Obsessions and compulsions are actually fairly common and many people are able to live with these without their lives becoming disrupted. If lives do become disrupted it is possible that a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder will be made.
These days, treatments are quite effective and there are many useful self-help strategies that can help to support a formal treatment plan, or be effective in their own right. Whether the treatment is formal (usually via cognitive behavioral therapy) or not, the goal is to try and break into the cycle of obsessive thoughts which lead to feelings of tension and guilt. Compulsive behaviors are the acts or thoughts people use in order to try and neutralize these obsessive thoughts. This may bring about some relief but it is usually short-lived and the cycle repeats itself.
There are basically three treatment options and often these overlap. Medication, typically in the form of antidepressants, can be helpful whether or not symptoms of depression are present. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that helps people both understand and address the thoughts and behaviors that underpin OCD. Thirdly, there are self-help strategies.
Over the years we have learned that gradual exposure to the things or situations that are most feared is one of the best ways to confront the problem. In terms of self-help it means facing the things you fear but in a way that is structured and controllable. It is unusual to find a person with OCD with one and only one issue that makes them ill at ease. Far more likely is a scenario where certain things are most feared and others are least feared but still uncomfortable to have to confront. The principle of exposure therapy is to address the least feared issue first and gradually work towards addressing the most feared issue over time.
As compulsive acts are generally associated with fears it can be helpful to stop carrying out the compulsive acts in order to further break the cycle. Family members or loved ones can help by providing reassurance and you should always remember to praise yourself for avoiding compulsive acts. It is not a good idea to substitute new compulsions for old ones as this is simply like moving pieces on a chessboard. Anxiety is bound to be present as you address these issues but the more often you try the easier things will become until you feel ready to tackle the next fear.
In my next post I’ll be considering some of the ways to tackle negative thinking, obsessional thoughts and obsessional checking as more ways to help overcome OCD.