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OCD vs. Daily Worries: How to Tell the Difference

Many people find themselves wondering about what characteristics separate obsessive-compulsive disorder from typical anxiety. Nowadays, it’s common for detail-oriented people to jokingly describe themselves as being “so OCD,” which might make you ask yourself whether doing something like straightening a stack of menus at your favorite takeout restaurant indicates you have a disorder. What is the difference between OCD thoughts and behaviors and everyday concerns?

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD consists of two components: intrusive thoughts, followed by specific actions taken to neutralize these disturbing ideas. These behaviors only provide temporary relief, which traps people in an ongoing cycle of having unpleasant ideas and taking steps to try controlling them.

Beliefs Lead to Actions

Because people with OCD rely on repetitive, compulsive routines to cope with their stress and anxiety, one way to distinguish OCD from daily worries is to ask yourself whether your concerns have an associated behavioral component. Many OCD compulsions stem from a belief that someone’s actions can prevent a negative consequence. One example of this might be touching a door handle 20 times before leaving home to keep the house safe from intruders. People with full-fledged OCD have time-consuming preoccupations that interfere with their regular responsibilities, such as spending hours cleaning and disinfecting one room in their home. Even if you habitually reread emails or text messages multiple times because you’re anxious about sending them, you’re probably not doing so as a ritual or obligation.

Disordered Thinking Is an OCD Hallmark

Obsessive, difficult-to-control thoughts are also a defining characteristic of OCD. These impulsive thoughts blow everyday worries out of proportion because they are often highly unrealistic and can take on qualities of magical thinking. For example, a student with obsessive-compulsive disorder might believe that lining up all their pens in a straight, symmetrical line is the key to helping them do well on an exam. Or, a parent with OCD might repeat a specific phrase several times each day to keep their children safe at school.

When Mental Health Conditions Overlap

It’s not unusual for people living with mental health challenges like OCD to develop a co-occurring disorder such as depression or a substance abuse issue. Fortunately, effective treatment options are available to help those with a dual diagnosis manage their symptoms and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives. If you suspect you have obsessive-compulsive disorder or another mental health condition, evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you how to change negative thought patterns into positive ones. Therapists will also provide you with a more realistic set of coping skills to manage your fears. For people in recovery, structure can be an essential element in relapse prevention and setting healthy goals. A sober living facility can be a crucial part of any aftercare plan for those who need a stepping stone between getting discharged from a long-term care facility and returning to daily life. To learn more about integrating high-accountability sober living into your substance abuse rehabilitation plan, contact us at Segue Recovery Support today.