What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic disorder where a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over again. Engaging in these repetitive acts and thoughts is a way to reduce and manage a person’s anxiety. Many people with OCD are fully aware that their thoughts and behaviors aren’t rational, however, they are still not capable of resisting their compulsions. This is because once the brain is trained to become engaged in a particular thought pattern or urge, it’s too difficult not to give into the thoughts and habitual behaviors.
It’s common for someone with OCD to experience intense emotions that result in them performing ritualistic behaviors, these behaviors will provide some short-term relief from the stressor. For example, anxiety can increase when things aren’t done flawlessly, leading to a desire to compulsively clean. When OCD is at its most severe form, it can prevent an individual from partaking in their daily responsibilities, that are essential for a healthy quality of life.
Studies show that 1 in 50 men and women have OCD in the United States alone. In many cases, there are other mental health issues that accompany OCD, such as suffering from additional anxiety disorders, having an eating disorder, or possibly living with depression. It’s common for people with OCD to avoid certain situations and places, that may contribute to social isolation. Additionally, living with OCD can lead to substance abuse, in order to manage and deal with the urges and demands of OCD. Addiction is a form of escape from the emotional anguish they may feel.
Symptoms of OCD
Understanding Obsessions & Compulsions
Individuals with OCD usually experience both obsessions and compulsions that can present a long list of challenges. However, some people may experience only obsessions or only compulsions. The severity of symptoms may change over time but often worsens during excessive periods of high stress and/or anxiety. Below the difference between obsessions and compulsions are explained.
Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that create anxiety. Common symptoms include:
- Fear of germs or contamination
- Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, and harm
- Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
- Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought. Common compulsions include:
- Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
- Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking if the door is locked or that the oven is off
- Compulsive counting
Many People with OCD can relate to one of the following behavior categories:
Hand Washing: Having a great deal of fear about germs or dirt can lead to an obsession with keeping parts of the body clean. This behavior may become so severe that a person with OCD washes their hands a dozen times per day, creating skin irritation or bleeding.
Counting and Fixing: Wanting to place items in a particular order that may include arranging certain things by numbers or colors, is common in people who have OCD. If any details are out of place, it can create a lot of emotional distress and worry. Failing to have these things in the correct numerical order or right placement isn’t just unacceptable, but it can create anxiety so intense that it results in panic attacks. The amount of times it requires to organize these things correctly doesn’t matter for an individual that suffers from OCD because their behaviors are not part of a rational thought process.
Having Doubts or Negative Thoughts: In many cases, a person with OCD will have recurring thoughts about violence. These can include various forms of violence that may range from minor harmful ideas to more significant and disturbing ones. Most of these urges and ideas may be prohibited by religious beliefs and engaging in this type of activity may lead to a compulsion to pray excessively. This behavior can lead to a great deal of inner conflict that makes it more likely to feel emotional turmoil.
Re-checking: For a person with OCD, there is an ongoing need to check and re-check frequently, things like locking doors, turning off the stove, or closing the garage. Most individuals experiencing severe bouts of OCD may leave home and turn around to go back and check again repeatedly. This can result in being late for work, missing appointments, and disrupting daily routines.
Hoarding items: People with OCD often have an intense fear of losing items that they believe may be necessary to have, and this creates the need to hoard things. Engaging in this activity can generate a lot of concern from other family members, while also taking up too much living space in the home. Hoarding can make it impossible to have a clean home to live in, and can potentially contribute to the spread of germs and illnesses. In severe cases, hoarding may become so excessive that it can be difficult to walk through the home with ease.
Repetitive behaviors: For many people with OCD, it’s common to be repetitive in many daily activities. Doing the same thing over and over to ensure that it’s right can take a tremendous amount of effort and consume a lot of time in the process. Engaging in repetitive activity is a very unproductive way to get through any day.
Keep in mind the more severe OCD is, the worse the obsessions and compulsions may be. This can vary a great deal from one person to the next, however getting the proper treatment can offer the help that is necessary.
Finding Treatment for OCD
There are many useful treatments and complementary self-help strategies that are helpful in dealing with OCD. Self-care can significantly reduce the symptoms of OCD and can allow for a better quality of life. Working with a licensed professional is the key to finding the treatment modality that meets the needs of any individual with OCD.
