Is It Really Anxiety Or This Invisible Illness?

Feeling anxious in our daily lives is becoming far more common. As a result, it can be hard to know if what we're experiencing is something temporary or something we may need extra support for. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an illness defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as an ongoing feeling of anxiety or dread that takes a toll on one's daily life. 

The Mayo Clinic identifies the symptoms of GAD as feeling restless and irritable, having the inability to manage worrisome thoughts, indecisiveness and an intense fear of making a wrong decision, overthinking, and engaging in worst-case scenario thought processes. There are physical symptoms too, including fatigue, sweating, insomnia, muscle aches, and nausea.

Nature notes that many mental illnesses are misdiagnosed due to a commonality of symptoms between illnesses. What may look like anxiety at first glance might be something else entirely, upon further investigation. In fact, Psychiatric Times reports that anxiety disorders can look a lot like another common disorder.

Anxiety disorder versus OCD

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines obsessive compulsive disorder as a kind of anxiety that manifests as recurring thoughts, ideas, or sensations that lead to repetitive behaviors. The Mayo Clinic suggests that people with OCD cannot stop the obsessions from intruding on their thoughts and they only find momentary relief from their anxiety when they perform compulsive rituals. This can interfere with daily life and cause extreme distress to those who have it. Thus, if one doesn't know they have OCD, it may seem like an anxiety disorder.

However, OCD symptoms are often marked by certain telltale signs, including a fear of germs, a fear of forgetting or losing something, intrusive thoughts involving sex, religion, or aggression, fear of losing control and hurting oneself or others, or a need to have things in perfect order. Compulsions that come as a result of these fears or compulsive thoughts can result in excessive cleaning or hand washing, ordering things in particular and precise ways, compulsive counting, or repeatedly checking things, like making sure the door is locked, or the light is off (per NIMH.)

Getting the right diagnosis

The Cleveland Clinic reports that there is no test you can take to figure out whether or not you have OCD. When meeting with a healthcare provider, they can only ask you questions about your experience and compare it with criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual produced by the APA.

This, of course, leaves a lot of room for a misdiagnosisNOCD says that people may often go to their primary care doctors to seek help. But primary care physicians aren't often versed in the kind of therapies an OCD diagnosis requires. NOCD reports that the average person sees three to four healthcare professionals before receiving a correct diagnosis. If you're concerned you might have OCD, NOCD recommends making an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation with a doctor specializing in OCD treatment rather than a general practitioner.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.