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The ABCs of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

Topics: Anxiety Disorders, Emotional Health

People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience intrusive, anxiety-producing thoughts — called obsessions — that usually compel them to perform certain behaviors over and over — called compulsions. OCD is a type of anxiety disorder, where individuals feel like they have no control over their own thoughts. These thoughts usually come in themes — such as a fear of germs or an obsession with order — and most of these thoughts are distressing. The compulsions, or repetitive behaviors, often serve to soothe the distress. For example, someone may have an obsession that they will leave the front door unlocked and will soothe that obsession through the compulsion of checking the door over and over again.

While the compulsions or rituals may soothe the obsessions momentarily, they can interfere dramatically with daily life. For instance, individuals worried about germs can spend hours washing their hands, until their skin is raw. While these thoughts and behaviors can seem overwhelming and unstoppable, OCD can be treated for a drastically improved quality of life.

Signs & Symptoms

As mentioned above, individuals experience persistent and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses. Some people realize that their thoughts and rituals are illogical, while others view them as normal.

OCD varies by person. But, for each person, the condition interferes with their life. People often spend most of their days performing compulsions and trying to reduce anxiety. Below are the most common obsessions and compulsions:

Obsessions

• Fear of contamination, germs or dirt
• Aggressive or violent impulses
• Sexually explicit impulses
• Preoccupation with order and symmetry
• Focus on superstitions
• Avoiding situations that cause anxiety, such as being in open spaces (where you fear that you can’t escape), or shaking hands (where contamination might be a concern)
• Impulses associated with religion or morality

Compulsions

• Washing and cleaning
• Double-checking things repeatedly, such as checking if you turned off the stove or locked the door
• Counting in patterns
• Performing religious rituals because you fear punishment or a bad event
• Hoarding things you don’t need
• Spending lots of time trying to keep things in order

Causes

There are many factors that contribute to OCD, such as biological vulnerability (e.g., changes in brain function or a genetic predisposition). Environment might also be to blame because the behaviors become learned responses over time. Research shows that some areas of the brains of sufferers are different from people who don’t have OCD. The neurotransmitter serotonin might also play a role. Having family with OCD and being extra sensitive to stress can increase your risk for OCD.

If you or someone you know are dealing with the symptoms of OCD, it’s important to reach out for support as soon as possible so you can get help and feel better. Learn more about treating OCD.

Treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

While there’s no cure for OCD , it can be effectively treated with psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) seems to be the most successful in treating OCD. In CBT, you learn how to deal with intrusive thoughts and reduce compulsive behaviors. Sometimes medications are used to help reduce obsessions and compulsions.

Here are some things to consider in managing your OCD:

Take medication as prescribed. You might want to stop taking your medication if you are feeling better or can’t tolerate the side effects. Before you stop, however, talk to your doctor. OCD symptoms often return once you stop taking your meds.

Join a support group. When you have OCD, you may feel alone. But OCD is a common disorder with over 2 million sufferers. Joining an OCD group allows you to see that others do understand what you’re going through. Plus, you can learn from others and share your story in a comfortable and safe environment.

Don’t take drugs or alcohol. These substances can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms.

Lead a healthy life. Having a healthy lifestyle is essential for managing OCD. That includes exercising, managing stress healthfully and practicing relaxation techniques — all of which help to reduce anxiety.