Have you ever left your house, but stopped the car and went back inside because you couldn’t remember if you turned off the stove? A natural reaction to a potentially dangerous situation, right? Sure – we’ve all done it. Ever obsessively thought about whether you turned the stove off for hours on end. Or engaged in the repetitive checking and re-checking that you turned it off? Do you have no control over stopping these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors? Then, you might be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This condition is chronic.
If you are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is likely negatively affecting your life to some degree. You might engage in excessive hand washing that disrupts your lifestyle – spending over an hour a day washing your hands repeatedly to the point they become raw and blistered. Or, you might develop a counting ritual such that you can’t leave a room without turning the light on and off a certain number of times. If you are suffering from OCD, you likely know that your thoughts and behaviors are irrational. But, you still, uncontrollably, engage in the ritualistic behavior or can’t stop thinking about something obsessively. In addition, if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you are more likely to also be coping with other mental health disorders, including eating disorders and depression; and your risk of developing anxiety, tics, and contemplating suicide is increased.
The typical onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder is before the age of twenty. It is very uncommon for obsessive-compulsive behavior to begin after the age of thirty-five, though it can occur. Obsessions and compulsions are prevalent among children and occur equally in men and women. Often, obsessions and compulsions develop among some type of theme. For example, if you are suffering from this condition, you might be fearful of germs. You obsessively think about getting sick from these germs, so you engage in the compulsive act of excessive hand washing. Despite your best efforts to ward off these thoughts, you have no control over them, so you engage in more and more hand washing because of your fear of germs. Because the obsessive thoughts about germs never go away, your compulsions get worse, and the cycle goes on and on with no relief. This cyclical nature of obsession and compulsion is a classic of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We’ve talked a lot about hand washing rituals. But this is only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to OCD. What exactly are obsessions and compulsions? What other types of behaviors represent this disorder? Read on to find out.
Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety in an individual. Some of the more common themes of obsessions include:
- Fear of germs
- The need to have things in perfect, symmetrical order
- Taboo thoughts or other unwanted thoughts are things such as sex, religion, or harm
- Aggressive thoughts toward yourself or toward others
Some of the more common obsession signs and symptoms include:
- Fear of being contaminated with germs or dirt by shaking hands with another person or touching objects that are not yours
- Feeling intensely stressed out when certain belonging are not facing in the same direction (need for order and symmetry)
- Avoiding situations that could cause obsessive thoughts (e.g., avoiding shaking another person’s hand for fear of getting germs or dirt on your own hands)
- Constant doubt that you locked the door to your house/car and/or turned your stove off
- Thoughts about horrifically hurting yourself or hurting others
- Obsessive thoughts about shouting inappropriate things or obscenities
- Feeling stressed out when you replay unwanted sexual images in your head repeatedly
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Excessive doubt and need for reassurance
What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder? Doctors and mental health professionals cannot pinpoint an exact cause but believe both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the occurrence of OCD. Twin and family studies reveal a higher likelihood of developing OCD if first-degree relatives also suffer from the disorder. Research has shown that the likelihood also increases if the first-degree relative developed OCD at an early age.
Individuals suffering from the obsessive-compulsive disorder also have varying brain structures from those of a population without OCD. Studies indicate abnormalities in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain in OCD patients; however, more extensive research is needed to more definitively understand this biological occurrence.
Environmental factors that are thought to increase your chances of developing OCD include experiencing physical or sexual abuse during childhood or other types of trauma.
The treatment of OCD depends on some factors. There are drugs being administered for the disorder. There’s also therapy sessions where the patient to taught to manage the disorder.