It’s essential to choose the right therapist to get optimal results for the short and long-term. This means only relying on therapists with the expertise and previous training to accurately diagnose and treat OCD with either medication, psychotherapy, or in many cases, a combination of both. Some of the treatment options for OCD include:
One way to treat OCD is with prescription drugs. However, it’s important to first receive an individualized treatment plan, while seeing an OCD specialist. After your initial session, you may receive a prescription for medication that can help reduce OCD symptoms. Taking time to find a pharmacy that is convenient and affordable to fill the medication is always essential and one thing that you will want to do beforehand.
Having a thorough evaluation of the severity of your OCD and its impact on your day-to-day activities is an important component of finding the right medication and the correct dosage. Keep in mind; it may take some time for any medicine to begin to work and to get the full benefits of taking it. In some cases, it can take up to six or eight weeks for people to feel the full effects of medication, so patience is an important part of finding the right prescription for you.
In addition to medication, many healthcare providers recommend psychotherapy to minimize the impact of OCD on your daily life. Knowing some of the various forms of psychotherapy may be helpful when looking for OCD treatment:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This method of treatment can be extremely beneficial for people that suffer from OCD. In CBT, you will work on identifying obsessive thoughts that may lead to having increased feelings of anxiety, and you will work on replacing this mode of thinking with one that is more realistic. It’s important to work closely with a therapist to obtain the results you want during this process.
Exposure Therapy (ET): Allowing an individual to confront their fears in an environment that is both safe and controlled can be helpful when it comes to reducing the impact of OCD. Engaging in this type of therapy may encourage individuals to become more desensitized to specific situations that commonly trigger their anxiety.
Studies show that a combination of medication, CBT and/or ET are the best remedies for OCD. A combination of treatments is often the recommendation of OCD specialists because of the fast and efficient results that are obtained.
Working closely with a therapist can be the key to helping you have a better quality of life. Getting better requires the right amount of effort, discipline and time. This is all possible with professional guidance and motivation.
There are numerous self-help strategies that can be used in dealing with OCD’s various challenges, and these activities are easy to do on your own outside of therapy sessions:
Deep Breathing: Taking control of the day can often begin by becoming more attuned with your mind and body. A great way to accomplish this is by taking deep breaths and focusing on your breathing throughout the day. Mindfulness helps with remaining focused and keeping you away from getting off track by your obsessive thoughts. Learning meditation can be a great way to better handle OCD. Deep breathing is easy to learn, allowing you to practice techniques at your own pace.
Keeping a Journal: Working to maintain a record of what’s going on throughout each day is an ideal way to feel more attuned with your mind and body. This will only take a few minutes to accomplish and may be extremely helpful in reducing many of the obsessions that are common for people who suffer from OCD. To be successful with this self-help strategy you must be consistent in your efforts. Doing this can provide a thorough record of what’s going on each day and may be extremely helpful when it comes to living with OCD. In addition to its practical purposes, journaling is an enjoyable activity that many people find useful for reducing the stress and anxiety that accompany OCD.
Sleeping Well: Getting into the habit of sleeping enough each night can be beneficial for coping with OCD. Being well-rested can contribute to a calmer mind, which is helpful for anyone with OCD. It’s possible to experience more OCD symptoms if you are tired or have a diminished capacity to concentrate on tasks at hand each day. In some cases, your doctor may recommend sleep medication to allow you to get the rest your body needs to feel as well as possible.
Joining a Support Group: Communicating with others that struggle with the challenges of OCD can be a great way to manage this condition. Learning effective daily coping strategies with the help of other people with OCD is an excellent way to feel supported on your journey to living a full and healthy life. Having a group that is accessible and willing to provide the necessary support can be extremely helpful for any individual with OCD – visit OCDTribe.
Finding OCD Counseling
If you or someone that you know is suffering from OCD, it’s possible to get the help you need to live a more productive life. Search the TherapyTribe directory for an OCD specialist that has the expertise, training, and knowledge to help you overcome the challenges that you face.
Taking the necessary amount of time to learn more about treatment options for OCD is well worth the effort so that you can benefit from the help that is available. Finding a therapist in your area to provide the assistance you need is effective in reducing obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety that are common with OCD.
Another beneficial treatment option involves working with an online therapist. Online therapy is a convenient way to access the professional guidance you need. Living a healthy life with OCD is possible with the help of the right therapist who will offer suggestions and recommendations that enable you to live a positive and productive life, free from the burden of struggling with OCD on your own.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2016, January). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved March 30, 2019 from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders(5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
- Mayo Clinic (2016, September) Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved March 30, 2019 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) & Beyoond OCD (2016, April). Understand the Facts Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Retrieved March 30, 2019 from: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd