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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is OCD?

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder consisting of two general groups of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. It used to be viewed as a rare disorder, yet in reality it is not rare. In fact, it affects about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the United States.

Obsessions consist of intrusive, unwelcome, upsetting thoughts and images that do not easily go away. In a sense, the brain of a person with OCD gets stuck in gear, making it incredibly difficult to shift from these thoughts that keep playing in your mind. Compulsions are the behaviors that people with OCD carry out in order to seemingly manage the anxiety and fears caused by their obsessions. In this way, obsessions and compulsions are linked together in a way that intensifies the hold OCD has over a person.

OCD wreaks havoc and chaos on people’s lives, in that it is constantly telling a person to behave in a certain way, such as washing their hands or checking the locks over and over. It sends the faulty message that “if you do these certain behaviors, then a certain fear or thing can be prevented.” For someone with OCD, it feels like these rituals must be carried out in order for you to feel safe and secure. These obsessions and compulsions are powerful, having almost a magnetic force, in pulling people who suffer from OCD to carry them out. 

Almost always, people struggling with OCD are not happy with these obsessions and compulsions. The obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming. Individuals with OCD typically feel trapped and powerless over them, and they usually can see the problems that they cause in their everyday school or work life, as well as relationships. Victims of OCD often find themselves caught in a cycle, from which they cannot see how to break free. Often, loved ones of people with OCD unknowingly reinforce obsessions and compulsions as they seek to ease the anxiety of the person with OCD.

 

What are the symptoms of OCD?

Symptoms of OCD manifest differently in each individual depending on the obsessions and compulsions the person experiences.

 Common obsessive symptoms include:

  • Fear of contamination in terms of dirt, germs, or bodily fluids

  • Perfectionism in terms of cleanliness of the home, academic grades, work performance, or body image.

  • Fear of being responsible for something terrible happening, and specifically of causing harm to oneself or others

  • Unwanted sexual thoughts and images

  • Religious obsessions, especially revolving around condemnation and guilt

  • Fear of losing control, thus being obsessed with order

 Common compulsion symptoms include:

  • Constant washing and cleaning, whether of the body or of the home or car

  • Checking and re-checking things constantly; for example, whether the locks are in fact locked, confirming that you paid the bills, or seeing what has been posted on social media

  • Repeating routine daily events over and over in a way that is time-consuming and not necessary

  • Mental compulsions, such as feeling the draw to apologize or pray constantly to rid yourself of feelings of guilt

 

Are there different types of OCD?

While there are not specific sub-types of OCD, it does take different forms for each person.

While there are not specific sub-types of OCD, it does take different forms for each person. Fear of germs and constant handwashing is a classic example, but by no means is OCD limited to someone who falls into that specific dynamic. Intrusive thoughts can occur about anything—faith and religion, relationships, and safety, just to name a few examples.

While not a formal classification of types, one way to understand OCD is that for some people, the disorder is driven by fear, while for others, it is driven by nervous system discomfort.

Fear-based OCD might say to a person “by avoiding stepping on a crack in the sidewalk, you and your loved ones will be safe.” Nervous-system OCD looks different, in that people feel compelled to do certain things because it is extremely uncomfortable for them not to do them.

 

What causes OCD?

Biologically, it’s like the brain of someone with OCD gets stuck in gear...

OCD is believed to have a neurobiological basis, in that the brains of people with OCD function differently than a person without OCD. Biologically, it’s like the brain of someone with OCD gets stuck in gear, with the intrusive thoughts running through the person’s mind over and over. Picture a train track running through the mind, in which the train keeps going around the same circular track over and over again.

Other believed causes include genetics, as OCD runs in families and is likely to span generations. In addition, there are believed to be medical causes of OCD, in that the medical disease changes the brain, which then triggers the development of OCD. Lastly, the mental-health community believes that environmental causes such as chronic stress and trauma may contribute to OCD.

 

How is OCD treated?

In seeking treatment for OCD, often the combination of medication and therapy may be most helpful. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy may be especially effective in treating OCD. Reaching out for help and support is a significant step you or your loved one can take to help navigate OCD and reduce its painful effects in your life. Without treatment, OCD often develops into a chronic, life-long condition.

Your mindset can go a long way in furthering your treatment of OCD. Attributing the intrusive thoughts and drive towards compulsive behavior to OCD instead of yourself is a significant part of treatment. Call it what it is: By naming it as OCD, you put yourself in more of a position to distance yourself from the OCD.

Also, beginning to reframe the intrusive thoughts and drive to compulsions as “false alarms” can help create some distance between you and the cycle of OCD. Similarly, reminding yourself to pause and even physically going to do something else before following the compulsions helps create significant shifts in the power of the compulsions over you. It is possible to break free from the intense hold OCD can have.

  

Do I have OCD?

 
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You may know without a doubt that you have OCD. Yet, for others, the question of whether you or your loved one might have OCD is something that you are grappling with. Meeting with a mental-health professional will give you a more detailed evaluation and discussion about your experience. 


Schedule an evaluation today at the Right Track Medical Group clinic nearest you.


OCD Resources

BeyondOCD.org Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts
Learn more about OCD including an overview of other conditions that may coexist with OCD.

Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz: https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Lock-Twentieth-Anniversary-Obsessive-Compulsive/dp/006256143X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1BFEXQATSWXK7&keywords=brain+lock+by+jeffrey+schwartz&qid=1561559183&s=gateway&sprefix=brain+lock+by+%2Caps%2C209&sr=8-1
Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD, explains how cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior modification helped his patients develop new patterns of response to their obsessions.

Obsessive Compulsive Inventory - Revised: https://psychology-tools.com/test/obsessive-compulsive-inventory-revised
The OCI-R is a self-rating scale that is designed to assess the severity and type of symptoms of those potentially dealing with OCD.

The 2 Major Types of OCD—and How to Recognize Them: https://www.health.com/anxiety/types-of-ocd
Learn more about two major types of OCD—and how they might manifest.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178508.php
This guide provided by Medical News Today includes more information on OCD types causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.