Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsions that are meant to relieve the anxiety. Some common examples of OCD are constant hand washing to assuage the fear of germs or checking the door repeatedly to make sure it is locked to reduce the fear that someone is going to break in your house.
While these are common, they don’t tell the whole story of OCD or help explain the many complexities that come along with OCD. The following are 8 things you might not know about OCD.
OCD is sometimes referred to as “the secret disorder” because many people take great steps to cover both their obsessive thoughts and the compulsions they use the relieve their anxiety. They don’t want to appear “crazy,” knowing their thoughts are irrational but feeling powerless to stop them. Many feel embarrassed if caught doing things such as avoiding cracks on the sidewalk, having to touch an object a certain amount of times before going to bed or needing to place things in a certain order. They might carry out their compulsions in private.
One of the hallmark characteristics of OCD is doubt. In the past it has been referred to as “the doubting disease.” Compulsions are often used to help cope with doubt and uncertainty. People with OCD often doubt their sexuality, their love, their perceptions, whether or not they are sane, whether or not they are “good” people and whether or not they are capable of violence.
OCD is a chronic condition. There are ways to manage and control OCD symptoms, but it is a chronic condition. There is no cure for it. In this way it is similar to diabetes or allergies, you might control it with medication or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) but it will still be there, in the background. If you stop treatment or stop using strategies of CBT, then chances are, your symptoms will return.
Rituals and compulsions can eat away hours each day. OCD can and often does interfere with a person’s daily routine or activities. The need to complete rituals and compulsions can interfere with work, relationships and social activities. Some might find it difficult to concentrate on tasks because of the need to complete these rituals.
OCD is a common mental illness affecting about 2.3 million Americans. It doesn’t matter your socio-economic status, your religion, your nationality. OCD is found around the world and affects millions of people. Most people are diagnosed before the age of 19 but it can be diagnosed after the age of 35.
The most effective treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy. Anxiety medications can help to reduce symptoms, however, CBT, especially exposure and response prevention (E&RP), has been found to be more effective in the long-term.
Compulsions are not always an obvious behavior. When you think about OCD, you probably think about physical, behavioral compulsions, such as washing hands. But, some compulsions are through rituals, which can be well hidden from the outside world. This is sometimes called “Pure O” however, it is not that compulsions are not present, rather they are hidden or thought driven.
Intrusive thoughts are another component of OCD. These are thoughts that become a “loop” in your brain that won’t stop. Sometimes thee thoughts make it impossible to concentrate on any task or activity. Sometimes these thoughts are very disturbing, such as the thought that you want to harm someone. Even though you would not act on these thoughts, you worry that these indicate you are a violent and disturbed person.
For more information:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: National Institute of Mental Health
Ten Things You Need to Know to Overcome OCD: BeyondOCD.org
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.