Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A closer look at what OCD is and how to treat it

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that involves repetitive, unwanted thoughts called obsessions, and repetitive behaviors called compulsions.

With OCD, a person feels as if he or she has to complete these rituals or behaviors to prevent something bad from happening. Performing the compulsions can temporarily reduce the anxiety that a person with OCD often feels.

People with OCD might realize that these thoughts are irrational, but the obsessions and compulsions are difficult to resist.

OCD affects people from all different backgrounds, classes, cultures and sexes. Currently, 3.3 million Americans are living with OCD.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

A person with OCD experiences some obsessive thoughts and a particular compulsion. The intensity and frequency of these thoughts can vary, and it’s not uncommon for it to be worse when a person is particularly stressed, like during exams or a breakup.

Examples of obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs or dirt

  • Fear of harming yourself or others

  • Intrusive sexual thoughts

  • Fear of illness

Common compulsions might be:

  • Cleaning or putting things in a particular order

  • Washing

  • Counting

  • Hoarding

  • Touching

You might also be experiencing a variety of emotions.

You might be feeling:

  • Stressed or anxious

  • Annoyed

  • Frustrated

  • Depressed

  • A sense of shame or a wish to hide your OCD from others

OCD can affect other parts of your life, too, and you might find you’re not able to enjoy the things you normally do. You might also feel more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to escape or numb overwhelming feelings.

Treatment

There are a number of different approaches to treating OCD and using a combination of these might be the most effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During this type of treatment, a mental health professional talks with a person about his or her symptoms, and discusses alternative ways of thinking about and coping with them. Check out the CBT article for more info.

Medication. In some cases, medication might be helpful. Certain drugs help the brain to restore its usual chemical balance and help control the obsessions and compulsions. A psychiatrist is the mental health professional who could provide more information about medications and could prescribe medications for your use.

Support groups. There are many support groups for people with OCD. Here, you can discuss your experiences with people who have had similar ones. This Obsessive Compulsive Foundation offers more information about support groups and where to find a group. You can also find out about groups through your local doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Journal it. Write your feelings and experiences down in a journal, or on a password-protected or anonymous online space.

Exercise. Go for a run or walk to use up excess energy. You’ll feel better after you do.

Play video games. This can be a good way to distract yourself until the anxiety passes.

Try some relaxation techniques. Activities like yoga or meditation are often helpful in reducing anxiety.

Cry. Crying is a healthy and normal way to express your sadness or frustrations. It’s not weak or dumb to cry when you’re feeling down.

Talk to someone. Talk with a trusted friend or adult, or call a helpline like Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town (for everyone). Both of these hotlines are free and staffed 24-hours by trained volunteers who can help you work through your emotions and connect you to help in your area.

Give it time. Changes in behavior don’t happen overnight, and it might take some time before all OCD symptoms go away.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgments: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com