Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fear of being late

By Andrea Fine

Nov 18, 20226 minute read

What is OCD focused on fears of being late?

People experiencing Responsibility OCD focused on a fear of being late are likely to feel intense worry about how their actions or mistakes may negatively impact others. For example, they may have intrusive thoughts like “If I am late to work, it could change the whole course of my life” or “If I have to hurry to work, I’ll get in a car accident.”

People with this form of OCD may fear that being late could cause something bad to happen, and they fear it would be their fault. People who suffer from any theme of OCD often experience a sense of inflated responsibility, so while being late may be an inconvenience to others, it can feel like a grave threat to people with OCD.

Excessive fears about being late may also involve concerns about their reputation, value, or identity: “If I am late it means I am irresponsible, and people will judge me poorly.” People with these fears often put a lot of emphasis on how their actions will be viewed by others. They may fear that if they are late to work they will be fired or punished. In many ways, this form of OCD can be similar to Perfectionism OCD.

Fear of being late – Common obsessions

  • What if I am late and I miss something important?
  • What if I am late and I am punished or fired?
  • What if I am late and it causes something terrible to happen?
  • How can I be sure that my being late didn’t result in something bad happening to someone else?
  • If I’m late, it will mean I’m a lazy person
  • If I’m late, people will think I’m irresponsible and careless
  • What if I take too long to respond to this email?

Do these experiences sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

Here at NOCD, we know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can be—and how hard it is to open up about your experience. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist who has experience treating OCD.

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Common triggers

People with fears of being late in OCD may be triggered by situations involving events, schedules, travel, or figures of authority. They may be triggered by feeling rushed, feeling like they are falling behind, or dependent on others for their schedule.

They may also be triggered by communication or assignments: “What if I don’t text back soon enough and they think I don’t care about them?” “If I don’t submit this document before the day it’s due, my boss will think I’m lazy.” These thoughts can attach to virtually anything involving tasks or time commitments that one has made, especially those that are especially important or valuable.

Common triggers for people with fears of being late in OCD may include:

  • Running late
  • Depending on others for their schedule
  • Receiving important texts or emails
  • Important events or travel
  • Important due dates

How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD focused on a fear of being late or if I’m just being responsible and careful?

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; and 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know that you’ll be on time with absolute certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts and worries about being late can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily and trust in their own knowledge and abilities; however, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that if something could possibly happen that they need to avoid it, or if they feel the slightest uncertainty about their schedule, then they must do something about it

People who are experiencing responsibility-themed OCD may also display what’s known as magical thinking. This often makes the most unthinkable, unlikely outcomes feel like urgent threats—even outcomes that are impossible. Obsessive thoughts like “If I’m late, my boss will fire me” or “If I’m late, I’ll have bad luck for the entire week” are examples of this..

Common compulsions

When people with fears of being late in OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions. Compulsions are physical or mental acts that one does to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts, or to prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again. Performing compulsions often inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger. 

Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with fears of being late in OCD may include:

  • Repetitively reviewing schedules and travel details
  • Leaving excessively early for commitments
  • Writing down schedules with extreme precision
  • Repetitively checking weather forecasts
  • Checking the time excessively
  • Asking the time frequently
  • Rumination on potential outcomes
  • Reckless behavior in order to be on time

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NOCD Therapists have used ERP therapy to help thousands of people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about accessing ERP therapy with NOCD.

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How to treat fear of being late

Fears of being late in OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle.

ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average.
In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger intrusive worries about being late. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to the resulting anxiety by engaging in compulsions. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty about being late for things.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat fears of being late in OCD may include: 

  • Purposefully arriving a minute late for work or a meeting
  • Respond to emails over an hour after receiving them
  • Not looking at the time for an entire day
  • Write out the worst-case scenario of being late and read it out loud several times per day

If you’re struggling with OCD, I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

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