Not to be confused with perfectionism or meticulous behavior, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric anxiety disorder characterized by recurring, uncontrollable thoughts and/or obsessions, and by ritualized tasks or behaviors an individual feels compelled to perform.
Obsessions are non reality-based thoughts, images and impulses that recur in an individual’s mind. These involuntary worries and thoughts are accompanied by distressing feelings or obsessions of fear, disgust, doubt.
Common Obsessions Include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt
- Fear of not having items needed, or misplacing them
- Violent, sexual images or thoughts
- Worry of causing harm to oneself or others
- Extremely superstitious
- Everything must be in order and symmetrical
- Severe focus on moral and religious ideas
A compulsion is the repetitive behavior or ritual which come in response to the obsessive thoughts and concerns. Although the individual believes this behavior will relieve the obsession, they may experience more anxiety and stress. Individuals are often not aware of the unrealistic and irrational nature of their compulsions.
Common Compulsive Behaviors Include:
- Hand washing
- Need to excessively double-check
- Systematic counting or sorting
- Fear of “going crazy”
Medical professionals are still unsure of how OCD develops but some experts believe the disorder is related control issues from an unstable childhood experience. Doctors consider genetics to be a possible factor but studies are still being conducted. Other theories on what causes OCD, such as major life changes, streptococcal infection and illness are still being researched.
OCD treatments have shown to be effective in decreasing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. The favored combination of medication and behavioral therapy seems to offer the greatest opportunity for long-term improvement.
Exposure and response therapy shows the most significant results. The individual experiencing this type of OCD therapy will be continually exposed to the resource of their obsession, and then be prohibited from engaging in their compulsive ritual to relieve the anxiety triggered by the obsession. Individuals participating in this treatment will learn to mange their anxiety and control it in a healthy, freeing way.
Other Treatment Options
Cognitive therapy is another common treatment for OCD. It focuses on targeting the intrusive thoughts and ideas, and will aid the individual in challenging the negative thoughts and feelings.
Anti-depressants like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are used to increase the serotonin levels in the individual’s brain. Medication, although shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms, causes a high relapse rate when discontinued. Very few individuals experience full relief with medication alone.
Family therapy is a recommended method of OCD support. Motivation to understand OCD, give loving support and diminish family conflicts can be achieved through family therapy.
OCD support groups, or group therapy, are a helpful and comforting way to interact, encourage and support other individuals who suffer with OCD. They are also a beneficial outlet to lessen feelings of isolation.
Self-Help Options Include:
- Educating yourself about OCD through books, the internet and doctors
- Exercise the skills you have been taught in therapy
- Remain closely connected to friends, family and support groups
- Practice meditating, yoga, deep breathing or stress relief to manage anxiety