You might often come across the term OCD, maybe in the newspaper or television, and randomly think you match the symptoms. Maybe you organise your desk space too much or engage in repetitive cleaning. Then comes a question, “Do I too, have OCD?” If you have pondered this question, it’s a step in the right direction toward better awareness.
Defining the O, C and D of OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a mental health condition (anxiety disorder) that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by persistent and intrusive thoughts (called obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviours (the consequent compulsions) in an attempt to alleviate anxiety. Obsessions can be thoughts, images, or impulses that are experienced as disturbing, inappropriate, and uncontrollable. Compulsions may also involve covert mental rituals such as counting, praying, or saying certain words silently over and over again. This anxiety or fear could be caused by various factors- be it the messy room that could send one into a frenzy or the compulsive behaviour or obsession that one learns over time. However, there are various types of OCD, which are rarely deliberated upon:
- Cleaning/contamination OCD
- Order/symmetry or counting compulsions OCD
- Harm OCD
- Hoarding OCD.
Cleanliness OCD, being the most commonly portrayed one, can significantly impact a person's daily life, making it difficult to work, socialise, or even complete basic tasks. In this article, we will explore the causes, signs, and symptoms of OCD, the thoughts and behaviours that an individual possesses, and the treatment plan for OCD in a holistic manner.
The Uncanny Origins of OCD
Although the exact causes of OCD are not fully understood, research has shown that it may be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. People with a family history of OCD are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. Environmental factors, such as trauma or abuse, may also contribute to the development of OCD. Additionally, OCD is believed to be related to an imbalance of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. All of these factors, however, do not act as an accurate guarantee that one will develop OCD; they are mere predisposing factors that increase one’s likelihood or susceptibility to developing obsessive compulsive disorder.
Looking Beyond the Surface: Signs and Symptoms
There are certain signs and symptoms that an individual dealing with OCD exhibits :
- Obsessive thoughts that are persistent and intrusive, such as fear of contamination, fear of harm, or excessive concern with symmetry and order.
- Repetitive behavioursor compulsions that are performed in response to obsessive thoughts, such as excessive cleaning, checking, or counting.
- Feelings of anxietyor distress that are temporarily relieved by performing the compulsive behaviours.
- Difficulty focusing on tasks or activities due to intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
You can remember these symptoms from the mnemonic: On the Red Floral Dress. Try to keep this sentence in mind so that you can instantly recognise symptoms and track back to this list when in doubt.
NOTE: Do not attempt to self diagnose; if you believe you have the above-mentioned symptoms, please contact a mental health professional at Heart It Out for guidance!
Negative Thoughts and Behaviours as a Result of OCD
The thoughts associated with OCD are often irrational and unrealistic, so you may think it does not make sense to think about them. However, for a person with OCD, it is easier said than done. For them, most of these thoughts are difficult to ignore. A good way to understand this dilemma of difficulty in ignoring persistent thoughts, is to visualise thought suppression using Mentos in Coca-Cola. Sooner or later, it gets tough to keep the substance contained. And the more we try, the more pressure builds up, in the end, it leads to an explosion! We shall explain common obsessive thoughts by using Tina as an OCD patient: :
- Fear of contamination or germs: During COVID-19, she worried immensely on her hygiene and cleanliness, often not allowing her friends to enter her house without bathing.
- Fear of causing harm to oneself or others: Tina was constantly worried about stumbling on a speedbreaker on the road. She envisioned that she would cause a road accident just by being on the road.
- Fear of making mistakes or forgetting important details: Tina has a small diary where she writes down every single date she is told. Once, her friend was narrating a story about her trip to Malaysia, and Tina kept jotting down the places her friend visited and on which day.
- Excessive concern with symmetry and order: Tina’s class teacher complains about her absence or late arrival to class every day. To this, she responds that she spends an hour arranging the fallen leaves of her jasmine plant every morning, causing the disruption.
- Intrusive sexual or violent thoughts: Her friends often find her lost in thought. When they ask Tina, her only response is that she is a very violent person, and they should stay away from her. Tina has never hurt a fly but remains in constant fear of her violent thoughts, such as wanting to get up and throw water on her teacher, etc.
The behaviours, on the other hand, are typically repetitive and time-consuming, and are performed in an attempt to reduce feelings of anxiety. Common compulsive behaviours include:
Excessive cleaning or hand-washing
Checking and rechecking locks, appliances, or other objects
Counting or repeating words or phrases
Arranging objects in a specific order or pattern
Avoiding specific situations or objects
Living Mindfully with OCD
However, OCD is not unmanageable. Although the condition is lifelong, there are several effective options available for managing the symptoms. The most common treatments for OCD include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviours associated with OCD. CBT can be done individually or in a group setting.
- Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP): This type of therapy involves gradually exposing the person to situations or objects that trigger obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours and then teaching them how to resist the urge to perform the compulsive behaviours.
- Medication: Antidepressant medications, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be helpful in reducing the symptoms of OCD.
How to Manage OCD the Healthy Way
In conclusion, OCD is a complex mental health condition, but one cannot underestimate the power of early intervention. Furthermore, guidance from experts in the field can help manage the OCD symptoms, making life easier to live without the fear, anxiety, and stigma that come with a mental disorder. We may not precisely understand the causes of OCD. Research suggests that it may be caused by a combination of factors, with varying signs and symptoms. However, nothing is impossible to manage with constant effort and patience, and remember, you are not alone. You don’t have to struggle on your own, so make sure you reach out to a licensed psychologist who specialises in the OCD spectrum. You can contact our highly experienced therapists at Heart It Out for guidance, or check out the resources we have for OCD diagnosis at our website!
Written by Yadavi ThiraniSeek Support Now