Today we’re diving into the difference between actually having OCD and liking things a certain way or having common habits/behaviours. We’ll be looking at symptoms, signs, side effects and treatment to help you or a loved one get the help needed…
What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a common mental health anxiety disorder which involves having obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours or repetitive rituals. It can affect anybody at any age.
“I’m OCD about X” is such a common phrase and doesn’t help with the stigma around the disorder. It is important to note that OCD isn’t just about liking things a certain way, in order or feeling more comfortable when you know you have done something.
OCD affects people differently but usually causes a particular pattern of thoughts and behaviours. It is, however, possible to have one or the other but most people with OCD will experience both. In which case this disorder can become a vicious circle consisting of four main steps:
- Obsessive Thoughts
An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive and unpleasant thought, image or urge that keeps entering your mind.
The obsessive thoughts provoke feelings of intense anxiety or unease. They become very disturbing and distressing, creating a feeling that you have no control over what you are thinking. Fear then sets in. A person with OCD will find the obsession immoral and feel repelled at the thought of acting upon it.
- Compulsive Behaviour
A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or ritual that you feel you need to carry out, as a result of the anxiety and distress you are feeling, to relieve the obsessive thought(s) you are having in an attempt to make the obsession go away.
- Temporary Relief
The behaviour or ritual that you undertake only relieves your feelings of anxiety temporarily. That, along with the obsession quickly returns and the cycle begins again.
The cycle of obsessions and compulsions can become so extreme that it takes up a lot of time and interferes with your day to day functioning in life.
With the help of treatment and self-help strategies it is possible to manage OCD symptoms and take back control of your life.
Causes of OCD
Researchers have not yet been able to distinguish the cause of OCD and there are many conflicting suggestions. It could be one or a combination of the following:
- Genetic inheritance – it may be passed on through your family
- Pregnancy and birth complications
- Learned behaviours
- Brain chemistry – Neurotransmitters in the brain – high activity or a chemical imbalance in the brain, particularly low levels of Serotonin
- Environmental or traumatic/stressful events that may trigger the disorder.
OCD Signs and Symptoms
- Intense fear
- Having ruminating thoughts
Common Obsessive Thoughts Include:
- Having aggressive thoughts and fear of deliberately or accidentally harming yourself or others
- Having intrusive thoughts and worrying that you are a dangerous person because you may do something which is violent or abusive
- Experiencing persistent and unwanted sexual thoughts or images
- Having religious blasphemous thoughts which are against your religious beliefs and that you cannot be cleansed of your sins
- Fear of dirt, germs or contamination – worrying that you may or have been contaminated or that you or others are spreading disease
- Fearing something bad will happen if things are not in the right place or in the right order.
Common Compulsions Include:
- Excessive checking of things (for example, doors and windows are locked, appliances and switches are turned off, electricity/gas/water is turned off)
- Cleaning or hand washing (can cause red, raw bleeding skin)
- Hair pulling resulting in hair loss or bald spots
- Counting to a certain number
- Placing items in a particular order and symmetrically (for example, food cans all facing the same way in the cupboard)
- Repeating certain words, names or phrases in your head or out loud
- Going over the same thoughts in your head until they feel right
- Touching or tapping things in a particular order or at a certain time
- Hoarding physical objects
- Memory hoarding and retracing past memories
- Continually praying
- Avoiding certain places, specific situations or people that can trigger obsession
Some people with OCD may also have or develop other serious mental health problems, including:
- Eating Disorders
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Hoarding Disorder.
Visit your GP who will talk to you about your symptoms and can then refer you to a local psychological therapies service if necessary. Alternatively, you can refer yourself straight to the psychological therapies service in your area.
Some of the treatment options available for OCD include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour.
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) – a type of CBT therapy, which helps you confront your obsessions and resist the urge to carry out compulsions. It involves gradually exposing you to a feared object or obsession, such as dirt, in a controlled and supported way in order for you to learn ways to cope with your Anxiety.
- Medication may be offered in conjunction with CBT such as:
Antidepressants – recommended for the treatment of OCD. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely used type of Antidepressant. They work by increasing Serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It’s thought to have a good influence on mood, emotions and sleep. As with any medication, there may be side effects.
Tranquillisers – if you are experiencing very severe anxiety you may be offered tranquillisers.
Beta-blockers – occasionally prescribed to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Self Care Tips For OCD
- Talk to family and friends or any other person you trust and feel comfortable talking to so that you have a support network
- Access practical information or resources to develop your own coping strategies. There are helplines, apps and groups available for all levels of support needed.
- Attend a support group. If you feel unable to do this, use an online support group.
- Spend time with family and friends
- Attend all therapy appointments
- Learn relaxation techniques – yoga, mindfulness meditation, massage, aromatherapy and herbal treatments
- Do exercise or any physical activity – it will help you manage your anxiety
- Try to get enough sleep
- Eat a well balanced and nutritious diet (avoid too much sugar and caffeine)
- Only drink alcohol in moderation.
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