Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most complicated and misunderstood mental health conditions. When you have OCD, you may feel like you’re entirely consumed and controlled by your obsessive thoughts. This experience can be incredibly isolating, especially because so few people understand what OCD truly is and the damage it can cause to your mental and emotional health.
OCD is typically a lifelong illness, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Although the obsessive thoughts may not completely disappear from your mind, you can take away their power and regain control over your beliefs and behaviors. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with OCD, you should understand what the disorder really is, what it looks like, and what you can do to manage the symptoms.
What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition marked by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors. The obsessions are disturbing thoughts, beliefs, or fears that enter your mind frequently. Then, to get rid of the obsessions, you feel compelled to complete a ritual or engage in a repetitive behavior. This might give you a brief moment of relief, but the obsessive thought eventually enters your mind again.
Everyone’s experience with OCD is different, and obsessions and compulsions can vary dramatically from person to person. Some people with OCD are fully aware that their obsessive thoughts are irrational but feel like they have to engage in the compulsion anyway, and others are convinced that their fears will come true if they don’t complete their ritual. This creates an almost constant state of stress and turmoil, and it can be emotionally devastating.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
Obsessive compulsive disorder manifests differently in everyone, so no two people will have exactly the same symptoms. Some people primarily experience obsessive thoughts, and others find that their compulsions are the most distressing part of their OCD.
The following are the some of the most common OCD symptoms:
- Intense and persistent worry about contamination, dirt, or germs
- Fears that harm will come to yourself or a loved one
- Intrusive thoughts or images
- Feeling extremely anxious when items are out of place
- Feeling the need to complete a repetitive behavior to stop something bad from happening
- Excessive hand-washing
- Repeatedly checking that the door is locked or the oven is turned off
- Counting or repeating other verbal patterns
Although fear of contamination and need for order are two of the most common OCD obsessions, OCD is not always marked by these anxieties. For some people, OCD causes entirely unique obsessions and compulsions. Because there is such a common misconception that OCD only causes an obsession with cleanliness and order, many people with the condition feel isolated and misunderstood.
5 Tips for Managing OCD
Severe OCD can take over your life and cause major damage to your mental and physical health. However, treating OCD is always possible. Our brains develop habits over the course of months or years, and every time we engage with those habits, we strengthen the patterns. Breaking the cycle requires hard work and patience, but it will allow you to live a healthy and peaceful life.
Here are five strategies for treating OCD:
1. Learn your triggers.
OCD causes illogical thinking patterns, so your triggers may not always be clear or obvious. Journaling about your daily experiences can be very helpful for identifying your triggers, though. Over time, you may recognize patterns in the places, situations, or experiences that trigger your obsessive thoughts.
Your goal when learning your triggers is not to avoid them altogether. It can be impossible to navigate life without ever triggering an obsession, and avoidance does not actually address the problem. By knowing your triggers, though, you can feel more prepared to enter situations that may be challenging.
2. Practice resistance.
Engaging in rituals and allowing the obsessive thoughts to control your behavior will only strengthen your OCD symptoms. By facing your obsessions and learning to resist them, you can break the obsessive-compulsive cycle.
For example, if you’re driving to work and start to worry that you left the front door unlocked, your first impulsive may be to drive home and check. Instead, try to sit with the discomfort of your worry. Resisting the compulsion can be extremely difficult, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. At first, you may prolong the amount of time you wait before you engage in the compulsion. Over time, you can learn to resist it entirely.
3. Explore online educational resources.
We are fortunate to live in a time with so many accessible resources. Although the internet is home to a great deal of misinformation and unhelpful information, you can also find a vast range of high-quality mental health websites. OCD is a complex and confusing disorder, but educating yourself about it can help you gain a sense of control.
Look online for organizations dedicated to OCD education and advocacy. For example, the International OCD Foundation has a number of articles about the disorder and offers a resource directory to help people find therapists and support groups.
4. Celebrate your small wins.
Managing your OCD is a long-term journey, but small changes happen all the time. It’s important to be compassionate with yourself and celebrate the little victories you experience along the way.
Many people get frustrated when their obsessions don’t fade away shortly after starting treatment, but hoping for an immediate and massive decline in your symptoms may lead to disappointment. Instead, focus on the small wins that you see on a daily or weekly basis. If you resisted one compulsion today, acknowledge that victory. If you recognized why an obsessive thought was irrational or unhelpful, celebrate your success.
5. Work with a therapist.
For most people with OCD, therapy opens the door to healing. While there are plenty of strategies you can employ on your own in your day-to-day life to address your OCD, working with a mental health professional is the best way to manage your symptoms.
A therapist who specializes in OCD can help you get to the root of your thoughts and behaviors. Then, you can learn to gradually dismiss your obsessive thoughts without engaging in your compulsions. One of the most commonly used therapies for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which focuses on the connection between your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Another successful treatment is exposure response prevention, which involves gradual exposure to your triggers so that you can learn to manage your obsessions with support from your therapist. And as with most psychological turmoil, Depth, or Analytic, psychology is best to help you get to the root of where the obsessions or compulsions come from.
The Beverly Hills Therapy Group offers counseling for obsessive compulsive disorder and many other mental health concerns. Our therapists understand how devastating OCD can be for your quality of life, and they have extensive experience treating the condition. You can contact us today to talk to a licensed therapist in Beverly Hills.