Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health issue characterised by repeated unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or urges (obsessions) that cause extremely negative feelings, and/or the urge to do something over and over again (compulsions).
People with OCD typically excessively check and double-check things, such as locks or appliances, or check to make sure their loved ones are safe.
Counting, tapping, saying certain words and other behaviours are often used to reduce anxiety.
Understanding OCD compulsions and obsessions
Compulsions are the urge to do the same thing over and over again. These urges are an attempt to get rid of obsessions, for example, repeated, excessive hand-washing after contact with someone or an object because the individual fears contamination.
Obsessions are involuntary thoughts that occur repeatedly and cannot be controlled. Such thoughts can be disturbing and cause distraction.
OCD is associated with a cycle that starts with having an obsessive thought that causes anxiety, which can lead to compulsive behaviour that can provide temporary relief of the fear.
This cycle might repeat itself as the individual is exposed to various stimuli.
Categories of OCD
- Washers: They fear contamination and are always cleaning nearly everything around them or repeatedly washing their hands.
- Checkers: They associate everything with danger. For example, they will keep checking whether the door is locked, the gas or the oven are turned off and so on.
- Doubters: These people are also referred to as sinners because they are afraid of something terrible happening because they failed to follow some “instruction”.
- Arrangers or counters: They are obsessed with order. Individuals can have superstitious beliefs about certain numbers or colours or the arrangement of objects.
- Hoarders: These people fear something terrible will happen if they get rid of stuff. They store things they no longer need. Depression or post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause hoarding.
Managing the signs and symptoms of OCD
- Identify the triggers. It could be thoughts or being in a particular situation. Keep track of these triggers to help anticipate the next urge and manage it.
- Learn to offer resistance. The more OCD compulsions are resisted, the easier it is to avoid them. One can choose to expose oneself, then initiate a response-prevention action.
- Challenge one’s obsessions. From time to time, troubling thoughts will occur. OCD will keep the brain stuck on these thoughts, causing anxiety. Writing down the disturbing thoughts and creating the time to clear the mind through meditation and other mind healing techniques can help.
- Seek help from a mental health professional. Individuals with OCD also tend to feel powerless and alone, so look for a support group and create connections with other people – family and friends — in order to feel less vulnerable.