Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of mental illness that results in repetitive unwanted thoughts. A person with this condition will perform the same tasks over and over in order to get rid of those thoughts.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Behavior associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder can vary from one individual to another. For instance, one person may feel the compulsion to count to a certain number whenever entering or leaving a room, while another person may feel compelled to check the locks on the doors a certain number of times, or wash their hands a specific number of times.

Other examples of obsessive-compulsive behaviors include:

  • Tapping
  • Hand sanitizing or washing
  • Feet wiping
  • Hoarding
  • Collecting
  • Counting prior to performing certain actions
  • Organizing and arranging items

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a way in which some people cope with extreme anxiety. Certain behaviors are viewed as a way of helping them maintain control. In some instances, such behaviors may become so extreme; however, that they interfere with the ability to function on a daily basis. The rituals associated with OCD can impair daily functioning, damage careers, and place tremendous stress on relationships.

Some types of obsessions associated with OCD are known as body-focused obsessions or sensorimotor obsessions. Individuals who practice these types of obsessions may feel as though they are stuck on a particular behavior, such as swallowing, breathing, or blinking. This type of obsession can be overwhelming and even debilitating. Along with becoming fixated on these behaviors, individuals may begin overanalyzing the actions and become consumed with every aspect of their movement.

Other people may experience pure obsessional OCD. In this form of the disorder, the individual typically performs mental rituals. These rituals may not be noticed by other people. The mental obsessions in this form of the disorder may include thoughts, mental images, and impulses that are both intrusive and inappropriate, including those that are sexual or violent in nature. Among some of the common obsessions experienced in forms of pure OCD include recurring fears of killing one’s child or spouse, molesting a child, or bringing harm to others, even if it is accidental. To prevent such bad things from happening, a person with pure obsessional OCD may perform superstitious or ritualistic acts. He or she may chant phrases or pray in order to avoid or counteract undesirable thoughts.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of OCD may range from mild to severe, depending on the person, and come and go over time. Among the most common symptoms of this disorder is anxiety. An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience a sense that something bad will take place if they don’t perform a certain task. If the person fails to perform that task, they may feel anxious, tense, or have a nagging sense that they have forgotten something or left something undone. Other symptoms of this disorder include:

Obsessions-This involves unwanted ideas, thoughts, and impulses that occur over and over. Such obsessions interfere with normal thoughts and result in fear or anxiety. The thoughts might be violent or sexual in nature. They could cause the person to worry about infection or becoming ill. For example, the individual might have a fear of harm to them or a loved one. There may be a compulsive need to do things correctly or perfectly.

Compulsions-This involves behaviors that are repeated in an attempt to control obsessions. Some individuals experience behaviors that are quite structured, while other individual experience complex behaviors that change. An example would be checking to make sure that something has been done, repeating things, counting while performing another compulsive action, moving items to ensure they stay in perfect order, hoarding, etc.

Compulsions and obsessions typically comprise a significant amount of time per day. Most people with OCD spend at least one hour per day on obsessive behaviors or thoughts. They often interfere with normal daily routines and may affect relationships and activities. In some instances, a person with OCD may be very well aware that their compulsions and obsessions are not real, but at other times they may believe very strongly that their fears are real.

Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Researchers are not sure of the precise cause of this disorder. Studies have shown that there could be an issue with the way that information is transmitted from one part of the brain to another part of the brain. A lack of the brain chemical serotonin could also be a contributing factor. Some researchers also believe that streptococcal infections, including scarlet fever and strep throat, could cause a sudden onset of OCD or make the symptoms worse, particularly in children. Researchers also believe that some people may be more genetically predisposed to develop OCD.

Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder includes counseling and medication. Psychotherapy used for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder may include exposure therapy and cognitive therapy. The most commonly used form of therapy includes a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) known as exposure and response prevention. With this type of therapy, the individual slowly increases his or her contact with the element that causes worry. Exposure is generally increased slowly in small increments of time. At each increasing interval, an experienced therapist will usually ask the patient to gauge his or her anxiety. Cognitive techniques are used to help the patient place their anxiety into perspective. Over time, this type of therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms. Although treatment can help to lessen the severity of symptoms, individuals with OCD may still experience mild symptoms after beginning treatment.

While obsessive-compulsive disorder can be disruptive to careers, relationships, and even daily life, therapy can help to lessen the severity of symptoms. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible from an experienced therapist. The sooner therapy is started, the greater chance there is that you or your loved one will be able to learn to cope with anxiety in healthy ways without relying on obsessive behaviors.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.