Coffee in hand, you’re about to get in the car and go but you just can’t shake it. That nagging feeling. Something isn’t quite right. You go back inside and check to make sure you did all the things. Did you unplug the coffee machine? Yes, check. The toaster? Check. What about the hair dryer and the curling iron? Yes, you think you did. But wait, did you? Better go up and make sure. Yep, they’re unplugged. You make your way back to the car because you’ve got to go, but again, you can’t shake that feeling and that thought. Images of the house bursting into flames while you’re out flood your psyche. Flashes of the house burning down. You can’t leave yet; you have to go back and check again. What if you missed an outlet? You check all the outlets again, one by one. All unplugged. You force yourself back into the car to leave, but those images just won’t stop. Slowly, agonizingly, you drive away. On a good day, you keep driving. On a bad day, you circle the block, go back to the house, and check one more time.
Welcome to the world of OCD-Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People often joke about being “a little OCD” when they recognize a few rigid behaviors or “quirks” in themselves or others, like needing to make sure the stitching on the sheets is always facing up when you make the bed or making sure the towels are folded just the right way or sweeping out the garage so frequently that it looks more like an indoor space.
While behaviors like these might lean in the obsessive-compulsive direction, they aren’t likely a full-blown disorder unless they start interfering with your ability to live your life. For those who struggle with this disorder, it can be debilitating, impacting their day-to-day routine in significant ways, and causing a great deal of distress. OCD may lead to impaired relationships, trouble meeting work obligations, or simply result in a lower quality of life.
So, what is OCD, exactly, and how do you treat it?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a mental health issue that can affect people of all ages and walks of life. It’s characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that are time consuming (for example, more than an hour per day), or cause clinical levels of distress and impairment.
Obsessive thoughts are thoughts, ideas, or images that you just can’t get out of your head, no matter how hard you try. They’re worse than having that song stuck in your head on repeat. They may be thoughts about germs, illness, or contamination, they may be thoughts or images about harm, or they may reflect the need for symmetry and everything being “just right” and perfect. These thoughts are described as “intrusive,” meaning they are unwanted thoughts or images that pop into your mind without warning and at any time. You can’t stop them, and you can’t control them. You might realize that they aren’t rational or don’t make much sense, but that recognition does nothing to make them go away. Obsessive thoughts are upsetting and often described as intense feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, and discomfort.
Compulsions refer to the behavior that accompanies thoughts. For example, if the obsessive thoughts relate to contamination or germs, you might experience the need to wash your hands repeatedly to the point of raw skin. Or you might be compelled to change your clothes immediately after entering the house because once they’ve been worn outside, they are “contaminated.”
Compulsive behavior is your attempt at managing and controlling obsessive thoughts or fears. In other words, compulsive behaviors come about in response to intrusive thoughts. Compulsive behavior is characterized as any action you engage in repeatedly and consistently, despite the fact that it may be troubling or problematic. You feel “driven” to engage in the behavior in spite of negative consequences and attempts at stopping the behavior led to an increase in anxiety or obsession while giving into the behavior seems to temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety caused by the obsession.
While we don’t yet fully understand what causes OCD, we do know that there are a few risk factors that might make someone more vulnerable to developing the disorder. Some of these include having a family history of mental illness or OCD specifically, having a personal history of trauma, or experiencing a sudden and traumatic event or stressor. Like so many things, the reasons why someone develops OCD is likely a combination of factors and is not caused by any one thing or circumstance. And it’s no one’s fault.
Fortunately, there is something you can do if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from OCD. The first is to talk to your doctor or a trusted professional to get an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes just having it recognized and acknowledged is empowering. The second is to seek treatment. You’re not alone in this, and getting support is essential. Find a mental health therapist or psychologist to talk to. There are well-researched, evidence-based treatment options for OCD that will help you or your loved one manage or reduce your symptoms. Two of the most common forms of therapy for OCD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. Talking to your mental health provider about medication is another good option and may be used in combination with talk therapy.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more than needing to do the dishes right after a meal or occasionally avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. It’s not just being a clean and organized person. For all the ways in which we often talk about it casually, true OCD is a painful and overwhelming condition. Left untreated, it can wreak havoc on one’s life. But with awareness comes power. It is possible to manage OCD symptoms and to treat the disorder effectively with the proper tools, resources, and support. Reach out to an anxiety therapist like Simi Psychological Group to help you gain your freedom from mental health issues. Our team of licensed professionals specialize in OCD therapy and treatment. Simi Psychological Group provides both in person, and online therapy session to cater to your specific needs.
Don’t hesitate to get help. Remember you do not have to suffer in silence, and there is hope! To learn more about our OCD therapy at Simi Psychological Group, contact us at, (805) 842 -1994