Everything you need to know about obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)

Katy Kandaris, LPC
7/26/2022
12/7/2020

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a clinically diagnosed chronic mental health disorder. People with OCD often have obsessions leading to compulsive behaviors.

You might have seen people who double-check if they've properly closed the door, or who wear a particular pair of socks for every game. This excessive vigilance makes them feel more secure and confident.

But, OCD goes beyond double-checking the doors or practicing a daily habit. People diagnosed with OCD feel compelled to unnecessarily repeat certain habits and rituals, even if it adds distress to their life.

What is OCD?

OCD is characterized by repeated, uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do particular actions (compulsions). As reported by NIMH, almost 1 in 40 U.S. adults and 1 in 100 U.S. children suffer from OCD. The average age of OCD onset being 19 years, 1/3rd of the affected individuals experienced their first symptoms in their childhood.

People with OCD may comprehend that their thoughts and actions are illogical and distressful, but they can’t do anything about them.

Obsessions: These are intrusive, unwanted, and uncontrollable thoughts or urges, which if not acted upon, lead to anxiety and stress. People with OCD may try to suppress their obsessions, but they are also worried about what if these thoughts are real? Sometimes, suppressing their thoughts may cause anxiety challenging to endure, compelling them to act upon the thoughts to relieve their stress.

Compulsions: These are the overtly repeated actions or habits that OCD people feel compelled to perform to relieve the stress and anxiety caused by obsessions. But, doing a particular habit once only temporarily relieves the obsession. People with OCD believe that performing these actions will prevent something terrible from happening.

The symptoms (obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors to repeat some rituals) may last for an hour a day, disturbing their daily life.

Types of OCD

OCD is not only about suffering from symptoms of obsessions and compulsions, but also the focus of these symptoms. Typically, OCD symptoms fall in four primary categories, known as symptom dimensions of OCD. Talking about these four dimensions of OCD symptoms is like looking at four different sides of a box. The symptoms don’t persist exclusively. People may suffer from symptoms of one or more categories in combination. The four types of OCD include:

  • Contamination: People have repetitive, unwanted and fearful thoughts of being dirty or contaminated (obsessions). They tend to excessively wash and sanitize their hands over and over again or throw away the objects which seem to be contaminated (compulsion). It is a widespread perception when people hear the term ‘OCD’.
  • Perfection: People have overwhelming thoughts (obsessions) of getting things ‘just right’ and arranged. They will spend undue amounts of time in orderly placing everything in a specific symmetry to alleviate distress (compulsions). The never-ending quest for perfection causes both mental and physical exhaustion.
  • Doubt/Harm: People have repetitive and intrusive thoughts or images (obsessions) that a little negligence by them can result in significant harm to themselves or their loved ones. They will excessively check and recheck their door locks, gas stove, light switches, and windows (compulsions).
  • Forbidden Thoughts:  People have uncontrollable thoughts of violence, sex, or against a religion (obsessions). They are always worried that acting on these thoughts will make them a bad person. They indulge in mental compulsions to avoid focusing on such thoughts. Note that despite having violent thoughts, these people never act upon their thoughts (have no history of violence). Instead, they spend their lives struggling to avoid or neutralize such thoughts with positive thinking.
  • What OCD Is Not

Nowadays, many people lightly take the term OCD to recognize someone who just needs some order in his life.

Heard any of these? You love your kitchen sink or stove to shine? You are so ‘OCD’; or, you double-check and recheck your doors? “You’re so ‘OCD”; or I need my cabinets arranged just perfect, “I’m so OCD.”

We take OCD as a catch-all phrase to describe people who are too focused on having their things “just right”. “Are they living with OCD?’’

Many movies and TV shows portray OCD as perfectionism or germ-phobia. People also think it like a distressful personality quirk.

Surely not. OCD is much more than neatly arranged cabinets, double-checking the door locks, or repeatedly washing the hands.

People with OCD, unable to comprehend their thoughts are just thoughts, live their life in a whole lot of mess.

We should be careful in our attitude towards OCD and people suffering from OCD.

Treatment of OCD

There are many proven treatment options for people with OCD. It is a completely treatable disorder. Medications like psychotherapy and other modern modalities provide significant relief for the people living with OCD.

  • Medications: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are antidepressants effective in the treatment of OCD.
  • Psychotherapy: Certain types of psychotherapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Reversing Training, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Exposure and Response Prevention, are useful in the management of treatment of OCD.
  • Neuromodulation: Neuromodulation (alteration of neuronal activity in targeted areas of the brain) is a newly emerging field of treatment for mental illnesses. Some standard brain stimulation techniques like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Deep Brain Stimulation may be effective against OCD.

Conclusion

OCD is a commonly misunderstood mental health disorder. People with OCD suffer from obsessions (unwanted thoughts) and compulsions (urge to excessively repeat certain habits). It is a highly treatable mental health issues and can be managed. If you or a loved on suffer from OCD reach out today and start getting relief today.

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Katy Kandaris, LPC
Owner & Trauma Therapist

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