Don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders: Study finds link between “inflated responsibility” and greater risk of developing OCD or anxiety disorders
10/24/2019 // Grace Olson // Views

Having a sense of responsibility is important, but too much can be detrimental to a person's mental health. In a preliminary study published in the International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, researchers from Japan and the U.S. found that having intense feelings of responsibility can potentially develop anxiety disorders, specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 6.8 million adults are affected by GAD, while OCD affects 2.2 million adults.

General anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent and uncontrollable worrying, and it can be about a number of things, like work or school. On the other hand, obsessive-compulsive disorder is identified by constant, recurring thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions).

There have been numerous studies concerning anxiety disorders, in general. The studies are so vast and complex, these resulted in several competing theories. Yoshinori Sugiura, an associate professor from Hiroshima University and one of the study's two researchers, identified this issue as a problem.

“There are too many theories and therapies for mental disorders for one expert to master them all,” explained Sugiura.

Teaming up with Brian Fisak, a fellow associate professor from the University of Central Florida, the two set out to find a common cause – a starting link – in anxiety disorders. In line with this, they were also hoping to simplify the overly complicated theories surrounding them.


A link between “inflated responsibility” and anxiety disorders

The research duo was particularly interested in how an inflated sense of responsibility may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

The team first defined and expounded on what constitutes “inflated responsibility.” They identified three types:

  1. Responsibility to prevent or avoid danger and harm
  2. Sense of personal responsibility and blame for negative outcomes
  3. Responsibility to continue thinking about a problem

For the survey, Sugiura and Fisak decided to combine tests on GAD and OCD. There was no previous work, yet that compared the two in the same study. They set up an online questionnaire, then sent it to university students in America.

The results revealed that the respondents who had higher scores on responsibility were more likely to exhibit GAD and OCD symptoms. The second and third types of inflated responsibility had the strongest link to GAD and OCD. Both types are characterized by a need for control in situations and outcomes.

Since this was only a preliminary study, it could not yet be applied for the whole population. The researchers were confident, however, that further studies could be held on larger populations, and hopefully, also show similar findings.

Four simple steps to manage anxiety

Anxiety is a combination of feelings on a cognitive, emotional, and physical level. It can feel overwhelming at times, but there are simple things that can be done to cope with it. Here are four simple steps to get started. (Related: Calm your anxiety and stress with these 10 natural herbs.)

  1. Stop and breathe. The first thing to do is to click pause. Try to clear the mind and focus on breathing. This will help oxygen circulate better and help the body relax.
  2. Find out the cause. Be honest. Figure out the cause for the anxious thoughts and feelings. The process helps organize these thoughts and helps work out the emotions.
  3. Look at controllable factors. After determining the factors, ask whether it can be controlled or not. If not, it is best to adjust one's attitude toward it. For example, a person may worry about losing a job. Instead of focusing on that, the person can feel grateful for having one and try to do better.
  4. Focus on something else. Redirect the mind to something else. Find something enjoyable and focus on it instead. It will help calm any distressing thoughts and physical reactions.

For more information related to mental health and tips on coping, go to

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