What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by constant bothering thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions are excessive and time consuming (occur more than an hour a day) and they cause significant distress in a person’s life and affect his/her functioning.
- OCD can occur in children, adolescents or adults.
- Symptoms usually begin gradually, and worsen with time. They are sometimes induced by stressful events.
What are obsessions?
- Obsessions are unreasonable and persistent thoughts or feelings that are disturbing and unwanted.
- Obsessions can also be mental images rather than just thoughts.
- Unlike any other thought, obsessions can cause high levels of anxiety.
- Obsessions are difficult to ignore or suppress. They can lead a person with OCD to do repetitive or unreasonable actions (compulsions).
Common Obsessions in OCD
Contamination fears include fears of:
- Contracting germs/diseases
- Body fluids (urine, feces)
- Household chemicals
Fears of losing control include:
- Fear of harming oneself
- Fear of harming others
- Fear of acting on violent mental images
- Fear of insulting others
Religious obsessions include:
- Excessive worry regarding morality
- Excessive worry regarding offending God or behaving sinfully
- Unwanted Sexual Thoughts.
- Excessive fears or concerns about having a physical illness.
- Superstitious thoughts that are of excessive and exaggerated nature.
What are compulsions?
- Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person with OCD feel forced to do over and over again to decrease the anxiety caused by the obsessive thought
- They are usually excessive in nature and are not a realistic way of reducing or preventing the anxiety.
Common Compulsions in OCD
- Washing and cleaning:
- Excessive hand washing.
- Excessive showering or shower rituals
- Excessive cleaning of household items
- Engaging in irrational or excessive behaviors to prevent contamination
- Checking repeatedly door locks, car locks, electricity
- Checking repeatedly that nothing bad happened
- Checking repeatedly parts of one’s body to ensure safety or lack of disease or symptoms
- Checking that no harm has been done to one’s self or others
- Mental compulsions:
- Praying to prevent the obsession
- Repeating activities multiple times
- Repeating body movements (tapping, blinking, etc.)
- Arranging and re-arranging items in a specific order multiple times.
- Seeking reassurance
What are the causes of OCD?
There is no single cause for OCD.
- OCD might be caused by a dysfunction in the brain chemicals.
- Environmental factors and stressors put the person at a higher risk of having OCD.
- Heredity might play a role too. Family members are at a higher risk to develop OCD than others, if they are also affected by environmental stressors.
What are the different types of OCD?
There are several types of OCD.
- Contamination is the need to clean repeatedly with the fear that a bad event will occur in case you didn’t do so.
- Symmetry and ordering is the need to order items in a specific manner repeatedly.
- Checking and repeating.
- Intrusive repetitive thoughts.
- Hoarding is the difficulty to throw useless possessions away, coupled with anxiety when an attempt is made to discard them. It has a great impact on the individual’s quality of life. It can lead to anxiety and depression, and can cause health and safety risks.
Is there a treatment for OCD?
The treatment may not result in a cure but can help control the symptoms of OCD. OCD is sometimes coupled with other types of anxiety disorders that make it more difficult to diagnose and treat. There are several effective treatments for OCD. These treatments might be used alone or in combination to achieve the best results.
Different individuals may do better with either medications or psychotherapy; most individuals however do best with both treatments together.
If left untreated, OCD can be disruptive to one’s daily life. It can contribute to other mental health problems such as depression and may lead to suicide.
If you have OCD, below are the common treatments:
- Medical Treatment
- A variety of medications, specifically anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, are used to help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Always make sure to take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
- Medications may usually take up to several weeks in order to start working.
- Medications may have mild effects on some people. These side effects may only be temporary and disappear after a while. Make sure to inform your doctor if you are experiencing any side effects.
- Psychological treatmentIt is a process in which a professional in mental health talks to you about strategies that help you understand and deal with your OCD.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common psychotherapy treatment used for OCD. It helps you recognize and change your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
- Exposure and response prevention (ERP) slowly exposes you to the object of your fear and helps you find effective ways to deal with it.
- Brain Stimulation
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a new brain stimulation procedure. Please refer to the “DBS” handout for more information.
- Lifestyle changes A big part of dealing with OCD requires you to distract yourself from obsessive thoughts and engage yourself in more healthy and productive activities. Ruminating over your obsessions and isolating yourself will only increase the severity of OCD.Do not let OCD affect your daily routine.
- Improve your nutrition.
- Regulate your sleep.
- Reduce your stress by meditating or learning breathing exercises.
- Go out with friends and family members.
- Engage in support groups.
Tips for Coping with OCD
- Acknowledge and face your fears.
- Learn about the OCD cycle in order to control your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior.
- Remember that engaging in the compulsive behavior only causes a temporary relief of your anxiety.
- Keep in mind that anxiety will recur if you respond to the obsessive thought with a compulsion.
- Keep an OCD diary like the one below to improve your therapy process.
- Get to know your triggers, and rate them accordingly in order to better understand your OCD, and overcome it.
How are family members affected by OCD?
- Living with someone who has OCD can become distressing, upsetting and disruptive.
- As a family member, it is important to understand what the person is going through. This can be done through educating yourself about OCD, and finding ways to help the person overcome it.
- There are several ways to show your support to the person dealing with OCD:
- Encourage the person to talk about the disorder and help you understand it.
- Encourage the person to seek professional help.
- Remove the stigma associated with OCD by reinforcing the fact that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Encourage improvements, no matter how small they are.
- Try to maintain normal routines and regular family gathering such as birthdays in order to reinforce positive traditions.
- If you find yourself under a lot of stress, take some time off and learn some relaxation techniques to help you cope.