Many people are familiar with the symptoms of anxiety and depression, particularly those who experience them. But there are nuances to how individuals living with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder may experience depression or anxiety. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help notice whether some anxiety or depression symptoms may be manifesting.

Do you know how to distinguish between OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

People with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder may have a hard time distinguishing their OCD symptoms from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), especially since OCD is a disorder that itself produces anxiety. However, the 2 disorders diverge in a few ways.

First, the content of anxiety produced by OCD is specific and improbable. Additionally, the thoughts that characterize OCD tend to play on repeat, whereas people with GAD tend to jump from one anxious thought to another.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, OCD involves compulsions – whether they be mental or visible – that are intended to alleviate anxiety but instead fuel it.

Do you know the most common link between OCD and Depression?

Research suggests that as many as two-thirds of people living with OCD will experience a major depressive episode sometime during the course of their illness. The most common link between OCD and Depression is causation.

OCD commonly causes depression. It could be reactive stress to obsessions or compulsions, or even biochemical changes in the brain that alter moods and behaviors. Whatever the specific cause, talking about OCD with a professional and with peers can be a powerful antidote to retreating to depression’s best friend – isolation.

Do you know how to recognize the physiological symptoms of anxiety?

If you have OCD, chances are you have become pretty familiar with how anxiety feels from a mental perspective. But there are physiological symptoms to watch out for as well. 

When your mind tells your body it is under threat, your body can’t be bothered with functions such as proper digestion. Digestive issues may be a sign you are experiencing anxiety.

Your body will also send all the blood to your vital organs when you are in a fight/flight/freeze response, and cold hands and/or feet may be a weird way of cueing your body that you’re anxious. 

There’s a reason the term “just breathe” has become ubiquitous. Whenever you have anxiety, breathing is hard. Lightheadedness, while also a symptom of other physiological issues, can also be a symptom of anxiety and a product of bad breathing. 

Intrusive thoughts can manifest in whatever part of the body you’re focused on, so also know that physiological symptoms can show up there. If it’s Sexual Orientation OCD, you may have groin sensations when you are anxious. If you have Health OCD, there are any number of physical sensations that can show up, depending on the health obsession present.

Are you having particular trouble making basic decisions?

If your brain feels foggy, if it’s difficult to focus, and if it’s a struggle to make the most basic of decisions, pay attention.

When your brain is constantly preoccupied with obsessive thoughts, it becomes very difficult to focus on anything else. Concentration and being present aren’t easy when your mental faculties are at work around a thought loop.

Becoming frozen when making a decision, or to remain stuck or in denial, is often a result of underlying anxiety. OCD can be paralyzing at times, and fear – particularly of confronting an exposure – perpetuates the cycle of anxiety.

Are you having more trouble than usual with adhering to your OCD treatment?

Avoidance is a common tactic in response to fear and uncertainty. Fear of exposures, or just general anxiety or depression can push people with OCD to avoid all kinds of situations. Eventually, this avoidance breeds habits.

A sign you may be struggling with anxiety or depression is abandoning some of the tools of your treatment (such as response prevention), or even avoiding your treatment altogether. Do you feel too depleted to fight compulsions? Have you canceled a few therapy appointments? Are you burying yourself in your work to distract yourself? Notice these tell-tale signs you may be anxious or depressed.

Do you know where anxiety, depression and OCD converge and how they interact?

The connection between OCD and anxiety is so straightforward that OCD was previously categorized under the Anxiety family of disorders in the DSM-V. While we now have scientific research that distinguishes OCD from other disorders, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder is in fact marked by one of its primary symptoms – anxiety.

As we consider how depression then enters the mix, we immediately think of causation. Facing OCD and/or anxiety for very long can lead to feelings of hopelessness, sadness or feeling unable to enjoy life.

In addition to the more obvious issue of causation, there is simply a high level of comorbidity with the 3 disorders, as well as increasing evidence of both neural and genetic factors that they all have in common.

A mixed bag of OCD, anxiety and depression symptoms makes it imperative to find a therapist who specializes in Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and can help map out the best treatment plan, based on which symptoms are most present.

Looking for a safe space to discuss your thoughts with peers who understand?

To share your experience without guilt, shame or fear, browse our safe and confidential OCDPeers groups here.

We’d love to hear your story!

The OCD community needs brave voices who are willing to share their experience. If you’re interested in sharing your OCD story, contact us here.