Connection Between OCD and Anxiety

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People who have obsessive-compulsive disorder often also struggle with anxiety. What’s the connection between OCD and anxiety, and how can someone with both disorders find the right type of treatment?

Defining OCD and Anxiety

To understand the connection between OCD and anxiety, it can be helpful to first review some basic information about each disorder. We’ll begin with OCD.


As its name suggests, obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by two types of symptoms:

  • Obsessions are recurrent, intrusive thoughts. Examples of common obsessions include intense worry about becoming contaminated, a rigid desire for order and organization, and a persistent fear that you may harm someone else. 
  • Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels forced to do. Examples of compulsions include showering multiple times per day, checking and re-checking to ensure that you’ve locked a door or turned off a device, and needing to touch certain objects in a particular order before you can leave a room.


Some people who have OCD only have one of these types of symptoms, while others have both. Regardless of which types of symptoms a person experiences, they can be sources of considerable distress, to the point that they can undermine a person’s ability to function in one or more important areas of life.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about 1.2% of adults in the United States will have symptoms of OCD in a typical year. The annual rate of OCD is considerably higher among women (1.8%) than among men (0.5%).

Now let’s move on to anxiety.


Anxiety is a general term that can describe several distinct conditions, including the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Selective mutism
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder


The common characteristic among these disorders is that they all involve excessive fear or overwhelming worry. Some, but not all, of them also have physical symptoms. The main differences among the various types of anxiety disorders are the situations or circumstances that can trigger the onset of symptoms.

As with OCD, the symptoms of anxiety disorders can cause impaired functioning at home, in school, at work, and/or in the context of a person’s relationships.

According to the NIMH, about 19.1% of adults in the U.S. had some type of anxiety disorder in the previous 12 months. The past-year prevalence of anxiety disorders is higher among women (23.4%) than among men (14.3%).

Is OCD Linked to Anxiety?

OCD is not an anxiety disorder, but there are definitely links between OCD and anxiety. These links may account for the elevated rate of anxiety among people who have OCD.

According to a November 2021 review in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, about 32% of individuals who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder also have a co-occurring anxiety disorder.

How is OCD Linked to Anxiety?

In addition to their frequent co-occurrence, here are some of the other links between OCD and anxiety:

  • In the first four editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, OCD was listed in the anxiety disorders section. It wasn’t until the release of the DSM-5 in 2013 that OCD was moved to a separate section.
  • For people with OCD who have both types of symptoms, anxiety can be a connector between obsessions and compulsions. For example, a fear of contamination (an obsession) can be a source of great anxiety. Frequent showering or hand-washing (compulsions) can be attempts to temporarily relieve this anxiety.
  • For those who only have obsessions, these symptoms can also cause great anxiety. A person who fears that they may suddenly swerve their car into oncoming traffic (which is an example of an OCD obsession) may experience significant anxiety while behind the wheel. Someone who is terrified that they may blurt out something obscene or blasphemous when meeting a new person may also be struggling with social anxiety.
  • People who have some standalone compulsions – such as needing to perform certain rituals in certain situations – often feel forced to engage in these behaviors by an overwhelming fear that something bad may happen to them or a loved one if they don’t. This, obviously, can contribute to elevated levels of anxiety. 

How Does One Deal With OCD and Severe Anxiety?

There is no single type of therapy or course of treatment that works for every person who has been living with OCD and severe anxiety. As is so often the case in matters of mental health, what’s most important is finding a provider that can identify and address the full scope of each person’s specific needs.

Depending on a variety of personal factors, treatment for OCD and severe anxiety may include elements such as the following:

  • Prescription medication
  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Group and family therapy sessions
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Neurofeedback
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)


If a person’s struggles with OCD and anxiety are related to a history of untreated trauma, services such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy may also be beneficial.

Learn How We Treat Both Anxiety and OCD

Montare at the Canyon offers a full continuum of personalized care for adults whose lives have been disrupted by OCD and anxiety. 

Treatment options at our center in Malibu, California, include a comprehensive inpatient program, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). We also offer specialized services for U.S. military veterans. In each of our programs, patients who have OCD and anxiety follow individualized treatment plans that reflect their unique history, needs, and goals. 

Working in active collaboration with a team of highly skilled and compassionate professionals, our patients learn how to manage their symptoms and regain control of their thoughts and behaviors. With the guidance and support of our expert caregivers, they can make great strides toward a much healthier and more satisfying future.

To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call our center today. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you decide if Montare at the Canyon is the perfect place for you or a loved one.