If you always run back to double check that you have locked the car door or have turned off the gas after exiting the kitchen, you could be suffering from a minor case of OCD.
OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an extreme case where the sufferer’s daily life is marred by obsessive and compulsive thoughts all day long.
To understand OCD better, one has to understand the symptoms. Most people suffering from OCD realise their compulsive thoughts are irrational, yet they are helpless when it comes to resisting these thoughts. They have a repetitive pattern of recurring, with uncontrolled and unwanted thoughts that they feel compelled to go through with.
Getting A Better Understanding Of OCD
OCD is accompanied by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are completely involuntary and can be uncontrolled images, impulses or even thoughts that recur time and again. Most OCD sufferers don’t want to have these ideas stuck in their head, yet they cannot seem to shake them off. These thoughts become distracting and can often disturb day-to-day activities as well. Compulsions, on the other hand, are activities that you feel compelled to perform day after day. Ordinarily, these compulsions are a way to keep obsessions at bay. For example, for someone obsessed with hygiene, it becomes a compulsion to wash their hands 20 times a day. But sadly, these compulsions are not able to keep obsessions at bay, which results in increased levels of anxiety.
Sufferers of OCD are broadly categorised into five categories.
- Washers are deathly scared of contamination and have elaborate hand washing and cleaning rituals.
- Doubters are always afraid that they are making errors and this will result in some kind of punishment, so they are obsessed with doing everything just right.
- Checkers are always afraid they have left something turned on and this will result in harm.
- Arrangers are obsessed with order and will rearrange their whole house every day for the perfect look.
- Hoarders are often scared that they might be throwing away something they might need in the future and hoard things that they don’t need and will never use.
The thing to understand here is that not everyone who is obsessed with cleanliness or compelled to check for safety is suffering from OCD. Only when these OCD symptoms become distressing for normal life and interfere with jobs and relationships does a person need to seek out treatment.
What Are The OCD Symptoms To Look Out For?
Most people suffering from OCD will have both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, though it is possible to have just one of these too.
OCD symptoms of Obsessive Thoughts:
- Fear of getting contaminated with dirt and germs.
- Sexually explicit thoughts or violent images.
- Fear that you will cause harm to others or yourself.
- Obsessively focussed on religious and superstitious believes.
- Obsessed with order and symmetry.
- Fear of losing things you might need in the future.
OCD symptoms of Compulsive Behaviours:
- Excessively checking and double checking locks, appliances and doors.
- Repeatedly calling loved ones to ensure their safety.
- Spending hours a day in cleaning and washing.
- Accumulating useless items in the hope they will come in future use.
- Praying for hours and engaging in elaborate rituals to stay ‘lucky’ or ‘blessed’.
- Spending half a day rearranging the house to ensure everything looks in order.
Treatment To Cure OCD Symptoms
There are various approaches to cure OCD symptoms. Cognitive therapy, self help, group therapy and family therapy are all methods to cure symptoms of OCD. The right treatment for you will be decided by your doctor, based on the extent of the problem at hand.
A. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
To treat OCD symptoms, cognitive behavioural therapy seems to be quite effective. It works in two steps:
- Exposure and Response –This entails repeated exposure to the obsessive thoughts that trigger a reaction. The therapist asks you to consciously refrain from giving in to the usual response, which will be the compulsive behaviour. As you take control of the anxiety caused by not being able to give in to your compulsion, the urge will slowly pass away with practice.
- Healthy Cognitive Therapy – Here the therapist will encourage you to distract yourself with healthy activities to take your mind off the obsessions and compulsions ruining your life. This way you learn how to respond to these thoughts by distracting yourself, without giving in to the urge of repeating the compulsive behaviour you are so used to.
B. Family And Group Therapy
Since OCD symptoms don’t just affect the individual but the family too, going in for family therapy can make life easier. Not only will the sufferer learn to handle his or her obsessive and compulsive thoughts, the family will also learn how to be able to distract the sufferer and be a part of the therapy program on a day-to-day life. This helps to reduce family conflicts and helps the family work as a unit to help the sufferer overcome the problem.
With group therapy, a sufferer can feel less isolated when he or she gets to meet others who are dealing with the same problem. Group therapies are highly beneficial, as they bring about a sense of support and encouragement.
C. Self Help To Treat OCD Symptoms
Though therapy and group therapy are all encouraging, the sufferer needs to understand a few self-help tips to be able to keep OCD symptoms at bay.
- Learn to recognise stress factors – Once you are able to recognise what triggers these obsessive thoughts in your brain, work towards keeping these stress factors at bay.
- Refocus your attention – When hit by an obsessive thought, resist the urge for compulsive behaviour by distracting yourself with other jobs. It could be going for a walk, a drive, or even talking over the phone. Keep in mind that you do something you enjoy for the next 10 to 20 minutes. Work towards delaying the urge as long as possible.
- Keep a detailed log – When you write down your obsessive thoughts and compulsion urges over and over, you will start to see the repetitive pattern in them. This will help you understand that the feelings you experience are not normal, and that the fear and anxiety you feel are totally irrational.
- Create small windows for worrying – Since you have been obsessing for years, it isn’t possible to get over it completely. Instead, create one or two 10-minute ‘worry’ periods in the day, where it is normal to check on things to get your hands clean. This way you aren’t trying to fight your obsession completely, but are rescheduling it in such a way that they don’t interfere with your daily activities.
- Take care of yourself – Try relaxation techniques, exercise and follow a healthy diet. Get plenty of sleep and avoid smoking and drinking. An intoxicated state will only dilute your resolve to fight obsessive and compulsive behaviours.