stress anxiety related disorders icon

stress-related disorders

Stress/anxiety related disorders will affect one in eleven Americans during their lifetimes.

- National Institute of Mental Health


stress-related disorders

Know the facts.

DEFINITION: There are several types of stress-related disorders. Each has different symptoms, but all include overwhelming fear, worry and/or stress.

Everyone experiences stress. However, a stress-related disorder differs [from everyday stress] in the following ways:

  1. it is more severe, 
  2. it is longer lasting, and 
  3. it interferes with a person’s life.

Stress-related disorders include but are not limited to:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
Obsessions are thoughts, and compulsions are behaviors. When obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors accompany feelings of anxiety, the person engages in compulsive behaviors to try to calm their brain and stop the unwanted thoughts.

Symptoms of OCD:
A person with OCD might...

  • have obsessions (thoughts) that are repetitive, irrational and/or unwanted. These obsessive thoughts may include fear of contamination, the need for symmetry and exactness, safety issues, and religious preoccupation.
  • perform compulsive behaviors to try and manage their stress and control their anxiety, avoid their feelings, and/or calm themselves down. Compulsions (behaviors) can include counting, arranging, and cleaning, doing things in exact sequence, hoarding and/or checking and rechecking. Unfortunately, the ritualistic compulsions may only work for a little while before the cycle repeats.
  • understand that their thoughts and behaviors don't make sense, but they are unable to stop them.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. This may be in the form of recurring dreams of the event, flashbacks, or bad memories that won’t go away. Flashbacks are recurrent and vivid recollections of a traumatic experience. They can often be triggered by sights, sounds or smells. Flashbacks can show up without a moment’s notice, affecting a person’s ability to function. A person with PTSD may have nightmares or flashbacks even years later, after the danger has passed, and they are otherwise safe.

While many sufferers of PTSD are soldiers returning from war zones, others include victims and witnesses of other types of trauma. Other types of trauma may include child abuse, violent crime, a car crash, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, or fires. While two people may experience the same event, one may recover while the other has recurring nightmares and flashbacks.

Symptoms of PTSD:
A person with PTSD might...

  • have flashbacks, even after they are safe.
  • suffer extreme fright (e.g., when they hear fireworks).
  • experience these symptoms months or years later after the trauma has occurred.

It is not helpful to try to convince someone with an anxiety or stress-related disorder that there is nothing for them to worry about.

Treatment for OCD:

  • Medications, including anti-anxiety medications and/or antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist, can calm the symptoms of stress.
  • Working with a mental health professional can help someone with OCD manage their stress and anxiety.
  • Family and friends can also provide important support.

Treatment for PTSD:

  • Therapy that involves carefully re-exposing the person to situations that safely remind them of the trauma. 
  • As with all mental health disorders, it is very important to get early treatment.
  • A good diet, exercise, sleep, and self-calming techniques can help manage stress.
  • There are medications that are prescribed by a psychiatrist that can be helpful. 
  • Family and friends can also provide important support.


  • Using the term OCD as a way to describe someone who is particularly neat, can be hurtful and disrespectful to those who are diagnosed with either of these disorders.
  • Understand that it can be challenging to have a friendship/relationship with someone diagnosed with PTSD or OCD. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY if they shut you out initially.
  • Avoid giving advice.
  • Set aside your curiosity and don’t ask questions about what it is like for them.
  • If someone has a diagnosis of PTSD, asking them to talk about the trauma is not helpful.
  • Try to engage the person in fun activities. Physical activities and be especially helpful.
  • Be supportive and comforting by being present and respecting boundaries.
  • Be calm yourself, as this is helpful to the other person.
  • Try to create regular opportunities to connect (e.g., having lunch together every Tuesday).


  • Educate yourself about the disorder.
  • Listen to your friend when they want to talk.
  • Keep checking in with your friend.
  • Use 1st person language. Say,
    “My friend has OCD.” not “My friend is obsessed.”
  • Reassure your friend of your support and understanding.


  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It’s the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”


  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Get over yourself, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”


  • ...tell a friend to “Snap out of it!”
  • ...diagnose.
  • ...gossip.
  • ...take your friend’s withdrawal personally.

Find additional information on our Mental Health Disorders page and other suggestions on our Understanding Stigma page >>

Can you answer these questions?

  1. What do the letters OCD stand for? What do the letters PTSD stand for?
  2. What is the definition of OCD?
    What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?
  3. What is the definition of PTSD?
    What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
  4. What treatments are available for people experiencing the symptoms of these disorders?
  5. What can you do to support someone with either of these stress-related disorders?
  6. How do you think stigma might affect a person with either of these disorders?

*Hint: Read the OCD/PTSD facts at the top of this page to find the answers for 1-5. And view our Understanding Stigma page for question #6.


stress related disorders • ocd • ptsd

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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Animated Minds

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What PTSD Is Really Like

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What is PTSD?

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Know the facts.

Fact: At least 1 in every 200 kids and teens has obsessive compulsive disorder.

This is about the same number of children who have diabetes.

While signs of OCD can start at any age, the onset of symptoms is typically between the ages of 10 and 12 or between late teens and early adulthood.

- Adapted from International OCD Foundation  

Fact: General neatness or being picky does not mean someone has OCD.

Rather, people with OCD experience extreme anxiety from thoughts and images (obsessions) that force them to perform rituals (compulsions).

It is considered a disorder when symptoms last more than an hour a day and interfere with daily life.   

- Adapted from Child Mind Institute

Fact: Many people mistakenly believe that people who exhibit signs of OCD grew up in dysfunctional homes and have poor self-esteem.

Researchers believe that having OCD as an adult has very little to do with one's childhood.

However, there is a possible genetic component, meaning that OCD can run in families.   

- International OCD Foundation   

Fact: Many people who experience an extremely traumatic event go through an adjustment period following the experience. 

The stress caused by trauma can affect all aspects of a person's life, including mental, emotional and physical well-being.

 With treatment, most people are able to return to leading their lives.    

- Adapted from PTSD Alliance  

Fact: Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may not appear until years after the trauma.

- Adapted from The Mayo Clinic

Fact: Although PTSD does affect war veterans, PTSD can affect anyone.

Almost 70 percent of Americans will be exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime (e.g., car accidents, domestic violence, crime).

Of those people, up to 20% will go on to develop PTSD.   

- Adapted from PTSD Alliance



It's OK to ask for help.
Talk to a trusted adult.

Visit and access the all new YouthWell Community Resources Directory. You will find youth behavioral health and wellness resources in this resource directory.

If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate risk of harm CALL 911 immediately.

SAFTY ~ Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth 

  • 888-334-2777 - SAFTY is a mobile crisis response service available daily 8am-8pm, providing crisis intervention, phone, and in-home support, and linkage to mental health services. Available to all SB County youth, age 0-20, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. 

Crisis Text Line

  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
    Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly.

Suicide, Substance Abusee or Mental Health Lifeline

  • Text 988 - Connects callers to a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 - 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ support, and youth in crisis - provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people

  • Call 866-488-7386 or Text START to 678678

Learning about mental health is the first step to wellness. The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) can help families find medical and professional care, as well as teach important skills on how to manage your mental health. Many families in our community have teenagers who are struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. It can be overwhelming as a parent to find support for your teenager and difficult to talk about these issues. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidential space for families to connect with others, access community resources and get the support your family needs.