Is Your Chronic Worrying a Sign of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Everybody worries from time to time, but some people seem to have a Ph.D. in worrying. Are you one of them? Do you spend your days (and nights) ruminating over every little thing you might have done wrong or that might go wrong in the future? Worried about the germs on every surface you touch? Worried that you should have changed that one PowerPoint slide on that big project at work? Worried that your child might get sick? Or even worse, worried that you might in some way put your child in harm’s way?
Ruminating about things you can’t control or fixating on fears of what might happen isn’t healthy. But is it normal? When worrying becomes chronic and intrusive thoughts become distressing, it can be a sign of a mental health condition that is often underrecognized and undertreated—obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Why OCD is So Misunderstood
Many people know that OCD can involve repetitive rituals, such as excessive hand washing, checking and re-checking that the door is locked, or extreme cleaning. What people don’t understand is that these compulsions are typically a way for people to deal with unwanted thoughts and worries that loop in the brain. And you don’t have to have physical rituals to have OCD. Some people with the condition develop mental rituals—such as praying, counting, or saying words silently to oneself—to cope with their worries.
If you’re one of the 1 in 40 adults affected by OCD or if your child is one of the 1 in 200 kids who have it, you may have repetitive thoughts and worries about:
- Fear of making mistakes
- Fear of making the wrong decision
- Forbidden sexuality
- Harming someone
- Losing control
- A need for symmetry
- A need for things to be “perfect”
- Superstitions or fears about “bad” numbers or colors
These unwanted worries can trigger distressing feelings of anxiety or disgust. People with OCD often make a great effort to suppress or resist these intrusive thoughts and worries, but the more a person tries to control them, the more powerful they become.
Why OCD is One of the Most Misdiagnosed Conditions
Many mental health conditions can be misdiagnosed, but OCD is one of the most likely to be mistaken for other conditions because it involves so many overlapping symptoms. In fact, a 2015 study among primary care physicians found that half of OCD cases were misdiagnosed. And other research on the diagnosis and management of OCD reported that it takes an average of 11 years to receive treatment after meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD.
OCD can be misdiagnosed as:
ADD/ADHD: People with ADD/ADHD tend to struggle focus and attention and often don’t complete tasks. People with OCD may also have trouble finishing projects, but it’s due to a need for everything to be perfect, and if things aren’t just right they don’t complete it.
Anxiety: Like people with OCD, those with anxiety may be filled with anxious thoughts and worries. The difference is that people with anxiety tend to worry about real-life concerns while those with OCD may have irrational thoughts and worries.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): People with autism may display repetitive behaviors, which can mimic some of the ritualistic patterns seen in people with OCD.
Mood disorders: In depression, people have many negative thought patterns that are also common in those with OCD.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): People with PTSD often make an effort to avoid places that bring up memories of traumatic events, while those with OCD may use avoidance to minimize the risk of triggering unwanted worries.
Psychosis or schizophrenia: These disorders are characterized by delusions. People with OCD may have irrational fears that can be mistaken for delusions. The difference is that people with OCD typically recognize that their worries are unfounded but are unable to control them, whereas those with psychosis or schizophrenia believe their delusions.
Tourette syndrome: Involuntary vocal or motor tics are the hallmarks of this condition. Some of the repetitive rituals common in people with OCD may be mistaken for Tourette.
How Chronic Worrying Plays Out in the Brain
Brain imaging studies show that the chronic worrying associated with OCD isn’t a mental health problem, but rather a brain health issue. Brain scans using SPECT imaging technology reveal abnormalities in the brains of people with OCD. In particular, SPECT scans show increased blood flow in two regions of the brain—the basal ganglia and anterior cingulate gyrus.
- Basal ganglia: This region helps set the body’s anxiety level and is involved in forming habits. When there is too much activity in the basal ganglia, it is associated with increased anxiety and heightened fear.
- Anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG): This area is involved in allowing people to shift attention from subject to subject. When the ACG is overactive, people tend to get “stuck” on the same thought or behavior.
- Low serotonin: Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are often seen in people with an overactive ACG and in people with OCD.
Getting Unstuck from Your Worries
You can overcome chronic worrying and OCD. It starts by calming the areas of the brain that are overactive. To see some strategies you can use, read this blog on 5 simple things you can do if you have OCD.
At Amen Clinics, we take a whole-body approach to helping people overcome symptoms of chronic worrying and OCD. We perform comprehensive evaluations that include brain SPECT imaging to make an accurate diagnosis so you can get the right treatment plan for your needs. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective solutions, including helpful forms of therapy, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle changes, as well as medications when necessary.
If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and improved their quality of life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.