Although Hollywood portray signs of OCD as sometimes comical (such as in the television show, Monk), individuals suffering from the mental health condition know it as limiting and often, debilitating.Celebrities like actor Leonardo DiCaprio suffer from OCD, as well as famous business leaders such as the late billionaire Howard Hughes. Singer-songwriter Fiona Hughes admitted that the disorder caused a seven-year delay in releasing a new album. However, there is hope for chronic sufferers.
What Does OCD Stand For?
OCD is the acronym for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a mental health condition that affects over two million people in the United States. The disorder is named after the common behaviors associated with OCD: obsessions, compulsions, or a combination of the two behaviors which can lead an individual to feel distracted, anxious, and confused when they cannot perform certain routines.
The individual experiences urges (obsessions) that can include placing items in a straight line, disinfecting an area, or covering a stain. When the sufferer develops a routine (compulsion), it can easily take over their life. Some OCD patients are unable to leave a room without switching the lights on and off for a certain amount of time or must categorize their groceries while putting them away.
You can experience obsessions without compulsions and vice versa, although many people suffer from a combination of the two. OCD is often dependent on this cause and effect relationship.
What Causes OCD?
Just like with many other mental health conditions, the causes of OCD are not completely clear. A patient showing signs of OCD may have a chemical imbalance in their brain, a misfiring of neurotransmitters in the brain, may have suffered a trauma, are feeling overwhelmed (severe anxiety), or are genetically predisposed to the behaviors.
Obsessions are fueled by fear. For example, if a person is afraid of getting sick, their mind may focus on the worst-case scenario, such as contracting an infection or fatal disease. The individual will go out of their way to keep from coming into contact with other people’s germs.
Obsessions also include repetitive and unwanted thoughts. They may develop certain routines to avoid people or to disinfect their environment. These habitual behaviors and routines are known as compulsions.
Anxiety seems to play a crucial part in OCD behavior. People who are feeling overwhelmed find the behavior somewhat comforting for a moment. The behavior may afford them a sense of control. For example, OCD sufferers who compulsively clean are in control of their environment.
Some people who take breaks at work to enjoy a cup of coffee and a bag of colored candies may find themselves placing the candy in categories by color or size. This is another attempt to control their environment and calm their nerves in the midst of workplace chaos.
As your brain tells you to follow certain directives such as brushing your teeth in the morning or washing your hands after using the restroom, an OCD sufferer’s brain may not send the signal to stop the behavior at the appropriate time. This can lead to the patient repeatedly washing their hands or spending a longer time than is necessary for dental hygiene.
These obsessive thoughts lead to severe anxiety and/or compulsions that relieve some of that anxiety for a short period of time.
What are the Signs of OCD?
Are you asking yourself, “Do I have OCD?” Do you wonder if your loved one is suffering from this mental health disorder? Knowing the symptoms and signs of OCD is the first step to recognizing the condition and finding treatment.
- You avoid objects that could carry germs such as doorknobs, public restrooms, and grocery store cart handles. You may refrain from shaking people’s hands or from receiving hugs.
- You have trouble leaving your home without making sure things are organized or clean. You feel the need to organize groceries, laundry, or towels a certain way.
- You have sudden thoughts of harming yourself or others. These thoughts are unrelated to the activity at hand and come across violent.
- You need constant encouragement or praise at work and/or at home. You worry that you will do something that might cause embarrassment to the point that you refuse to do anything outside of your comfort zone.
- You find yourself focusing on numbers or words before you can leave a room. You may have an unhealthy belief in superstitions that can lead to fear and anxiety if you do not perform certain behaviors.
- You collect an above-average amount of an item or hoard unnecessary items. You may keep items like used paper plates or cups for fear of needing them again. The idea of scarcity scares you.
- You may doubt whether you locked your doors or turned off the appliances. The doubt is severe, and you may return home several times to check.
The above list is of obsessions and compulsions. You may chronically experience one or several. In some cases, OCD sufferers also exhibit other mental health conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder. A mental health professional will need to determine if you are exhibiting true signs of OCD. OCD behaviors fall into specific themes that can help your doctor manage your treatment effectively.
Are There Different Types of OCD?
OCD behaviors may vary, but researchers have categorized them into four main types. These types are known as symptom dimensions and include both obsessive and compulsive behaviors.
Cleaning and Washing
The cleaning and washing theme includes worrying about contamination and germs, and strong scents. The person may fret about causing feelings of disgust in others by the way they smell, and bathe or wash their clothes incessantly. Extreme handwashing and overcleaning the house also fall under this theme.
The symmetry theme includes lining up and organizing items like canned food, candy, towels, and pencils. An OCD sufferer with the symmetry symptom dimension may spend hours touching and tapping objects in a room to make sure everything is “just right.”
The hoarding theme includes the collection of items not necessarily of any value. This can mean hoarding receipts, old newspapers, used paper products, and other items. The individual is afraid of “being without” and this scarcity mindset creates anxiety.
Sudden thoughts that are violent to yourself or others fall into the forbidden thoughts category. These include unwanted thoughts of a sexual, religious, or violent nature. The sufferer may use prayer, meditation, or other tactics to fight these thoughts.
The harm theme may sound like superstition, but it is a very real fear that brings on anxiety. The individual with OCD is afraid of causing harm to themselves or others, or to property. They may worry about causing a fire from leaving an appliance on, creating an explosion from a natural gas appliance, or causing harm to a loved one from simply not telling them to “be careful.” This person may install cameras in their home and view the video multiple times a day, or go home to check things.
How to Find OCD Treatment
If your physician determines you are exhibiting signs of OCD, they may refer you to a mental health specialist. Common treatments for obsessions and compulsions include psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.
You may find that talking with others helps. Psychotherapy is available in family and group settings as well as one-on-one. Another talk therapy that may help is exposure and response prevention.
With this type of therapy, you can discuss the fear and anxiety behind an obsession or compulsion in a safe environment. You voluntarily allow your fear to present itself, but you do not engage in any of the compulsive urges to relieve the anxiety. Due to the controlled setting, the fear associated with the OCD behavior should be minimized.
Christian counseling can assist you in learning how to identify unwanted thoughts while controlling your own thoughts and growing in your relationship with God. You will learn new coping strategies for obsessions and compulsions. The hope is that if “triggered,” you will be able to turn to God and change your thoughts in order to avoid the vicious obsessive compulsive cycle.