APEX Brain Centers

Unraveling OCD and Anxiety: Comprehensive Guide on Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, we encounter many individuals who struggle with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), either as a primary presentation or secondary to conditions such as traumatic brain injury. Anxiety, a common mental health disorder, involves persistent, excessive worry and fear that can interfere with daily life. On the other hand, OCD is a more specific condition in which a person experiences uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and engages in repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Both anxiety disorders and OCD, which are closely related, can significantly affect a person’s well-being and overall quality of life.

Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for these mental health issues is essential to addressing their impacts on individuals. While the exact causes are not wholly understood, they involve a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. OCD and anxiety symptoms vary in form and severity, making it crucial to obtain an accurate diagnosis and personalized approach to help manage the conditions.

OCD and anxiety can have you feeling like your brain, your body, and really your whole existence is tangled up in knots, making it impossible to move forward at times.  By learning more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments available, we can unravel the knots and loosen the hold, giving you hope and freedom to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.

At APEX Brain Centers, our primary focus is on providing comprehensive care to help individuals with cognitive impairments and learning and behavioral disorders, such as OCD and anxiety. Through our experience over the past two decades, we’ve found that mental health services become significantly more impactful when combined with functional neurology assessments and interventions. Our approach includes an emphasis on functional neurology, low-level laser therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and neurofeedback. Additionally, we utilize balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation, frequency-based modalities, metabolic and nutritional therapies, and home care programs to support recovery and promote optimum mental health.

Understanding Anxiety and OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety are both mental health conditions that can significantly impact a person’s daily life. OCD features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears, known as obsessions, which may lead to repetitive behaviors called compulsions. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, manifest as excessive and uncontrollable worry or fear about various aspects of life, such as social situations, health, or work.

In our experience at APEX Brain Centers, we have found that the symptoms of OCD and anxiety often overlap and can be challenging to distinguish. It is not uncommon for individuals to have both conditions, making it essential to understand the underlying causes and obtain help from a mental health professional.

The causes of anxiety and OCD are complex, often involving a combination of genetic, environmental, neurological, and psychological factors. Research has shown that individuals with a family history of mental health conditions are more susceptible to developing OCD and anxiety disorders. Additionally, environmental factors, such as traumatic experiences and chronic stress, can also contribute to the onset of these health conditions.

When it comes to addressing the symptoms of anxiety and OCD, evidence-based treatments have proven effective in alleviating them and improving daily functioning. It’s important to tailor treatment plans to the individual’s specific needs and goals, as each person’s experience with anxiety and OCD can vary significantly.

In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of anxiety and OCD is crucial for providing the most effective care to individuals struggling with these conditions. It’s essential to recognize the overlap in symptoms and the often complex causes of these mental health disorders. By offering comprehensive, evidence-based therapies and a personalized approach, we can help those affected by anxiety and OCD on their journey toward improved mental health and overall well-being.

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Symptoms and Signs

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders manifest in various ways, but some common symptoms and signs are shared among these conditions. In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, we often see some of the following symptoms in people presenting with OCD or anxiety disorders:

  • Obsessions: A person with OCD experiences intrusive, unwanted thoughts, and fears persistently. These obsessions can trigger anxiety and may lead to the development of compulsions. Some common obsessions include excessive concerns about cleanliness, safety, or orderliness, and fears of causing harm to oneself or others.
  • Compulsions: In response to obsessions, individuals with OCD may engage in repetitive behaviors in an attempt to minimize their distress and anxiety. Compulsions can take many forms, such as excessive hand washing, repeatedly checking locks, rearranging items, mental rituals such as counting or praying, and self-stimulating behaviors like rocking, tics, hair pulling, and cutting.
  • Distress and Anxiety: Both OCD and anxiety disorders can cause significant distress in an individual’s daily life. The severity of this distress can range from mild to chronic and may vary based on a person’s specific obsessions, compulsions, or worries.
  • Severity of Symptoms: The severity of OCD and anxiety can differ significantly among individuals. Severe OCD, in particular, can be highly debilitating and time-consuming, significantly interfering with a person’s ability to function normally in various aspects of life.
  • Hoarding: While hoarding can be a symptom of other mental health conditions, it is also frequently seen in people with OCD. They may accumulate items due to fears of throwing something important away or as a result of compulsive shopping behaviors.

The Causes of OCD and Anxiety

There are various factors that contribute to the development of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders. In our practice at APEX Brain Centers, we have observed that these complex mental health conditions often result from a combination of genetic, environmental, neurological, and psychological factors.

One major cause of both OCD and anxiety disorders is genetics. Research has found that these conditions often run in families, suggesting a genetic link. Individuals with a family history of OCD or an anxiety disorder may have a higher risk of developing these conditions themselves.

Another contributing factor is environmental influences, such as childhood trauma or severe stress. Childhood trauma, in particular, can be related to the development of anxiety disorders, while high levels of stress can exacerbate both OCD and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, personality traits may also play a role in the development of these disorders, with certain traits being more commonly associated with OCD or anxiety.  Further, genetic tendencies are compounded by “the apple not falling far from the tree”; meaning, genetic factors are markedly influenced by the environment in which one grows up or develops in.

In some cases, streptococcal infections have been linked to the onset of OCD symptoms. It is believed that the body’s immune response to the infection can sometimes result in inflammation within the brain, leading to the development of compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts.

