Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualised behaviours you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognise that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are irrational – but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove twenty times to make sure it’s really turned off, wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw, or drive around for hours to make sure that the bump you heard while driving wasn’t a person you ran over.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) fall into one of the following categories:
- Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
- Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.
- Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen or they will be punished.
- Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order andsymmetry. They may havesuperstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.
- Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.
Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviours does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder.With OCD, these thoughts and behaviours cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
OCD signs and symptoms: Obsessive thoughts
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
- Fear of causing harm to yourself or others.
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images.
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas.
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need.
- Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right.”
- Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.
OCD signs and symptoms: Compulsive behaviours
Common compulsive behaviours in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe.
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety.
- Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning.
- Ordering or arranging things “just so.”
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear.
- Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers.
Four Steps for Conquering Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour, offers the following four steps for dealing with OCD:
- RELABEL – Recognise that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the result of OCD. For example, train yourself to say, “I don’t think or feel that my hands are dirty. I’m having an obsession that my hands are dirty.” Or, “I don’t feel that I have the need to wash my hands. I’m having a compulsive urge to perform the compulsion of washing my hands.”
- REATTRIBUTE – Realise that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is caused by OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Tell yourself, “It’s not me—it’s my OCD,” to remind you that OCD thoughts and urges are not meaningful, but are false messages from the brain.
- REFOCUS – Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes. Do another behaviour. Say to yourself, “I’m experiencing a symptom of OCD. I need to do another behaviour.”
- REVALUE – Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It is not significant in itself. Tell yourself, “That’s just my stupid obsession. It has no meaning. That’s just my brain. There’s no need to pay attention to it.” Remember: You can’t make the thought go away, but neither do you need to pay attention to it. You can learn to go on to the next behaviour.
Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The most effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder is often cognitive-behavioural therapy. Antidepressants are sometimes used in conjunction with therapy, although medication alone is rarely effective in relieving the symptoms of OCD. Yoga therapy and ayurveda therapy have also been found to be effective and many people are increasingly turning to such ‘natural’ modes of treatment. According to Madhu Suri, a counselor formerly with Max and who now does private counseling, “ In my experience, about one in every fifty persons in India has OCD”. She recommends a combination of yoga, ayurveda, cognitive-behavioural therapy, good eating habits and specialised counseling.
- Mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other stress-relief techniques may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety brought on by OCD.
- Try to practice a relaxation technique for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Not only do complex carbs stabilise blood sugar, they also boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter with calming effects.
With inputs from Madhu Suri, Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D