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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Many of us occasionally have to go back and double-check that an iron is unplugged or the car door is locked. But for sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so excessive that they interfere with your daily lives. And no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to shake them.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, you may feel isolated and helpless. Whether you suffer from uncontrollable thoughts, irrational urges, or feel compelled to perform the same rituals over and over again, there is a variety of help available. Educating yourself about OCD symptoms and treatment is an important first step.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational – but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove twenty times to make sure it’s really turned off, wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw, or drive around for hours to make sure that the bump you heard while driving wasn’t a person you ran over.
Obsessions are involuntary, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away. For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive behaviors often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) fall into one of the following categories:
Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviors does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviors cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Common compulsive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms in children:
While the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder usually occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, younger children sometimes have symptoms that look like OCD. However, the symptoms of other disorders, such as ADD, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome, can also look like obsessive-compulsive disorder, so a thorough medical and psychological exam is essential before any diagnosis is made.
The most effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder is often cognitive-behavioral therapy. Antidepressants are sometimes used in conjunction with therapy, although medication alone is rarely effective in relieving the symptoms of OCD.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves two components:
Four Steps for Conquering Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
Because OCD often causes problems in family life and social adjustment, family therapy can often be beneficial.
Through interaction with fellow OCD sufferers, group therapy provides support and encouragement and decreases feelings of isolation.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), there are many ways you can help yourself in addition to seeking therapy.
When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.
Keep a pad and pencil on you, or type on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. When you begin to obsess, write down all your thoughts or compulsions.
By anticipating your compulsive urges before they arise, you can help to ease them. For example, if your compulsive behavior involves checking that doors are locked, windows closed, or appliances turned off, try to lock the door or turn off the appliance with extra attention the first time.
Rather than trying to suppress obsessions or compulsions, develop the habit of rescheduling them.
Focus on one specific worry or obsession and record it to a tape recorder, laptop, or smartphone.
A healthy, balanced lifestyle plays a big role in keeping OCD behavior, fears, and worry at bay.
While stress doesn’t cause OCD, a stressful event can trigger the onset of obsessive and compulsive behavior, and stress can often make obsessive-compulsive behavior worse.
Start the day right with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more anxious.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment that helps to control OCD symptoms by refocusing your mind when obsessive thoughts and compulsions arise.
Alcohol temporarily reduces anxiety and worry, but it actually causes anxiety symptoms as it wears off. Similarly, while it may seem that cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety and OCD symptoms.
Not only can anxiety and worry cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety disorders such as OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCD) can get worse when you feel powerless and alone, so it’s important to build a strong support system. The more connected you are to other people, the less vulnerable you’ll feel. Just talking about your worries and urges can make them seem less threatening.
Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation can aggravate your OCD symptoms. It’s important to have a network of family and friends you can turn to for help and support. Involving others in your treatment can help guard against setbacks and keep you motivated.
You’re not alone in your struggle with OCD, and participating in a support group can be an effective reminder of that. OCD support groups enable you to both share your own experiences and learn from others who are facing the same problems.
Helping a loved one with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD):
If a friend or family member has OCD, your most important job is to educate yourself about the disorder. Share what you’ve learned with your loved one and let them know that there is help available. Simply knowing that OCD is treatable can sometimes provide enough motivation for your loved one to seek help.
The way you react to a loved one’s OCD symptoms can have a big impact.
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