With treatment and self-help strategies, you can break free
Understanding OCD obsessions and compulsions
OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
It’s normal, on occasion, to go back and double-check that the iron is unplugged or your car is locked. But if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so excessive they interfere with your daily life. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to shake them.
But help is available. With treatment and self-help strategies, you can break free of the unwanted thoughts and irrational urges and take back control of your life.
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 behaviours 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.
UNDERSTANDING OCD OBSESSIONS AND COMPULSIONS
MOST PEOPLE WITH OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
FALL INTO ONE OF THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES:
Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.
Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen or they will be punished.
Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.
Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.
OCD SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
Fear of causing harm to yourself or others.
Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images.
Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas.
Fear of losing or not having things you might need.
Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right.”
Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.
OCD SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOURS
Common compulsive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe.
Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
Ordering or arranging things “just so.”
Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear.
Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers.
Hoarding and other disorders
The compulsive behavior of hoarding—collecting and keeping things with little or no use or value—is a common symptom of people with OCD, even if the problem may not be severe. However, people with hoarding symptoms are more likely to also be suffering from other disorders, such as depression, PTSD, a specific phobia, skin picking, kleptomania, ADHD, tic disorders, or compulsive buying.
If you or a loved one has OCD, tell your doctor about any symptoms of hoarding, difficulty discarding junk, or obsessing about losing things.'
Source: Journal of Psychiatric Research
FOUR STEPS FOR CONQUERING SYMPTOMS OF OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, offers the following four steps for dealing with OCD:
Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the result of OCD. For example, train yourself to say, “I don’t think or feel that my hands are dirty. I’m having an obsession that my hands are dirty.” Or, “I don’t feel that I have the need to wash my hands. I’m having a compulsive urge to perform the compulsion of washing my hands.”
Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is caused by OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Tell yourself, “It’s not me—it’s my OCD,” to remind you that OCD thoughts and urges are not meaningful, but are false messages from the brain.
Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes. Do another behavior. Say to yourself, “I’m experiencing a symptom of OCD. I need to do another behavior.”
Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It is not significant in itself. Tell yourself, “That’s just my stupid obsession. It has no meaning. That’s just my brain. There’s no need to pay attention to it.” Remember: You can’t make the thought go away, but neither do you need to pay attention to it. You can learn to go on to the next behavior.
Source: Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders
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