Living with OCD.


3 min read

Jason Brien.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is clinically defined within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM- 5) as an anxiety disorder marked by the presence of obsessions and compulsions. This condition is EGODYSTONIC in that the individual realises that their thoughts and compulsive acts are irrational however they are unable to break the distressing cycle. For a formal diagnosis of OCD, the obsessions and compulsions must be experienced to such a degree that they cause significant distress and unhappiness and significantly interfere and impair normal daily living.

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of OCD however they believe that certain areas of the brain may not respond normally to serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. Genetics are also thought to contribute to the onset and development of OCD. If one family member has OCD, there is a 25% chance that another family member will also have it. OCD is characterised as an anxiety disorder and it exists alongside of, and can be comorbid with, other conditions such as ADHD, Tourette’s, social anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and many more.

To understand this condition properly, it is important to understand its two broad symptoms and how these two broad symptoms manifest and interact with one another. 

Obsessions:      

Recurrent, persistent, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations and/or images. The most common obsessions are those related to contamination (e.g., germs, illnesses etc), thoughts of violence towards self or others, blasphemy or excessive focus on morals or religious ideas, fear of loss of control, order and symmetry, and or excessive focus on superstitions and lucky charms. 

Compulsions:      

Behaviours, acts or rituals aimed at eliminating the obsessions and alleviating the associated anxiety. Common compulsions include re-checking doors, locks and stoves, counting or tapping rituals, excessive hand/body washing, excessive time spent on cleaning, washing, arranging and ordering, excessive praying, or any other act designed to ward of intrusive thoughts and anxiety.

If you have been diagnosed with OCD, or you strongly believe that you are experiencing the symptoms of OCD, the best way to manage your symptoms is day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. By learning healthy and adaptive coping strategies and engaging in proper treatment, many people with OCD can lead normal, productive and fulfilling lives. With this in mind, OCD is often triggered and exacerbated by stress so it is of upmost importance that you manage your stress effectively if you want any realistic chance of also managing your OCD.

  • There are many ways to treat and manage both OCD and the stress that is likely to trigger it. Pharmacotherapy, the blending of medication and therapy, can help to alleviate some of the associated anxiety which can allow sufferers to better manage their symptoms. If choosing to take medication, it is best to ask for a dosage which allows you to effectively manage your symptoms at the lowest possible dosage. Learning how to control and manage your OCD is extremely important with or without medication. As with all medication, there may be some side effects and so it is always best to discuss any medication you are taking with your licensed and accredited medical professional.
  • Talk therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can also be effective in managing OCD. Cognitive-behavior therapy is a therapeutic approach which helps people to recognize and change problematic thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. Exposure and Ritual/response Prevention (ERP) therapy is a particular form of CBT. ERP therapy is designed to weaken the relationship between the obsessions and the compulsions that occur in OCD. ERP helps people to break the automatic bond between feelings of anxiety and the overwhelming desire or need to engage in ritual behaviours. It will also train you not to engage in rituals when you are anxious.
  • Learning how to relax helps you to manage stress in general and OCD specifically. We can manage everything better in life when our thoughts and emotions haven’t been hijacked by stress and anxiety. Finding healthy and adaptive ways of calming your body and mind down can help you to manage the obsessive thoughts and ritualistic compulsions. I want to emphasise healthy and adaptive because the ritualistic compulsions may offer relief from the anxiety associated with the obsessions but those ritualistic behaviours, no matter how pleasurable, are not healthy nor adaptive. They are unhealthy and maladaptive because in the grand scheme of things, they serve to continue your obsessions not relieve you off them.
  • Remind yourself that you have the power to control everything that occurs inside of you despite whatever is happening outside of you. When we allow stress and OCD to control us, rather us controlling them, it can be hard for us to gain our power back. That is why it is important to practice and rehearse the healthy and adaptive strategies on a regular basis. Practicing these healthy and adaptive strategies ‘nags’ at the old habits and pressures them into giving their power back to you. We want to nag them until we evict them. If you take too long a break though, or give up completely, the ‘bad’ habits will come back for a house party and invite all of their friends along making that eviction process much harder.

Resources

https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/

https://www.verywellmind.com/living-with-ocd-2510561

https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-theexperts/blog-posts/consumer/how-take-power-back-intrusive-thought-ocd