What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a brain disorder characterized by unwanted obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior meant to reduce anxiety caused by these unwanted thoughts. Individuals with OCD often recognize their thoughts and behavior as irrational – but still feel unable to resist them. Their brain is “stuck” on a particular thought or urge. Performing ritualistic behaviors only provides temporary relief, and often not performing them perfectly can increases anxiety. When OCD becomes severe, it can keep a person from performing the responsibilities necessary to lead a normal life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD affects about 1 in 50 men and women in the United States. In addition, OCD is often accompanied by additional mental health disorders such as another anxiety disorder, an eating disorder or even depression. To further complicate matters, people with OCD may try to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessions, or they may use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves.

Symptoms of OCD: Understanding Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) typically have both obsessions and compulsions, however some experience only one or the other. The severity of symptoms varies over time, but often worsens during times of stress.

Most individuals with OCD can relate to one of the following categories:

  • Washing and Cleaning: They are afraid of contamination by germs or dirt and develop elaborate, time-consuming cleaning or hand-washing behaviors.
  • Counting and Arranging: They are obsessed with order and symmetry and often develop superstitious beliefs about certain numbers, colors or arrangements.
  • Doubt or Sin: They are preoccupied with unwanted thoughts of violence and harm toward loved ones, explicit sexual acts, or other thoughts that are prohibited by their religious beliefs and can develop a compulsion to pray excessively, or fret that tasks must be completed perfectly to prevent punishment.
  • Checking: They are filled with doubt and feel the need to repeatedly check things that they associate with possible harm or danger (locking doors, turning off appliances)
  • Hoarding: They are afraid of losing or not having something they might need, so they begin to hoard things they don’t need. (old newspapers, empty food containers)

Find Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

There are many effective treatments and complementary self-help strategies that can significantly reduce the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy have the most research supporting their effectiveness. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying the obsessive thoughts that lead to feelings of anxiety and correcting or re-purposing the thinking process toward a more positive (non-compulsive) response. Exposure therapy allows a person to confront their fears in a safe, controlled environment. Then, through repeated exposure a person can desensitize themselves to situations that typically trigger their anxiety.

If you or a someone you know is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, help is available. Search TherapyTribe therapist directory for an OCD specialist and learn more about treatment options for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).