Understanding the Differences Between OCD and Phobias


Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between OCD and a phobia. There is a sense in which most anxiety sufferers have an obsession – if you spend all your time worrying about having a panic attack, or finding a spider, or meeting someone in the street, then you are obsessed to a certain extent. And you could say that behaviors such as constantly checking a room for spiders, or crossing the road to avoid a meeting, have an element of compulsion to them.

But there is an extra dimension to OCD, which is the link between the obsessions and the compulsions. A person with OCD usually has a strong feeling that they need to carry out their compulsions or else some dreadful consequence will ensue, and almost always they also feel that they must do their compulsions in a certain way, like a ritual.

So, if you are afraid of spiders and you need to check each room for them, then you have a phobia. If you feel that letting a spider be in the room is likely to bring bad luck, or harm to yourself or your family, and if you also check the room in the same way each time, then you have OCD. Similarly, someone who is anxious about the security of their home might double check that they have locked the door, whereas someone with OCD might check repeatedly, locking and unlocking.

OCD can exist alongside other Anxiety disorders, for example social and health phobias, and also depression.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This is caused by exposure to danger or abuse. It is classified as an Anxiety disorder although it relates to events that have happened in the past rather than fears about what may happen in the future. Most people who experience traumatic events such as road/rail/air accidents or incidents involving violence can expect to have at least some disturbing physical and emotional reactions associated with shock and horror.

Usually these are short-lived. Support from family and friends, with possible short-term professional help is usually enough to help them through it. A very few people go on to develop PTSD, where they continue to have strong reactions over a long period, usually feeling that they are re-living the trauma and unable to resume their normal lives.

PTSD needs professional treatment so we don’t recommend attempting self-help.

Children and young people

Where children are concerned, although they may be having problems which show many of the same features as adult Anxiety disorders, it is not recommend trying to adapt a self-help approach without getting advice.

Most children go through phases when they are frightened of particular things – these are part of their normal development and are usually outgrown. If problems do persist way beyond the expected age or cause severe disruption to the child’s everyday life and forming of relationships, some professional help and guidance may be needed.

It is advisable to get a proper assessment which takes into account the child’s general health, overall development and any factors within the family or environment which might be contributing.

Keeping an anxiety diary

It’s time to get out your notebook and start keeping a diary. An Anxiety diary is a simple record of your anxious feelings day by day. It’s important that you write down your Anxiety scores at least twice a day, but there is no need for you to try to account for every minute of the day. But don’t leave it till the end of the week and then try to remember everything, because you won’t remember accurately enough.

Even doing it every day you will find that you tend to record the bad times, and ignore the comparatively good times. The important thing is to learn to assess your Anxiety by scoring it. Be honest, only you will ever see the diary.

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