Have you ever heard someone say “I’m a bit OCD” when referring to the cleanliness of their house? Or when they are lining the things on their work desk up in a particular way? Well, chances are they’re actually not. First of all, because Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder which means you can’t be “just a little bit” of it, and secondly because OCD is so much more than this. Chances are if you were experiencing OCD you would certainly know it!
What is OCD?
OCD is an anxiety disorder where a person experiences obsessive, anxious thoughts and compulsions. These thoughts are repetitive and very difficult to get rid of and this leads to the compulsion which is the desire to engage in certain behaviors to address these thoughts. For example, if we’ve left the house in a hurry we may worry that we left the front door unlocked. We might even go back to check it and generally, after this, we feel better. With OCD though someone may have to check the front door 30 times before they go to work just to make sure in their mind that it is truly locked and they might do this every morning. Often people with OCD will develop daily routines like this. Considering how many things the average person can worry about in a day you can see how OCD could really disrupt your life. According to “some people who have had OCD for a long time may stop resisting their compulsive drives because they feel it’s just easier to give in to them.”
If people who are experiencing OCD are unable to carry out these compulsions (or checking behaviors)they can have a horrible feeling that something awful will happen to them or someone they love. They also often experience shame around these checking behaviors and as a result, try to do them secretly which can lead to later diagnosis, isolation and even depression.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
OCD includes a variety of symptoms such as hoarding, checking behaviors (like we discussed above), disgust or avoidance of sexual situations and an unhealthy focus on cleanliness and order. This last one is where the saying “I’m a bit OCD” originated. However, an OCD level of this is not just having the house in order but is much more extreme; such as your washing hands repeatedly until they crack and bleed. According to Dr. Jacqueline Baulch, a clinical psychologist and the director of Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, “the use use of OCD in common language contributes to misperceptions about the disorder.”
What causes OCD?
Unlike PTSD or specific phobias, OCD is not caused by any particular event or trigger. More like generalized anxiety disorder and the vicious cycle of worrying about worry. It seems to be a combination of the person’s temperament, genetic history, current life, previous life events and their understanding of the world.
How to manage OCD:
Just like any of the other anxiety disorders we have discussed on this site, OCD is simply a different “wiring” of the brain in that the brain has made some incorrect assumptions and it is struggling to fix these assumptions itself. As what Elizabeth McIngvale, Ph.D., believes it “OCD is a real disorder that affects real lives and has a terrible impact if it’s not treated. “The great thing is that the brain constantly changes and there are ways you can help it “learn” more helpful ways to work so that you can manage these obsessions and compulsions and get on with your life. This is always best done with a professional through counseling. There is a range of psychological and medical treatments that a qualified professional can provide to help you with OCD.
How will the professional treat OCD if I have it?
The most common psychological approach to OCD is CBT (Cognitive-behavioral therapy). This involves both cognitive and behavioral aspects:
1) Cognitive Aspects – here you examine the worrying thoughts (e.g. concern that you left the front door unlocked) in detail to check their accuracy and helpfulness. This helps you to begin to consider that they may not actually be that true, and this makes them less convincing to you and eventually less stressful.
2) Behavioral Aspects – in this part, you are given tools to manage the anxiety that is produced by the worrying thoughts (such as relaxation strategies). Then you are encouraged to slowly begin to “sit with” these thoughts and resist carrying out the compulsions you would normally carry out. This is teaching the brain that nothing bad happens if you don’t check the door 30 times in the morning and eventually helps you to gain some of your life back.
If you feel you may like some help with OCD (or any other mental health concern) contact your GP to find out how to access a psychologist or psychiatrist. For more information about OCD, please refer to the links below.