Is It Fear, Uncertainty, or Panic? In Other Words, Anxiety Can Be Complex
Fear and anxiety are similar emotions, but they are not exactly the same. While fear focuses on something happening right now, anxiety focuses on something that may happen in the future.
According to the DSM-5 (the standard for psychiatric diagnosis), “Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat.”
You can also use the term anxiety to describe a chronic feeling of worry that doesn’t focus on any specific threat or problem. For example, you may have a short-term feeling of fear if you see a snake. At the same time, you may wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety so severe that you can’t go back to sleep, even if no clear cause or threat is facing you at the time.
Uncertainty plays an important role in anxiety disorders, especially OCD. Uncertainty is the feeling of not knowing what will happen or what the outcome of a situation will be. OCD centers around the desire to be certain.
This feeling can be very uncomfortable for people who are prone to anxiety. Doubt and uncertainty are at the center of OCD. People who have OCD struggle to tolerate any level of uncertainty and will go to great lengths to avoid it and regain a sense of control.
Panic is a different emotional state most commonly associated with panic disorder. Panic is best described as an uncontrollable feeling of anxiety or terror, often leading to abnormal behavior. In many cases, feelings of panic are accompanied by physical symptoms, such as sweating or a racing heartbeat.
How Is OCD Treated?
Like each person with OCD, every case is unique and has specific needs.
To determine if you have OCD, a mental health professional will consider several factors. First, your clinician will ask if you are experiencing any of the common obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD. The clinician will also want to know if your obsessions or compulsions are negatively affecting the way you function day-to-day.
Other factors your clinician will consider include other psychiatric conditions you might have, your family history, and any environmental, social, or physical problems you might be having that could contribute to your anxiety.
Working with an OCD specialist or someone well versed in the signs and symptoms of OCD is critical in order to obtain a proper diagnosis. After receiving a diagnosis of OCD, it is critical that you have a care team that can help craft the proper treatment plan that works for you and your OCD, whether through talk/behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments.
Behavioral therapy involves a one-on-one relationship between a patient and a therapist. The most effective approach used to treat anxiety disorders and OCD is cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT.
The goal of CBT is to help the patient learn to think and behave differently when they experience fear or anxiety. CBT may also teach social skills. A clinician may recommend a specific type of CBT, depending on diagnosis.
Exposure and Response Prevention
Many patients benefit from a specific type of CBT known as exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP. This is often referred to as the gold-standard behavioral therapy approach for OCD.
This treatment, which is well supported by research, involves exposing the patient to triggers that cause their anxiety and teaching them to no longer respond to the exposure with rituals or compulsions. A specific treatment plan is created for each individual. ERP should be used with an OCD specialist.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT helps people to better tolerate and accept the discomfort of their obsessions. This is a very helpful alternative for those who are hesitant to try ERP. Depending on the patient, this may also be a helpful therapy to use alongside ERP.
Several different medications can be used to help relieve the symptoms of OCD. Medication is typically prescribed by a physician or psychiatrist. Examples of medications that may be used to treat OCD include beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.
Many people who have OCD or other anxiety disorders find that joining a support group or self-help group can be helpful. These groups may meet in person or online. The goal of support groups is to connect patients with others who have the same disorder so they can provide mutual support and help one another cope.
Research shows that self-care and relaxation techniques may help people with anxiety disorders like OCD to experience fewer symptoms.
Examples of stress management techniques include regular exercise, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Getting plenty of sleep, focusing on nutrition, and limiting consumption of alcohol and caffeine are also recommended.