• Dayna Sharp, LCSW

Is it Anxiety or OCD?

While I'm not a therapist who is super focused on diagnosis, I do believe that it's important to understand what someone is experiencing, because a) understanding is validating and b) understanding allows us to respond effectively.

Figuring out whether you or your child might have Anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can help you understand, connect and respond in a more helpful way. Sometimes the difference is obvious, other times it can be tricky! So this post illustrates the main difference between Anxiety and OCD.

Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may have alot of overlap, but there are distinct differences.

Recognizing Anxiety

If you struggle with too much anxiety, you will recognize that most of the related worries are future-oriented. Anxiety asks "What if..." questions. "What if I miss my deadline?" "What if my classmates laugh at me?" "What if my kids are struggling too much? What will happen to them?" "What if a monster if under the bed?".

Anxiety tells us to Avoid. "What if my teacher yells at me? My stomach hurts. I can't go to school". "What if I flop in the interview? Maybe I should just skip it, there'll be another one". "Who is calling me? I'll listen to their message first".

Recognizing OCD

There will likely be anxious thoughts and feelings with OCD as well. You or your child may ask "What if..." types of questions. But here's the difference:

OCD tells us to do a certain thing in order to manage the Anxiety. It's not avoidance. It's a behavior or ritual. The most obvious example is, "What if there are germs on my hands? What if I get sick?". OCD tells us "Wash your hands! Once isn't enough! Keep washing them!". Less obvious examples could be "What if my whole family dies?". OCD responds "Check the stove everyday. Once isn't enough! Keep checking!". Or "What if I've done something bad?" OCD might say "Redo it! Rewrite it! Erase it! It has to be perfect to undo your badness! Rewrite it again!". OCD does not want you to passively avoid feeling uncomfortable, it demands that you do something about it!

Of course, its demands are unreasonable, ineffective and will likely reduce your quality of life as you get caught up in the ever-growing web of OCD demands.


If you believe that you or your loved one may be struggling with Anxiety or OCD, a therapist can help you to understand it better, to cope with it, and help family members respond in a more supportive, effective manner. It's not necessary to suffer alone, and the earlier you recognize it and seek support, the better!

Call Creating Space Counseling and Wellness today to learn more about how therapy can help you and your family! 856-281-1664