Are you worried that you or someone you know might have OCD? We all have unwanted thoughts that pop into our head from time to time, but if you get plagued by them until they make you feel ill or anxious you could have OCD. It’s a real and sometimes serious condition, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.
In this post I’ll give you some of the symptoms to look out for. I’ll also give you the best treatment options for OCD and outline some effective self-help techniques, so you can take steps to overcome the condition and start to feel better.
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an illness that causes you to have recurring unwanted thoughts, images or urges that can make you feel anxious or guilty. To relieve your distress, you feel compelled to do things that will stop them – repeating certain actions or rituals. For example, someone who has OCD might repeatedly check their door is locked because they keep having the fear their house will be burgled.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. OCD affects one in 50 people in the UK. It can affect anyone, at any age, but it usually shows up in early adulthood.
OCD is often misunderstood. Some people assume it just means you wash your hands a lot or you like things to be tidy. But OCD isn’t just about being neat. It’s a serious anxiety related illness that makes negative thoughts very difficult to control.
What causes OCD?
It’s not known exactly what causes OCD, but it’s thought sometimes there can be genetic or biological factors, or sometimes life events like bullying or trauma can trigger OCD. It’s been suggested that people who take on a lot of responsibility for themselves and others can be more prone to OCD.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
When a person has OCD, it’s as if the alarm system in their brain is stuck. The part of the brain that’s designed to protect them by warning them of danger keeps being triggered, so the sufferer sees danger where there isn’t any and gets trapped in a state of constant anxiety.
If you have severe OCD, being compelled to carry out chores and rituals can be exhausting and takes up hours of your time. These compulsions can make it very difficult to cope with daily activities and responsibilities such as work or study. What makes it more frustrating is you might be well aware that the compulsions are irrational, but feel compelled to do them anyway.
OCD symptoms can be mild to severe, and everyone’s thoughts are unique, but many sufferers say their obsessions involve one or more of these issues:
- You might have the recurring thought that everything must line up perfectly, or be symmetrical, otherwise something bad will happen.
- You might have intrusive thoughts that are violent or sexually explicit. You might worry that you’ll lose control and act on them, and believe these thoughts make you a bad person, even though this isn’t true.
- You might be afraid of germs or contamination, and worry that you or your surroundings aren’t clean enough.
- You might be afraid of losing something that’s important to you.
There are some compulsions that sufferers often experience:
- A strong urge to arrange things in a certain way or order.
- Repeating words, tapping, or counting.
- Hoarding things that aren’t needed.
- Repeatedly checking things like switches or locks.
- Cleaning or washing things very frequently or for a long time.
Treatment for OCD:
The good news is that OCD is actually a treatable condition. It takes courage and perseverance, but even severe OCD can become manageable or sometimes even be cured completely. Here are the best treatment options for the condition:
Speak to your doctor
If you think you might have OCD, your first port of call is to speak to your GP. Although this might feel daunting, it’s the best way to get treatment that’s right for you. Your GP might offer you a kind of talking therapy called CBT, medication or a combination of both to help you recover.
Usually the prescribed therapy for OCD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This kind of therapy helps you change your thought patterns, so you can stand up to your fears and obsessive thoughts without being forced to ‘make them better’ by acting on your compulsions. Because you’re no longer treating these ‘false fears’ as real, your brain no longer signals them as important, so it sends out less of them. In this way you can take control of the condition.
Medicine for OCD is usually a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These work by changing the balance of chemicals in your brain, making the symptoms less intense.
Other treatment options:
Everyone has unique needs, and some people with OCD find other kinds of therapy and self-care techniques are also very helpful:
This is a gentle kind of therapy that gives you the chance to explore how the condition affects you without being judged or scrutinized. You lead the session – that is, you choose what to talk about, and the therapist supports you by listening carefully, understanding your point of view and offering insights instead of giving you advice. This can help you uncover events that triggered your OCD and discover your own ways to control obsessive thoughts.
Hypnotherapy can help some people manage their OCD because it relieves stress and anxiety. The therapist guides you into a very relaxed state which makes you more receptive to suggestions that bring about positive changes in your thought patterns and actions. Because you’re very relaxed when under hypnosis, you might find it easier to discuss a trauma or deeply buried emotions that are the cause of your OCD.
Self-help for OCD:
Because symptoms of OCD often get worse during times of high stress or anxiety, learning relaxation techniques can be a good way to manage them. Many people with OCD find techniques like breathing exercises and yoga very helpful.
Build a support network
Talking about your condition with friends and family can make it seem less overwhelming, and will ensure you have support when things get difficult. Sharing your experiences with local support groups and online forums are a great way to get support from people who understand first-hand what you’re going through.
Mindfulness and meditation
Many people with OCD have found learning meditation and mindfulness very helpful for managing their symptoms.
Regular meditation can reduce your level of stress hormones, relaxing both your body and mind. Meditation is easy to learn and it’s a tool that helps you become more mindful. Being mindful reduces anxiety by helping you focus on the present moment, without dwelling on past events or worrying about the future. Mindfulness also helps you stop judging or blaming yourself for your obsessive thoughts, instead you accept them for what they are and wait for them to pass.
If you’re affected by OCD or if anything in this article has resonated with you, please remember you’re not alone. There are steps you can take that will make a real difference. If you’d like more information about the condition, I’ve listed some links and helplines below.
Do you need someone to talk to?
If you would like to talk to someone, I’m here to help you. I’m a person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist based in Manchester, and I also offer online and telephone counselling across the UK. If you want to discuss anything in confidence, you’re welcome to get in touch with me.
Useful links and helplines
OCD UK is a national charity for people with OCD, run by people with OCD. It has a helpline: 03332 127890, a forum and a map of local support groups.
The National Counselling Society has a national database of trained, registered counsellors. It’s searchable by area.
The OCD Action Helpline and Email Service is a confidential and unbiased service offering help, information and support for people with OCD, carers and anyone who is concerned that they or someone they know may have OCD. The number is 0845 390 6232 or 020 7253 2664
Intrusive Thoughts is an educational resource for sufferers of OCD, with a mission to change perceptions about mental illness. It has several helpful articles about OCD and a Facebook support group.