• Emily Stetzer / 0 comments

What is Existential OCD?

(Trigger Warning: Existential thoughts & ideas)

“Existential OCD” or “Philosophical OCD” is not often talked about. But knowledge of this subtype can make all the difference in someone’s road to recovery.


1. It is a subtype of OCD where the obsession is about the reality of life, the existence of the universe or even one's own existence.

Many of us have come across these existential questions about the meaning of life on this earth without much of a shrug.

However, for those with a subtype of OCD called "Existential OCD," these questions can become all-consuming.


2. People with this type of OCD spend hours battling intrusive, repetitive, anxiety-producing, doubtful thoughts.

Obsessions can be, "What if everything I see isn't real?" "How do I know if I'm really alive?" "What if my whole life is imaginary?" "If the universe is so vast, and we're all just tiny, meaningless specks, why not give up on everything?"


3. Because there are no answers to these questions, compulsions leave people feeling anxious, depressed and exhausted.

Maybe you spend hours trying to make sense these thoughts, maybe you avoid certain movies or tv shows that discuss this topic, or maybe you try to get reassurance from others.

Regardless of the behavior, engaging in any these compulsions will make the OCD more debilitating.


4. Existential thoughts and questions are actually common, so it can be hard for people to get a correct diagnosis.

Existential OCD can be misdiagnosed as depression or Generalized Anxiety Disorder because the thoughts involve questioning the meaning of life. However, someone with OCD will engage in compulsive behavior, whereas someone with GAD or depression will not.


5. Giving into compulsions or ignoring the intrusive thoughts will not relieve the anxiety.

The goal of treatment is not to get rid these existential thoughts, but to tolerate them. Don't analyze, question or argue with them. Instead, try to agree with them or seek them out so you can practice sitting with the discomfort. With time - and help from a professional - you'll become more tolerant of the uncertainty and less afraid of these thoughts.


6. Mindful reminders that can help with Existential OCD?

Brave the uncomfortable

Embrace uncertainty

I am separate from my mind

My thoughts are passing clouds


This content is designed to support, not replace, medical or psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Please seek professional care if you believe you may have a condition.

OCD Resource: https://iocdf.org/ocd-finding-help/


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