you suffer from it, you do not only have a few obsessions that make you anxious – you constantly jump from one worry to another. Let’s say, you wake up in the morning and you start worrying about the presentation you need to deliver at your workplace. Once that is over, you’ll find a new thing to worry about: your co-worker did not smile back at you, so what if they are angry with you for some reason? And it goes on and on.

If you have GAD, you’ll always think of the worst case scenario. This might be a perfect skill if you wanted to become a risk analyst, but then it does make your life very difficult.

What do you do about your worry?

People with GAD may do certain things to fight their anxiety – such as seeking reassurance from others or avoiding certain situations, but these compulsions usually do not take over their lives.

Now, if you have OCD, that’s different. Apart from having obsessive thoughts that can keep you awake for the whole night, you also have to do certain things – and these are called compulsive behaviors. (yes, that’s right, you just have to do them, because if you do not, you think something terrible will happen and you’ll be anxious for the whole day).

This is the part of OCD that’s pretty well-known, but very often misunderstood. When I tell people I have OCD, most of them will think that I’m just addicted to cleaning, but unfortunately, the reality is much darker. Cleaning is not the only compulsive thing OCD sufferers have to do, the list is much longer and can include:
– extreme double-checking (have I locked the door?)
– having to repeat certain words
– counting
– reassurance seeking
And a lot more.
Click here to see what a day with OCD looks like.

I have OCD, does it mean that I also have GAD?

So, I have both of them, but just to avoid any misunderstanding: it does not mean that every OCD sufferer has GAD or the other way around. These are 2 different mental illnesses even if they share a few similarities.

Things that will help you overcome OCD and GAD

I think a very important step is educating yourself: the more you know about your enemy, the better chances you have to fight them. So I really hope that this post helped you. 🙂

As you may have noticed, I’m pretty new to blogging so I’m still working articles about techniques that worked for me to ease my OCD/GAD symptoms. (Subscribe to my blog and check back later for more! 🙂
However, I’d like to give you a couple of ideas that may help:

  1. Seeking professional help: usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  2. Breathing exercises for relaxation
  3. Limiting or stopping the use of caffeine
  4. Eating healthy food
  5. Getting enough sleep
  6. Medication
  7. Check my article on 12 things that will help you overcome OCD

Finally, there’s one thing that I love more than sharing my stories: reading yours. Please share your personal experiences in the comment section!

Mark Wester


16 thoughts on “How to tell the difference between OCD and GAD?

  1. Also this topic is a very useful one, to distinguish these separate things. It seems i may have GAD at the moment. That’s maybe why I’m still in bed. Have i had enough sleep? What if I’m too tired when i meet this person later? I should have gone to bed earlier, but I was losing time by being anxious. Now my skin is itching from being anxious, the eczema might come back. Oh I’ve actually had enough sleep, but now I’ve got less time in the day from lying around in bed …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – thats one of the reasons why I wanted to write about it because it often confuses me whether my anxiety is because of OCD or GAD – so I decided to do a little bit of research.
      Oh gosh, this is exactly what I usually do!!! Sometimes im afraid that if I do not get enough sleep, I will just faint even though I have never fainted…..
      But then the good thing is that its Saturday so it’s the best day for lying around in bed :)))
      Sorry to hear about your eczema – hope it will not come back!


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