You look at yourself in the mirror. You open your mouth, pulling your lips back to expose your teeth. Floss in hand you guide your minty fresh string in between each individual tooth. You see your bathroom clock in the reflection of your mirror. Perfect, it’s 7:30am. That's plenty of time to get ready and enjoy a cup of coffee before I head into work. You finish flossing your last tooth, spitting excess saliva into the sink turning the faucet. The warm soothing water that runs over your hands feels amazing. You turn the faucet off Shoot, I touched the side of the sink. I should wash my hands again. With the faucet back on you lather your hands with soap and place them under the running water. Reciting the alphabet twice, you finish washing your hands again. I think… I think I should wash my hands again. Water runs, hands become lathered in soap and you rinse. Ah, I washed my hands three times. You feel a turn in your stomach from the odd number. You proceed to wash your hands again, but intrusive thoughts flood your mind and now you have washed your hands sixteen times in four sets of four. The clock hands sit at 8am. You have 30 minutes to finish getting dressed.
What is OCD?
On a surface level, OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder, is when one must repeat a task several times before they feel comfortable. At least, that’s the basic gist as seen in television and other mass media formats.
On a deeper level, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition where intrusive thoughts cause you distress. They incorporate rituals, which help them reduce anxiety. These rituals can be personal or private and may include others to participate. To breakdown OCD, it has two main characteristics that it associates with:
Obsessions defined as:
- The individual attempts to suppress the thoughts, urges and images with other thoughts to serve as a distraction from the intrusive thoughts.
- Recurrent urges, thoughts or images that are experienced when the distress happens.
Compulsions defined as:
- These behaviors and acts are an attempt to reduce anxiety despite that they are realistically connected and the behaviors are excessive.
- Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession.
This issue gives people intense ego-dystonic feelings where the thoughts that present themselves do not represent the person. For example, you see someone with a purse and the thought floats across your mind “What if I stole that purse?” something you would never do. You typically would not think anything of it and treat it just as a random thought. Whereas having the condition, you will recognize that thought but it will turn into an obsession and cause you anxiety and distress.
This is when the second component, compulsions, make themselves present. These compulsions take on a ritualistic quality that feels like it will bring relief to the situation at hand.
Obsessive Compulsive disorder is a common condition that affects 2.2 million adults in America. Both men and women equally affected with onset typically showing around age 19 with 25% of cases showing onset at age 14.
Where does OCD come from?
As of right now, where the condition came from is still a mystery; and while OCD was not brought into light until the 19th century, historical records describe behaviors of notable figures to that of obsessive compulsive disorder. However, instead of OCD it was called scrupulosity, which was found in religious records. It was determined that those with scrupulosity had overwhelming obsessive guilt associated with a moral or religious issue that was then followed with compulsions of moral or religious observance.
How is OCD treated?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is treated with medication, therapy or both in combination. Sometimes, those with OCD can have comorbidities with other mental illnesses, which can be seen in ADHD, anxiety and depression.
Both medication and therapy are effective in their own way; however, therapy provides more of a long-term solution. Albeit, medication used to support therapy has proven results of effectiveness.
The goal for using medication is to control the symptoms of OCD at the lowest possible dose. However, most start with antidepressants. However you can be prescribed other medications to help manage your symptoms.
Most adults and children respond well to therapy and there is an array of different therapies to help those with OCD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This modality is a collaborative talk therapy that many therapists use. CBT helps you structure a new mind set that gives you tools to have more control over intrusive thoughts.
Another form of CBT that is effective for OCD is exposure and response prevention, or EX/RP. As you can guess, this type of therapy requires both exposure to confronting situations and preventing avoidance or escape from feared situations.
The modality provides you a safe place to explore your fears associated with OCD providing you with the opportunity to learn that the fear is unrealistic. Studies showed that when you are exposed to obsessional cues, rituals are used to soothe the anxiety and distress tied to the obsession. When patients were exposed to obsessional cues, they were prevented from performing their usual rituals and overtime, the anxiety and distress went away making this therapy a long-term solution.
Self-Care for OCD
Habits that can help with managing your OCD are in general healthy lifestyle choices. Getting enough sleep, having a workout routine and eating a healthy diet will give you energy needed to cope with difficult feelings and experiences.
Ultimately, obsessive compulsive disorder is a common condition that is treatable with medication and therapy, either separately or in combination. OCD is a common comorbidity with other conditions. Talk therapies such as CBT and EX/RP are effective for these issues as they are able to address the intrusive thoughts and give you tools to manage symptoms. Lastly, living a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, exercise and getting enough sleep will only help with the healing process.
If you or a loved one believe that you are experiencing symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, please contact a mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis. Our therapists at Seattle Wellness Center are trained professionals who can help with the process.