The 4 differences between worry and obsession (explained)

Have you been worried about anything lately? You probably answered yes, and that’s totally normal. You don’t have to worry, at least for now.

Worries are a relatively normal cognitive process in the population, but depending on their occurrence and the subject on which they can evolve into other less healthy and uncontrollable processes such as obsessions.

In today’s article we will compare the differences between worry and obsession, by examining what these cognitive processes involve within TAG and OCD.

    How to tell the difference between worries and obsessions?

    Before reading anything, think for a moment and try to answer the following question: Did you worry for any reason during the day? And the week? What about last month? You’ve probably come across more than one topic you’ve been browsing, at least, over the past week. This is completely normal, you don’t have to worry for now (“metoccupy” I would say), although it is true that if you overthink the issues you might have to consider looking for a solution.

    Either way, the truth is that almost 40% of the population gets worried at least once a day. However, often what we mean by worry in popular ears is blurred by another idea which, although a little distant, resembles him: obsession. What do we mean by worry and obsession? How are the two cognitive processes different? The truth is that we can identify many significant differences between them and, in fact, each. takes on particular importance in two disorders: TAG and OCD.

    To assess the differences, let’s start by looking at their definitions.

      What is a concern?

      A concern can be defined as a chain of thoughts that focuses on a future danger or misfortune, in which there is uncertainty on the results and facts that may arise in the short, medium or long term. In this cognitive process, the future threat is interpreted as unpredictable and uncontrollable to a greater or lesser extent, which causes it to carry a certain degree of anxiety, although depending on the intensity of the worry, this emotion will be more or less bearable. .

      The theme of concerns, manifested in the form of thoughts and / or images, is centered on situations of everyday life. and they can be understood as a first attempt to solve a problem which is perceived as a threat or perceived as dangerous, by repeating in the mind what the person should do in order to be able to cope with it.

      Although they occupy part of our attention, as a rule, concerns do not interfere with the performance of daily activities and responsibilities, they are easy to control. They cause some discomfort, but it is bearable and does not lead to impairment in important areas of the person’s functioning, at least if they do not occur excessively. If that were the case, we would be talking about undue concerns.

      Excessive worry and TAG

      As we have seen, everyone has concerns throughout the day. However, these can increase in intensity, become excessive and be accompanied by very high anxiety levels, traits that are among the essential components of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. These types of concerns share traits with the “normal”, but here they occur more intensely..

      Typically, concerns, both normal and pathological, are self-syntonic, that is, they arise according to the person’s own values. They are accompanied by symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, empty mind, irritability, muscle tension and, also, there may be sleep disturbances, although these symptoms are more typical of excessive worry than of currents.

      By contextualizing them within the TAG, we can say that the concerns they can become a very problematic symptommainly because they help patients develop very rigid beliefs about the benefits of worrying. You could say that this becomes the method of dealing with fears that they believe will come true in the future, even if their own worries become what causes them anxiety and psychological distress.

      The content, that is, the topic on which the concerns are concerned, both normal and those of people with GAD, do not differ much. They can focus on all kinds of important aspects of the patient’s life, such as health, friends, family, work, school, economy, and other aspects of daily life.

      The only difference in this regard would be that patients with GAD worry about more things, doing it more often, in duration, and with less control. On the pathological side, concerns are associated with hypervigilance and a low tolerance for uncertainty.

        What is an obsession?

        An obsession is a recurring and persistent thought, image, or impulse that is experienced in a particularly intrusive way and viewed as highly inappropriate.. They are egodistonic, that is, they go against the values ​​of the person, causing a high degree of discomfort and anxiety. These types of cognitive processes can override the patient’s thinking, causing them to spend most of the day thinking about the content of their obsessions, and most of the time they are accompanied by compulsions aimed at reducing anxiety. associated.

        Obsessions are key symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. While not all people who have obsessions have this disorder, in fact, it is common that at some point in our life we ​​go through a phase in which we become obsessed with something, it is true. than in the case of occupying most of our daily lives, they are a problem, connecting it directly to OCD.

        DSM-5 describes OCD’s own obsessions as intrusive, irrational, and recurring thoughts, impulses or images that cause the patient to have a high degree of anxiety, fear and discomfort. These are accompanied by compulsions, understood as repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels compelled to perform in response to the obsession, as a control of the latter. Both symptoms cause a high degree of affection in the patient, wasting time and interfering with the daily routine.

        Some examples of obsessions and compulsions (for example, fear of being infected and of washing hands repeatedly); need to have everything arranged well to feel calm; exaggerated awareness of bodily sensations such as folds of clothes on the skin and the need to iron everything well… These and other obsessions and compulsions may be perfectly recognized by the patient as irrational, although he will continue to perform them.

          Key differences between a preoccupation and an obsession

          After seeing the definitions between worry and obsession, we can look at the main differences between the two psychological phenomena.

          1. Egosyntonia and egodistonia

          Worries, both normal and excessive, are self-syntonic, which means that they are in tune with the person’s values. They are not seen as irrational or contrary to common sense (for example, worrying about suspending class).

          On the other hand, obsessions are selfish, perceived as contrary to the values ​​of the person. The sufferer himself may find that worrying about a certain aspect of his life is constantly getting him nowhere and that in fact he is not like that and does not want to be, but he cannot. not avoid it.

            2. Relationship with the problems of life

            The worries are directly linked to plausible problems in everyday life (for example, arriving at the end of the month, having cavities, damaging the car …), while obsessions may or may not be linked to the patient’s life, with very sophisticated ideas about supposed problems in his life (for example having an accident for not ordering books …).

              3. Acceptability

              Worries, at least normal ones, are seen as acceptable, in the sense that they come to mind and then go away.. They are there like any other recurring thought that may come to us, only in this case it is about approaching something that we think could go wrong.

              In the case of obsessions, the content is unacceptable, coming to say that they cause great discomfort to the individual and when they appear it seems that they did not want to leave. The patient has to do compulsions to get rid of both the obsession and the momentary anxiety that it causes.

                4. Frequency of occurrence

                Concerns are presented in a moderate daily count and have realistic content. In the case of excessive concerns, we could say that they are presented more broadly and are less realistic. Instead, the obsessions revolve around a certain content, they change, and their occurrence throughout the day is much more frequent, occupying the mind so that the subject cannot do anything else.

                Bibliographical references

                • Bados, A. (2015). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: nature, evaluation and treatment. University of Barcelona.
                • Bados, A. (2015). Generalized anxiety disorder: nature, evaluation and treatment. University of Barcelona.
                • Davila, W. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Northern Mental Health, 12 (49).
                • Morilla, SG, Lopez, AB, & García, CS (2012). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of a person with generalized anxiety disorder. Anuari de psicologia / The UB Journal of Psychology, 42 (2), 245-258.
                • Muñetón, MJB (2012). Cognitive-behavioral treatment with a graded cognitive exposure component in generalized anxiety disorder. GEPU Journal of Psychology, 3 (2), 256-268.
                • González, M., Bethencourt, JM, Fumero A. and Fernández, A. (2006)., No. 2, p. Spanish adaptation of the “Why worry?” Questionnaire. Psychotheme. Flight. 18, no. 2, p. 313-318.

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