Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts that reoccur. These can also be images or urges. On the other hand, compulsions are strong urges to complete certain behaviours to calm these thoughts down. These compulsive behaviours are repetitive and there will often be a consequence in the person's mind if these compulsions are not completed.
Some common compulsions and repetitive behaviours include hand washing, skin-picking, hair-pulling, cleaning, counting and constantly checking on things. A hallmark of OCD is that these obsessive, unwanted thoughts and compulsions cause marked distress and greatly impact one’s ability to function in daily life.
Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety is the body's natural response to stress. It is a feeling of worry, fear and uncertainty that results from a perceived threat. This threat can be anything from an exam, a work presentation, a relationship or the thought of death. This is a very normal experience in times of extreme stress. It is a part of the body's fight-or-flight response. This fight-or-flight response is an integral part of a human's functioning. It is activated whenever there is perceived danger allowing a human to escape and avoid death.
When anxiety is not normal is when the symptoms become pervasive and debilitating. This can result in anxiety disorders and attacks. These disorders are characterized by extreme amounts of fear, worry and panic daily. Anxiety disorders occur when anxiety itself is severely affecting one’s mental health. Disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder often develop to cope with the distress of anxiety. This makes anxiety a risk factor for the development of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour.
Anxiety is only one factor that can lead to the development of obsessions and compulsions characteristic of OCD. There are also many related disorders and mental illnesses that can contribute to the development of OCD as well as various life events, environmental factors and family history. Having a family member who suffers from obsessive or compulsive disorder can increase the likelihood of someone developing it.
Are there different types of OCD?
OCD is a broad term for any mental illness that is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. It is diagnosed based on the criteria in the DSM-5. OCD-UK breaks it down into more distinct subtypes based on how these specific obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions present themselves in specific symptoms. Based on this, there are infinite possible types of this disorder. The actual subtype of the disorder is not as important as a treatment among various subtypes is the same. Two distinct yet related disorders include excoriation, where skin-picking is the prominent compulsion and trichotillomania, where hair-pulling is a distinct compulsive behaviour.
One distinction should be made between obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Where OCD has true obsessions and compulsions, OCPD is a mix between obsessive thoughts, compulsive disorder and a personality disorder.
Symptoms of this disorder include intense preoccupation with the need to control that which makes it hard to function. This thought process and need for control will manifest in different symptoms depending on the person. Obsessions are very common.
This condition is treated similarly to obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health conditions with cognitive behavioural treatment.
What are the OCD symptoms and signs?
There are two main OCD symptoms; obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions or obsessive thoughts are intrusive thoughts that can occur at any point during the day. They can be disruptive and often deal with subject matter that can be deemed inappropriate such as sexual thoughts. The second part of this is compulsions which are intense urges to complete certain actions often to calm down the obsessive tendencies. Each of these symptoms can be extremely time-consuming and distressful for the individual who is experiencing them.
What can be done to help OCD?
There are many different things that can be done to help combat compulsive behaviours and intrusive thoughts that characterize obsessive-compulsive disorder. These treatments can help to decrease the distress that these obsessions and compulsions cause as well as create symptom-free moments.
Seeking the help of a health professional is one of the most important steps in managing OCD. Therapy is one of the first-line treatments for this disorder. Support groups and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are two of the mainstays in treatment. Cognitive-Behavioural therapy involves identifying thought patterns that are contributing to the disorder and implementing behavioural therapy to try and change the behaviours associated with them. The goal of CBT is to improve emotional regulation and in doing so decrease the effects of anxiety disorders both physically and mentally. It has been shown to have both short-term and long-term benefits in the treatment of most anxiety disorders.
Eat foods that nourish the nervous system- focus on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as good fats (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil) and protein to nourish the body and nervous system. This can make it more resilient to triggers and obsessive-compulsive components. Focus on incorporating things that you love into your daily life. Get a good night’s sleep to try and help reset the nervous system and give it a chance to recover from the stress of the day. Create a good support system - find people that you can talk to when things get challenging.
Limiting the anxiety-producing stimulus on a day-to-day basis.
Treat co-occurring mental health conditions - many people can have disorders that co-exist with OCD and may serve as triggers for this condition. This includes anxiety disorders, tic disorders, personality disorders, dysmorphic disorders, dysmorphic disorders (including body dysmorphia), post-traumatic stress disorder etc. Any mental disorders that lead to the feeling of overwhelm can predispose to the development of OCD to cope with this overwhelming. Treating any of these disorders can help to create space for the mental acts associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder to be addressed and possibly decreased.
Pharmaceutical medications: various medications including anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors - SSRIs or serotonin reuptake inhibitors - SRIs) may help to decrease symptoms associated with OCD and support response prevention of the compulsions to the obsessions. Medication should never be used without the help of a health professional as SSRIs or antidepressants may have side effects. They are often used in conjunction with some type of therapy such as CBT to have the maximum benefit in reducing compulsive symptoms. The idea behind their effectiveness is the idea that serotonin imbalance can lead to anxiety disorders or varying capacities. Some of these medications include clomipramine, sertraline, and fluvoxamine.
Natural Remedies - There are various herbal products and botanicals that have been shown to help decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. These include anti-anxiety, antidepressant and adaptogen plants such as Passionflower, which acts on the central nervous system, binding to the GABA receptors that relax the body. This reminds the body to slow down and decrease stress allowing the body and mind to relax. Passionflower is a very gentle flower that not only helps promote relaxation, but it helps to revitalize and restore the body
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