It is perfectly normal to occasionally go back and check whether you locked the door or you turned off the oven. However, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour can reach an extreme level and the person experiencing this will be unable to shake off the feeling of anxiety. OCD is among the most common physiological conditions and it affects the lives of millions of people worldwide. However, sufferers can take back control of their life and free their minds of unwanted thoughts with self-help and treatment.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
OCD is characterized by unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts and repetitive behaviours that are turned to small, daily rituals by sufferers - they feel somewhat compelled to perform these habits. It is considered to be an anxiety disorder. If you have this conditions then you know very well that these thoughts and behaviours are absolutely irrational but even so you are unable to resist the urge. You also start to notice that you are wasting a lot of time and efforts because of your condition. This is the main difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCD sufferers realize that their behaviours makes no sense while those affected by OCPD think that their behaviour is perfectly normal.
Symptoms and signs of OCD
Sufferers have both compulsions and obsessions but there are cases in which it is just one of the two. Common obsessions include:
1. Superstitions - unrealistic attention to things considered lucky or unlucky. For example: knocking on wood, avoiding going under a ladder, asking for a three-digit number when sneezing and so on.
2. Symmetry and order - the concept that everything must be lined up properly and that everything has its right place.
3. Fear of loss - constantly checking your pockets and bag/backpack to see if your precious items are there.
4. Excessive, almost fanatic focus on moral and religious ideas. This one can actually lead to deep depression and other destructive behaviours.
5. Aggression - violent images and thoughts. Often leads to fear of causing pain to self or others.
6. Fear of contamination - hypochondriacs are classic example.
And here are some classic examples of compulsive behaviours:
1. Accumulating junk - old newspapers, boxes, jars, bottles, etc.
2. Ritualizing - praying excessively due hard case religious fear.
3. Organising everything - not only at home but at work and other places as well (hotels, public venues, etc.)
4. Excessive cleaning - constantly washing hands, fear of germs, overuse of cleaning detergents.
5. Small habits - counting things (footsteps, bites, etc.), eating food in particular order, turning the lights on and off before entering/leaving a room. Senseless behaviour.
6. Checking things, double-checking - if loved ones are safe, if electric appliances are turned off, if morning alarm is set up right. All of these things are done in order to reduce anxiety.
Understanding compulsions and obsessions
Obsessions occur in the mind. They are intrusive thoughts and images that occur again and again. When it comes to compulsions, OCD sufferers feel driven to act out rituals and small habits again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed by suffers in an attempt to make the obsessions go away - this is a self-defence mechanism. However, those affected by OCD do not realize that they are strengthening the habit of performing these small rituals. Their brain is being rewired. People suffering from OCD fall in one of these groups:
Hoarders - those who think that they shouldn't throw out things because they might need them later.
Arrangers and counters - those obsessed with symmetry. Often they are superstitious regarding certain numbers, colours, or arrangement of things.
Sinners, doubsters, religious fanatics - those fear that some sort of divine punishment is waiting for them.
Washers and cleaners - they are afraid of germs and filth to the point of paranoia. They constantly clean their homes or wash their hands. Often, they carry wet wipes and sanitizing gels "just in case".
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is considered to be the most effective treatment for those affected by OCD. It consists of two main components:
Response prevention and exposure - a repeated exposure to the obsession's source. Then the suffer must refrain from acting out the compulsive behaviour he or she might would actually perform. Sort of like fighting fire with fire.
Cognitive therapy - catastrophic thoughts are being focused as well as the feeling of exaggerated sense of responsibility. Teaching sufferers effective ways to respond to intrusive thoughts, without being compulsive.
Sufferers can improve their lives by recognising the fact that OCD is counterproductive and always keeping a mental eye on their thoughts. Finding a hobby and participating in activities that bring joy will reduce the stress levels. Eventually, the OCD condition will quiet down and the sufferer may again restart his or her normal life.