Anxiety Disorders/OCD vs. Situational Stress

Because the treatment for anxiety disorders/OCD and situational stress differ, it is important to know the difference between the two conditions.

Anxiety Disorders/OCD

When children have anxiety disorders/OCD they are very afraid, nervous, or worried about typical daily experiences that would not bother most children their age. For some kids with OCD, rather than feeling nervous or worried, they feel “grossed-out” by things or feel the need to make things “just-right.” In both cases, children feel anxious or upset, even when there is nothing happening around them that would be very frightening or bothersome to most other kids.Treatment for anxiety disorders and OCD involves helping kids learn through facing their fears in a series of experiments that they were more nervous than they really needed to be. The children begin to feel better as they learn that their fears or worries are unlikely to come true. Anxiety Coach is for children and families dealing with anxiety disorders and OCD.

Situational Stress

On the other hand, situational stress is a child’s reaction to a difficult situation that most children of that age would find upsetting. At these times children may feel worried, nervous, angry, sad, or frustrated. They may feel or act more upset than other children, but their thoughts and feelings about the stressful situation are similar to how we would expect most kids of that age to react.Treatment for situational stress involves helping children use strategies to cope with emotional distress until the stressful situation improves or they adjust to the situation. Children feel better by having strategies to solve problems that can be solved and having support to handle situations that cannot be fixed. The Family Stress Resource Center is for children and families coping with upsetting changes, events, or challenges in their lives. To get started, decide which program best meets your child's needs.

What’s the difference between anxiety disorders/OCD versus situational stress?

Anxiety Disorder/OCD Situational Stress
Main feelings Worry, fear, nervousness, grossed-out, things aren’t “just-right” Worry, fear, nervousness, anger, sadness
Other feelings Anger, sadness, frustration when kids aren’t able to avoid what they fear. Anger, sadness, frustration about what is happening in their life.
How did it start? Usually unclear; some kids always felt this way and it got worse over time. If something set it off, that is over now. A current or recent upsetting change, event, or experience is making life more difficult.
How would other kids react? Most kids would not be bothered, or if they were, they could handle it. Most kids would also be upset, although some would be more upset than others.
What is the goal of treatment? Help kids learn that the things they fear or that bother them are not as scary or bad as they think Support kids through difficult times until the upsetting situation improves or they have time to adjust
What does treatment include? Facing fears through a series of small experiments Coping and problem-solving techniques

It is important to note that kids can experience both anxiety disorders and situational stress at the same time or at different times in their lives.


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Anxiety Coach

Begin Anxiety Coach for anxiety disorders and OCD

Family Stress Resource Center

Begin the Family Stress Resource Center for situational stress