The 4 differences between worry and obsession (explained)
These are the characteristics that help distinguish between worries and obsessions.
Have you been worrying about something lately? You probably answered yes, and that's totally normal. You shouldn't worry, at least for now.
Worries are a relatively normal cognitive process in the population, but depending on their occurrence and the subject they deal with, they can evolve into other less healthy and uncontrollable processes such as obsessions.
In today's article we are going to compare the differences between preoccupation and obsessionmaking a review on what they suppose these cognitive processes inside the GAD and the OCD.
How to differentiate between worries and obsessions?
Before reading anything, think for a moment and try to answer the following question: Have you been worried about something during the day? During the week? In the last month? Surely you have found more than one issue that you have been thinking about at least during the last week. This is totally normal, you should not worry about it for now ("metaworry" I would call it), although it is true that if you were to think too much about certain issues, perhaps you should consider looking for a solution..
Be that as it may, the truth is that almost 40% of the population worries at least once a day. However, what is meant by worry to popular ears is often blurred by another idea that, even if it is a little distant, resembles it: obsession. What do we mean by worry and what by obsession? To what extent are both cognitive processes different? The truth is that we can identify many significant differences between them and, in fact, each one takes special prominence in two disorders: GAD and OCD..
To assess their differences, let's start by looking at their definitions.
What is a worry?
A worry can be defined as a chain of thoughts that are focused on a future danger or misfortune, in which there is uncertainty about the about outcomes and events that may occur 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 brings with it a certain degree of anxiety, although depending on how intense the worry is, this emotion will be more or less bearable.
The theme of the worries, manifested in the form of thoughts and/or images, are focused on everyday situations of daily life and can be understood as a first attempt to solve a problem that is seen as a threat or is perceived as dangerous, rehearsing in the mind what the person should do to be able to face it.
Although they occupy part of our attention, as a rule worries do not interfere in the performance of daily activities and responsibilities, they are easy to control. They produce a little discomfort, but this is bearable and they do not bring with them a deterioration in important areas of the person's functioning, at least if they do not occur in a too intense degree. If this is the case, we would speak of excessive worries.
Excessive worries and GAD
As we have seen, everyone has worries throughout the day. However, these may increase in intensity, become excessive and be accompanied by very high levels of anxiety, features that are part of the core components of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. This type of worries share features with the "normal" ones, only that here they occur in a more intense form..
As a rule, worries, both normal and pathological, are egosyntonic, i.e., they are in line with the person's own values. They are accompanied by symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, blankness of mind, irritability, muscular tension and, also, there may be sleep disturbances, although these symptoms are more typical of excessive worries than of ordinary worries.
Contextualizing them within GAD, we can say that worries can become a symptom of GAD. can become a very problematic symptomThis is especially so because they contribute to patients developing very rigid beliefs about the benefits of worrying. It could be said that it becomes their method of coping with fears that they believe will come true in the future, even though the worries themselves become what causes them anxiety and psychological discomfort.
The content, i.e., the subject matter of the worries, both normal worries 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, finances and other aspects of daily life.
The only difference in this regard would be that patients with GAD worry about more things, doing so more frequently, for longer periods of time and with a lesser degree of control. In its pathological aspect, worries are associated with hypervigilance and low tolerance to uncertainty.
What is an obsession?
An obsession is a recurrent and persistent thought, image or impulse that is experienced as particularly intrusive and seen as very inappropriate.. They are egodystonic, that is, they go against the person's values, causing a high degree of discomfort and anxiety. This type of cognitive processes can take over the patient's thinking, causing him/her to spend most of the day thinking about the content of his/her obsessions and, in most cases, they are accompanied by compulsions aimed at reducing the associated anxiety.
Obsessions are key symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Although not all people who have obsessions have this disorder, in fact, it is common that sometime in our lives we go through a phase in which we obsess about something, it is true that if they occupy most of our daily life they are a problem, relating it directly to OCD. if they occupy most of our daily life they are a problem, relating it directly to OCD..
The DSM-5 describes OCD obsessions as intrusive, irrational and recurrent thoughts, impulses or images that provoke in the patient a high degree of anxiety, fear and discomfort. These are accompanied by compulsions, understood as behaviors or mental acts of a repetitive nature that the person feels obliged to perform in response to the obsession, as a way of controlling the latter. Both symptoms cause a high degree of affectation in the patient, making him/her waste time and interfering in his/her daily routine.
Some examples of obsessions and compulsions (for example, fear of contagion and repeated hand washing); the need to have everything properly ordered to feel calm; exaggerated awareness of bodily sensations such as wrinkles on the skin and the need to have everything well ironed... These and other obsessions and compulsions can be perfectly recognized by the patient as irrational, although he/she will continue to carry them out.
Main differences between a worry and an obsession
Having seen the definitions between worry and obsession, we can make a review of the main differences between the two psychological phenomena.
1. Egosyntonia and egodystonia
Worries, both normal and excessive, are egosyntonic, which means that they are in accordance with the egosyndistonia.which means that they are in accordance with the person's values. They are not seen as irrational or contrary to common sense (e.g., worrying about failing the course).
In contrast, obsessions are egodystonicThey are seen as contrary to the person's values. The affected person himself can consider that to worry in a certain aspect of his life of constant form does not take him to any part and that, in fact, he is not thus nor wants to be it, but he cannot avoid it.
2. Relation to life's problems
Worries are directly related to plausible problems of everyday life (e.g., making ends meet, having a cavity, having the car break down...), whereas while obsessions may or may not be related to the patient's life, with very far-fetched ideas of what is going on in his or her life.The obsessions may be very far-fetched ideas about supposed problems in the patient's life (e.g., having an accident because he/she has not put the books in order...).
Worries, at least the normal ones, are perceived 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 something we think might go wrong.
In the case of obsessions, their content is unacceptable.In the case of obsessions, their content is unacceptable, meaning that they cause a high level of discomfort in the individual and when they appear it seems that they do not want to go away. The patient has to make compulsions to get rid of so much of the obsession as of the anxiety that causes him of momentary form.
4. Frequency of appearance
The worries appear in a moderate daily number and have a realistic content.. In the case of excessive worries we could say that they are presented in a broader form, being less realistic. On the other hand, obsessions revolve around a certain content, they change and their appearance throughout the day is much more frequent, occupying the mind in such a way that the subject cannot do other things.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)