What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is condition endured by millions of people around the globe. It affects both adults and children. OCD includes obsessive thoughts as well as avoidance behaviors, or compulsive habits, in response to cues (triggers) in the environment. Cues in the environment lead to an increase in anxiety to a point that people find uncomfortable. Compulsions are behaviors, including thoughts, that the individual engages in to counter the anxiety and reduce the discomfort experienced by the individual. The compulsions that individuals engage in to manage their anxiety can become time consuming and disruptive to daily life. Or, people avoid situations that provoke anxiety in order to avoid the anxiety. People who have OCD might realize their obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, but they cannot control the anxiety and if they do stop, they start to feel so bad that they start the compulsion again.

OCD symptoms range from mild to severe and many times individuals suffering from OCD are unable to get on with their day unless they engage in the compulsion. The rituals can take hours each day to complete, robbing them of hours of their lives every day.

We all have thoughts that cause us to become stressed out, or anxious from time to time, they usually aren’t something that consumes us for years. For a person with OCD the thoughts, and subsequent behaviors interfere with life and progressively get worse, even going so far as to be debilitating. Some common obsession themes are:

  • Contamination – concern or disgust with dirt, germs, bodily secretions, concern with household items, getting ill / spreading contaminant, or sticky substances
  • Aggressive Obsessions – fear of harming self, or others, violent images, stealing, harm others because not careful enough.
  • Saving or hoarding
  • Sexual obsessions – unwanted thoughts related to forbidden, or perverse sexual thoughts or images.
  • Somatic obsessions – concern with illness, disease, or concern with specific parts of the body.
  • Religious obsessions – excessive concern with morality, sacrilege, or blasphemy.
  • Symmetry and Exactness – concern with “right” placement, left right symmetry.

Some common compulsive habits:

  • Cleaning / washing compulsions – ritualized cleaning, showering, hand washing, tooth brushing.
  • Checking compulsions – checking locks, appliances, that one did not harm another, nothing bad will happen, researching somatic complaints.
  • Repeating rituals – re-reading, re-writing, repeating routine activities.
  • Mental rituals – ritualistic prayers, thoughts, images to undo.

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