Have you or someone you know been recently diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? You may have a lot of questions about what this condition is and how it can be treated. You may have a lot of concerns too. By understanding the causes and symptoms of OCD, you can take proactive steps towards finding help and treatment.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is considered an anxiety disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines it as an“unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).”
It is a condition where you may or may not realize that the fears you are experiencing are reasonable. Trying to ignore the fear only makes you feel worse, leading you to perform the compulsion to alleviate the distressed feelings.
What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
The two main causes of OCD are biology and environmental causes. The National Institutes of Mental Health notes that if you have direct relative, such as parent, child, or sibling, who has OCD than you have greater chance of having it too. The NIMH also says that children who have had a streptococcal infection (strep throat) can develop OCD symptoms. This is also referred to as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS). OCD may also be caused by abnormalities in brain structure, though this needs to be researched further.
An Obsession Based on Fear
The element of fear is a central element of obsessive compulsive disorder. Fear is actually a natural emotion that is part of the human psyche. Indeed, fear is an instinct that can help us realize that a situation is unsafe, thus helping us to stay alive. Obsessive compulsive disorder hijacks that response by associating fear or danger with something, leading us to perform an action to eliminate the danger. For instance:
- Fear of germs and getting sick.
- Being afraid that an electrical appliance or light might start a fire when out of the house.
- Being afraid that someone close might die.
- Being afraid of clutter and messiness.
- Seeing unwanted sexual images in one’s mind.
The Compulsion to Act
The second part of OCD is having the compulsion to do something to alleviate the fear. A compulsion could be:
- Washing hands or surfaces repeatedly so you don’t get sick.
- Double or triple-checking that lights and appliances are turned off.
- Needing to say a phrase, pray, or count to prevent someone from dying.
- Needing to organize things in a particular way or to follow a certain pattern.
- Saying a prayer whenever you see a sexual image.
The Mayo Clinic notes that it is possible to have either just the obsession or just thecompulsion. Either way, having OCD can be very distressing, making everyday life difficult as you feel you must repeatedly do something to get rid of the fear, or avoiding situations entirely.
Medications for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
Medications used to treat OCD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are antidepressants that change the supply of dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters) in the brain. Some examples of SSRIs include:
Psychotherapy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
The other component for OCD treatment is psychotherapy, in which you meet with a trained therapist familiar with the condition. Your therapist can help by guiding you through exposure therapy experiences, where you are purposefully exposed to your obsession, then discuss the feelings that are brought up in a controlled and supportive setting. The objective is to reduce your need to act out the compulsion to the point where you don’t need it to address your fear.
It can be very difficult to live with the anxiety and fear of obsessive compulsive disorder. However, OCD is a treatable condition. It is possible you can take the necessary steps to be anxiety-free, and live a fuller life that is rid of OCD.