Brain injuries can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, or trigger them altogether.  

Anxiety disorders often co-occur with other mental health conditions such as depression. It is not uncommon for individuals experiencing severe anxiety to also show signs of depressive symptoms, as both conditions can have similar causes and may exacerbate one another.

Different Types of OCD and Anxiety Disorders

We often come across different variations of OCD in our practice at APEX Brain Centers. Some common types include:

  • Contamination OCD: This involves the fear of germs, illness, or contamination, leading to behaviors such as excessive cleaning or hand-washing.
  • Symmetry OCD: People with this type of OCD are focused on symmetry, orderliness, and precision, leading to compulsive arranging and rearranging of items.
  • Hoarding: Hoarding behavior is characterized by the difficulty in discarding possessions, resulting in excessive clutter and adverse effects on functioning.

Anxiety disorders can manifest as various types, such as:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Typically characterized by persistent and excessive worry about daily activities, often without any specific reason.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: This type involves fears of being judged or rejected by others, leading to avoidance of social situations.
  • Panic Disorder: Sudden, intense feelings of terror, accompanied by physical symptoms like increased heart rate, dizziness, and difficulty breathing can be a sign of panic disorder.

In some cases, there may be an overlap between OCD and anxiety disorders, like in the case of trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).

Diagnosis and Who Is at Risk

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety are separate mental health conditions, but they often share common symptoms and causes. Diagnosing OCD and anxiety can be challenging, as there are no specific laboratory or imaging tests for these conditions. Mental health professionals rely on criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), along with evaluating a patient’s medical history and symptoms. 

Progressive diagnostic tools such as quantitative EEG (qEEG), sLORETA imaging, video oculography, laboratory tests, and more that we perform at APEX Brain Centers can provide significant insight into the neurological underpinnings of these disorders.

Both men and women can develop OCD and anxiety, but there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing these conditions. These risk factors include a family history of mental health disorders, a history of trauma or abuse, metabolic abnormalities, and other neurological conditions or brain injuries.

Treating OCD and Anxiety: Effective Approaches

Medications can play a role in helping individuals cope with OCD and anxiety, although they are widely over-prescribed and less invasive options can often be implemented with great success in many cases. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines like Valium, for example, are a commonly prescribed class of drugs that can assist in managing the symptoms of these conditions. However, it is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate medication and dosage to ensure the most effective and safe approach for each individual.

By tailoring our approach and integrating a wide range of therapies, our goal at APEX Brain Centers is to empower those with OCD and anxiety to achieve a greater level of control over their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life, without long-term reliance on potentially addictive medications.

Prevention and Coping Strategies

Preventing OCD and anxiety may not be entirely possible, but there are ways to reduce the risk and manage the symptoms effectively. Early intervention and incorporating certain coping strategies can help achieve a better quality of life for those affected.

We stress the importance of managing stress levels and maintaining healthy habits in our practice at APEX Brain Centers. Proper self-care, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, can help keep symptoms in check. It is crucial to recognize triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with obsessions and compulsions. For instance:

  • For those experiencing compulsions related to washing and cleaning, setting limits on the duration or frequency of these activities can help.
  • If avoidance is a significant factor, gradually exposing oneself to the feared situation can reduce anxiety over time.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation, can help in managing stress and preventing symptoms from escalating.

In addition to these coping strategies, medication, and therapy can play critical roles in managing OCD and anxiety. We also utilize balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation, frequency-based modalities, metabolic and nutritional therapies, and home care programs, focusing on comprehensive care to support recovery and promote optimum mental health.

It’s essential to remember that each individual’s path to managing OCD and anxiety is unique, and seeking professional help and support when needed is crucial.

Co-Existing Conditions and Effect on Quality of Life

Anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can severely impact an individual’s mental health and quality of life. Co-existing conditions like depression, general anxiety disorder, and neurodevelopmental disorders often accompany OCD, making it more challenging to manage and diminishing overall well-being1.

Mental health conditions can strain relationships, disrupt daily routines, and increase self-doubt. Furthermore, anxiety disorders can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions, further lowering an individual’s quality of life.

At APEX, we focus on providing comprehensive care to address the needs of individuals with brain injuries, cognitive impairments, and learning and behavioral disorders, such as OCD and anxiety. Our approach includes:

  • Functional neurology: Assessing and addressing the root cause of dysfunction in the brain and nervous system.
  • Low-level laser therapy: Using light energy to promote healing and reduce inflammation in the brain.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Administering oxygen at a higher pressure than the usual atmosphere to increase the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain and promote healing.
  • Neurofeedback: Helping individuals learn to manage their brainwaves and improve their mental state.
  • Balance and vestibular therapies, eye movement rehabilitation: Addressing any imbalances or difficulties in the sensory systems that could contribute to anxiety.
  • Metabolic and nutritional therapies: Ensuring optimal brain function through proper diet and nutrition.

Furthermore, we believe that our foundational neurological and metabolic rehabilitative therapies make other therapies more effective. In our experience over the past two decades, mental health services become significantly more impactful when combined with functional neurology assessments and interventions.

We aim to provide an encompassing, customized approach for each individual, offering a range of coping strategies and management tools to help them on their journey toward mental health improvement.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8631971/

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/

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