Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.
- Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as ‘mental discomfort’ rather than anxiety).
- Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels.
It’s not about being tidy, it’s about having no control over negative thoughts. It’s about being afraid not doing things a certain way will cause harm.”
Person with OCD might find that sometimes the obsessions and compulsions are manageable, and at other times they may make day-to-day life really difficult. They may be more severe when one stressed about other things, like life changes, health, money, work or relationships.
What’s it like to live with OCD?
Although many people experience minor obsessions (such as worrying about leaving the gas on, or if the door is locked) and compulsions (such as avoiding the cracks in the pavement), these don’t significantly interfere with daily life, or are short-lived.
If you experience OCD, it’s likely that your obsessions and compulsions will have a big impact on how you live your life:
- Disruption to your day-to-day life. Repeating compulsions can take up a lot of time, and you might avoid certain situations that trigger your OCD. This can mean that you’re not able to go to work, see family and friends, eat out or even go outside. Obsessive thoughts can make it hard to concentrate and leave you feeling exhausted.
- Impact on your relationships. You may feel that you have to hide your OCD from people close to you – or your doubts and anxieties about a relationship may make it too difficult to continue.
- Feeling ashamed or lonely. You may feel ashamed of your obsessive thoughts, or worry that they can’t be treated. You might want to hide this part of you from other people, and find it hard to be around people or to go outside. This can make you feel isolated and lonely.
- Feeling anxious. You may find that your obsessions and compulsions are making you feel anxious and stressed. For example, some people feel that they become slaves to their compulsions and have to carry them out so frequently that they have little control over them.
What causes OCD?
There are different theories about why OCD develops. None of these theories can fully explain every person’s experience, but researchers suggest that these are likely to be involved in causing OCD:
- Personal experience
Some theories suggest that OCD is caused by personal experience. For example:
- If you’ve had a painful childhood experience, or suffered trauma, abuse or bullying, you might learn to use obsessions and compulsions to cope with anxiety.
- If your parents had similar anxieties and showed similar kinds of compulsive behavior, you may have learned OCD behaviors as a coping technique.
- Ongoing anxiety or stress, or being part of a stressful event like a car accident or starting a new job, could trigger OCD or make it worse.
- Pregnancy or giving birth can sometimes trigger perinatal OCD.
Some research suggests that people with certain personality traits may be more likely to have OCD. For example, if you are a neat, meticulous, methodical person with high standards, you may be more likely to develop OCD.
3. Biological factors
Some biological theories suggest that a lack of the brain chemical serotonin may have a role in OCD. However, it’s unclear this is the cause or is an effect of the condition.
Studies have also looked at genetic factors and how different parts of the brain might be involved in causing OCD, but have found nothing conclusive.
Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
- An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
- A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
For example, someone with an obsessive fear of being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave their house. Women can sometimes have OCD during pregnancy or after their baby is born. Obsessions may include worrying about harming the baby or not sterilizing feeding bottles properly. Compulsions could be things such as repeatedly checking the baby is breathing.
Treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
There are some effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the impact it has on your life.
The main treatments are:
- Psychological therapy – usually cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without “putting them right” through compulsions
- Medicine – usually a type of antidepressant medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain.
CBT will usually have an effect quite quickly. It can take several months before you notice the effects of treatment with SSRIs, but most people will eventually benefit.
If these treatments do not help, you may be offered an alternative SSRI or be given a combination of an SSRI and CBT. Some people may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.
Getting help for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessions and compulsions can take over your life, and leave you feeling helpless. However, there are some things you can try to help manage your OCD and improve your wellbeing.
Remember that different things work for different people at different times. If something isn’t working for you (or doesn’t feel possible just now), you can try something else or come back to it another time.
- Self-help resources
Self-help resources for OCD are designed to help you develop coping strategies and are often based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service – find a psychological therapies service in your area
2. Build Your Support Network
Many people find it hard to talk about OCD. You might worry that people won’t understand. You might have kept your OCD secret for such a long time that it feels very scary to put some of your experiences into words. Strengthening the relationships around you may help you feel less lonely and more able to cope.
- Talk to someone you trust about your OCD. Find a quiet space to talk where you won’t be interrupted. Some people find it helpful to write their feelings down and then talk about this together.
- Spend time with friends and family. You might not feel ready to talk openly about your OCD yet. But spending more time with friends and family may help you feel more comfortable around them and, in time, more able to share your experiences.
3. Try Peer Support
Making connections with people with similar or shared experiences can be really helpful. You could try talking to other people who have OCD to share your feelings, experiences and ideas for looking after yourself. For example, you could:
- Contact your doctor for group support
- Try an online peer support community.
- Find a local support group through an organisation such as OCD
4. Learn to Let Go
- Manage your stress. Stress and anxiety can make OCD worse. You can read more about how to manage stress here.
- Try a relaxation technique. Relaxation can help you look after your wellbeing when you are feeling stressed, anxious or busy. You can read more about relaxation here.
- Try mindfulness. You might find that your CBT therapist includes some principles of mindfulness in your therapy. Mindfulness can help you reduce stress and anxiety. For some people, it can be helpful as part of recovery from OCD.
5. Look after your physical health
- Get enough sleep. Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences.
- Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. You can read more about food and mental health here.
- Try to do some physical activity. Many people find exercise a challenge but activities like yoga, swimming or walking can help improve your mood. Any kind of physical activity counts – from a chair-based exercise regime to dancing round the kitchen – the important thing is to find something that works for you. You can read more about physical activity and mental health here.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
Disclaimer: All contents on this site are for general information and in no circumstances information be substituted for professional advice from the relevant healthcare professional, Writer does not take responsibility of any damage done by the misuse or use of the information.