Obsessive about organising your closet till it looks just perfect? Can’t live a single day without your hand sanitiser? This can be a natural feeling because every one of us can be obsessed over little things in life. However, if you experience recurring thoughts that disturb you even if you try to avoid them, and count things repeatedly (such as washing your hands too many times), then you may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
You are not alone. About one in fifty people experience Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in their lifetime and it impacts everyone differently. This is what makes it a crucial topic in mental health.
Let’s dig deeper.
What exactly is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and how it impacts lives?
OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent, uncontrollable thoughts, ideas, impulses or images (obsessions) that can cause anxiety and repetitive behaviours or mental acts (compulsions) that are performed to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions. These compulsions can interfere with daily activities and can be time-consuming, causing significant distress to the person suffering from OCD.
Symptoms of OCD can include excessive washing or cleaning, repeated checking, counting, ordering, or arranging, intense fear of contamination, or unwanted, violent or horrific thoughts. People with OCD may feel driven to perform these rituals to try to prevent harm to themselves or others or to prevent a dreaded event from happening. Even though these compulsions may bring temporary relief, they are not satisfying in the long term and they ultimately interfere with the person’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being.
It is usually treated with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is considered the most effective treatment for OCD. The therapy aims to help the person identify and change negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to their obsessions and learn to tolerate uncertainty and anxiety.
Some people are lucky enough to combat it naturally, while some see its worsened effects that stay with them throughout their lives. If they do not seek professional help, their obsessions tend to worsen over time.
It’s easy to diagnose if you are affected by OCD. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Checking your front door repeatedly four to five times to make sure it’s locked. Though double-checking the door is normal behaviour, it reflects OCD when it interferes with your daily routine and even relationships.
- Excessively wash hands (at least five times) and ensure that the soap touches under each nail to eliminate germs. This act may take a lot of time and may often be the reason of getting late to work.
- Cleaning your house for hours to ease germaphobia. If your urge to clean does not stop, you tend to get fearful and anxious. When you spend a large chunk of your time cleaning the entire house, you end up losing both mental and physical energy.
- Organising your belongings in a symmetrical order not because you prefer a neat desk but because this is how you relieve your anxiety.
- Having continuous thoughts of violence that are uncontrollable. Since such thoughts are unacceptable, they force you to take repetitive actions, for instance, calling your mother several times a day to ensure she is safe from any violence.
- Performing tasks (such as cleaning or climbing stairs) while counting to yourself. Triggering fearful behaviour often creates a distraction at work.
If remained untreated, OCD can trouble your relationships, create health issues, and even harm the quality of your life. Ultimately, choosing cognitive behavioural therapy can help.
When is the right time to seek professional help for OCD?
It is important to seek help for OCD as soon as possible. The symptoms of OCD can significantly impact a person’s daily life and functioning, and the earlier treatment is started, the better the chances of recovery. If you are experiencing persistent, unwanted thoughts or urges that are causing distress or engaging in repetitive behaviours or rituals that are interfering with your daily life, it may be time to seek help. The first step might be to see your GP to have a physical health check and to discuss options; then, you are likely to begin working with a mental health professional, such as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who will help you to develop strategies to manage and reduce your symptoms.
How OCD can be addressed through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT refers to talking therapy given by cognitive behavioural therapists to help people change their thinking patterns and act accordingly. Considered one of the most effective psychological treatments for OCD patients, it treats OCD by:
- Focusing on how important your obsessive thoughts are to you and how you react to them.
- Helping you eliminate the fear of getting hurt makes you understand that anxiety disturbs you and helps you react differently to each anxious situation.
A cognitive behavioural therapist will help you set achievable and specific goals geared towards reducing your signs for OCD (e.g. holding your baby without the fear of giving any harm to him or her). They will also explain to you what OCD actually is, what triggers it, and what you need to do to overcome the symptoms. Known as “formulation,” they might draw a diagram for you.
The Bottom Line
In the beginning, keeping your OCD at bay might feel challenging. This is when you should get the courage to fight it. Due to its proven effectiveness, CBT is considered a successful learning process. It requires strength and patience. But sticking to it can help you get rid of OCD while helping you ease your life.
Ruled by Rituals documentary interview – Cognitive behavioural therapist Sarah D Rees discussing OCD