How to Know You Have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

ANN/THE STATEMAN – Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that cause you to engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.

You can try to ignore or stop your obsessions, but that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel compelled to perform compulsive acts to try to alleviate your stress.

Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back.

This leads to more ritualistic behavior – the vicious cycle of OCD.

SYMPTOMS OBSESSION

Obsessions are usually outlandish versions of the preoccupations and worries that most people have at some point. Common obsessions include:

– Fear of contamination by germs, dirt, poisons and other physical and environmental substances
– Fear of damage caused by illness, accidents or death that may occur to oneself or to others. This may include an excessive sense of responsibility to prevent this evil
– Intrusive thoughts and images about violence, accidents and other issues
– Excessive concern for symmetry, accuracy and order
– Excessive concern about illness, religious matters, or morality

SYMPTOMS OF COMPULSIONS

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels compelled to perform in response to an obsession. Behaviors generally prevent or reduce a person’s distress related to an obsession. Compulsions can be excessive responses that are directly related to an obsession (such as excessive hand washing due to fear of contamination) or actions unrelated to the obsession. In the most severe cases, constant repetition of rituals can fill the day, making a normal routine impossible.

Typical constraints:
– Washing hands, showering, brushing teeth or going to the toilet excessively or ritualized
– Repeated cleaning of household objects
– Ordering or arranging things in a particular way
– Repeated checking of locks, switches or appliances
– Constant search for approval or reassurance
– Repeated counting up to a certain number

TREATMENT

As with every person with OCD, each case is unique and has specific needs.

To determine if you have OCD, a mental health professional will consider several factors.

First, your clinician will ask you if you experience any of the common obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD. The clinician will also want to know if your obsessions or compulsions are negatively affecting the way you function day to day.

Other factors your clinician will consider include other psychiatric conditions you may have, your family history, and any environmental, social, or physical issues you may have that may be contributing to your anxiety.

Working with an OCD specialist or someone familiar with the signs and symptoms of OCD is essential to getting a correct diagnosis. After you’ve been diagnosed with OCD, you need to have a healthcare team that can help you develop the appropriate treatment plan that works for you and your OCD, whether through talk/behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments.

BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

Behavioral therapy involves an individual relationship between a patient and a therapist.

The most effective approach used to treat anxiety disorders and OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. The goal of CBT is to help the patient learn to think and behave differently when feeling fear or anxiety. CBT can also teach social skills. A clinician may recommend a specific type of CBT, depending on the diagnosis.

PREVENTION OF EXPOSURE AND RESPONSE

Many patients benefit from a specific type of CBT known as exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP. This is often called the gold standard behavioral therapy approach for OCD.

This treatment, well supported by research, involves exposing the patient to triggers that cause their anxiety and teaching them to no longer respond to the exposure with rituals or compulsions. A specific treatment plan is created for each individual. The ERP must be used with a TOC specialist.

MEDICATION

Several different medications can be used to help relieve the symptoms of OCD. Medications are usually prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. Examples of medications that can be used to treat OCD include beta-blockers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.

STRESS MANAGEMENT

Research shows that self-care and relaxation techniques can help people with anxiety disorders like OCD experience fewer symptoms. Examples of stress management techniques include regular exercise, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Getting enough sleep, focusing on nutrition, and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake are also recommended.

SELF-HELP TIPS FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH OCD

There are many ways to help yourself besides going to therapy. Here are some suggestions:

– Refocus your attention (like exercising or playing a video game). Being able to delay the urge to engage in compulsive behavior is a positive step.

– Write down obsessive thoughts or worries. This can help identify how repetitive your obsessions are.

– Take care. Although stress does not cause OCD, it can trigger the onset of obsessive-compulsive behavior or make it worse. Try to practice relaxation techniques for at least 30 minutes a day.

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