Existential OCD: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

Last Update on April 4, 2023 : Published on April 4, 2023

Existential OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is not the same as the common type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is all about experiencing unwanted and repetitive thoughts that raise the level of anxiety. Some people call it “deep thinking” According to research, symptoms, and experiences of OCD can be different for everyone.

Sometimes, the symptoms can be around philosophical ideas, or sometimes they can be around fear related to human existence, the universe, or life. Therefore, it is really important to learn about the right difference between existential OCD and OCD so that we can aim for the right approach.

In this blog, we will understand what existential OCD is, its symptoms, treatment, difference, and more.

What is Existential OCD?

Existential OCD is experienced when someone repetitively and intrusively thinks about the determination of human existence. Such repetitive thinking results in alleviated anxiety, compulsive behavior, and depression.

Intrusive and repetitive thinking in existential OCD mostly revolves around questioning the purpose of life, feeling anxiety related to death, wondering what’s real and unreal, and feeling an intellect approaching doom.

Mostly, people who experience existential OCD refuse to tolerate questions related to uncertainty because they are difficult to reply to. Since existential OCD revolves around philosophical questioning, let us see what the exact relation between them is.

Existential OCD vs. Philosophical Questioning

People who experience existential OCD sometimes question the meaning or purpose of life. The philosophical question revolves around “what are we doing, why we exist, where we are, or what happens to us when we die?” With time, this philosophical questioning can convert into an obsession that starts impacting the quality of life. It can drive a person to be compulsive about:

  • constant validation or obsession about each other’s path
  • obsession related to the philosophy of life

Related Read: Difference between OCD and OCPD

Signs and Symptoms of Existential OCD

Some of the common signs and symptoms of existential OCD are:

  • derealisation
  • depression or anxiety due to intrusive and repetitive thoughts
  • obsessive thinking about the human existence
  • seeking constant reassurance or double-checking facts
  • unable to apply logic to philosophical questions or thoughts
  • constantly doubting answers or facts related to philosophy

Moreover, people experience various types of obsessions during experiencing existential OCD like:

  • purpose of living
  • constantly obsessing over the philosophical or religious path
  • doubting the inevitability of death
  • doubting the nature of the universe or existing reality
  • doubting or obsessing over the existence

Additionally, people who experience existential OCD can have compulsions like:

  • obsessively researching philosophical questions
  • pondering over someone’s existence
  • constantly seeking approval or reassurance over someone’s crossing the right path
  • doubting conclusions provided over the facts

Difference between Existential OCD and OCD

Existential OCD is not only about obsessively thinking, feeling, or behaving about something specific. But, it is all about thinking about the existence or philosophy of life which is completely different from the general symptoms of OCD.

People with existential OCD are considered to be deep thinkers because they keep on thinking about the same thing for hours without getting anything done. They are fully devoted to figuring out the existence, meaning, or purpose, which most of us don’t even bother about!

The only fact that can mark the major difference between existential OCD is that the thoughts and feelings are followed by major distress which separates people from a genuine interest in daily life and puts all the focus on existential-related inquiries.

Treatment of Existential OCD

Proper diagnosis and treatment of existential OCD is really important because the symptoms worsen with time and they cannot be managed alone without seeking the help of mental health professional. Treatment options for existential OCD include therapy and medication. Below are some of the treatment modes for overcoming existential OCD:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of psychotherapy or talk therapy that aims on changing negative thoughts into positive and healthy thoughts. CBT also makes a person learn to manage their intrusive thoughts, reaction, and emotions to daily life. CBT sessions are full of role-playing and other exercises that help determine people between positives.


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2. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is a form of therapy that revolves around exposing a person to ideas and thoughts related to their fear. It is one of the best strategies used to build resilience. It also helps in overcoming the doubting, questions, and reassurance seeking.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is used as a calming strategy. It is not used as a treatment but it can be used as a strategy to fight emotional reactions without passing judgment. Mindfulness also helps in the acceptance of life and existence-related questions.

Everyone who keeps on pondering over existence, philosophy, life, or death is at risk of developing existential OCD. If you or your loved one is having such thoughts, it is highly recommended to seek help from a mental health professional.

Please Note: We have provided this material as information. It is not intended as a substitute for medical expertise or advice. We strongly encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment with a certified mental health provider.

I hope this blog helps you understand and manage the signs of existential OCD. Comment down your queries related to existential OCD. For more such content, connect with us on all social media platforms.

Thanks for reading!

About The Author

Aayushi Kapoor
Aayushi Kapoor

Aayushi is a Content Creator at Calm Sage. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology and a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Her constant interest in the improvement of mental health, nutrition, and overall wellness embarked upon her career as a “full-time educational writer.” She likes to make an asynchronous connection with her readers. Her mantra for living life is "What you seek is seeking you".

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