People with fussy tendencies or Type A personalities sometimes comment that they’re “a little OCD.” This phrase, while intended light-heartedly, actually does a disservice to those men and women living with this illness.
So, what is OCD, anyway? A serious condition affecting a person’s inability to function and enjoy life, obsessive-compulsive disorder involves chronic, uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). According to the World Health Organization, OCD affects 1 in 40 American adults and 1 in 100 children. Moreover, it’s one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability around the world. Understanding what life is like for people with OCD is the first step to helping those who are dealing with the condition.
Symptoms and Signs of OCD
OCD symptoms can be as varied as the individuals who are suffering. However, patients tend to demonstrate obsessive behaviors, thoughts, or both.
Patients perform obsessive behaviors, or compulsions, in response to thoughts and urges that cause them anxiety. These thoughts may include worrying about germs and illness or a desire to organize items. Some of the most common compulsions include:
- Frequent or obsessive hand washing
- Cleaning and reorganizing
- Checking things (that one locked the door or shut off the stove)
It’s important to remember that everyone experiences obsessive or persistent thoughts now and again. However, if you’re spending an hour or more each day dealing with obsessive thoughts and behaviors, or experiencing problems at home or work as a result of your compulsions, you might be suffering from OCD.
Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
The exact cause of OCD syndrome is unknown. However, doctors believe the condition has a genetic component because people with a first-degree relative with OCD are more likely to develop the condition. The risk is even higher if the relative in question developed OCD as a child or adolescent. Additionally, research suggests that the structure of the brain could impact one’s likelihood of developing OCD. Imaging studies reveal that OCD patients have differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures compared to those who are healthy.
Medical experts also believe that environmental factors play a role. Individuals who suffered physical or sexual abuse are at a greater risk of developing the condition.
Treating OCD is complex, and there’s no one medication or therapy that works for every patient. However, the website HelpGuide.org stresses the importance of facing fears and triggers rather than avoiding them. By staying away from stressful situations, OCD sufferers give these thoughts more weight. The goal is to increase exposure to triggers and reduce or delay the need to obsess about them or perform compulsive behaviors in response.
Therapists recommend trying to anticipate obsessive thoughts and behaviors ahead of time. If you frequently worry that you didn’t turn off your stove, try to pay closer attention each time you complete this task. That way, you won’t have to wonder if you did it later.
Treating OCD also requires refocusing one’s attention. Rather than obsessing about your anxious thoughts, aim to distract yourself by focusing on other activities you enjoy. You could hit the gym, spend time with a friend, watch a movie, or play a video game. Exercise is particularly valuable in treating anxiety and distracting an anxious mind. For best results, try to work out for a minimum of 30 minutes each day.
Medication is also a crucial element of an OCD treatment regimen for many patients. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, your doctor will likely prescribe a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Prozac, Zoloft, and Luvox are some of the most commonly recommended drugs for this disorder. Be aware that it may take up to 10 weeks for your OCD medicine to start helping.
Help Living with OCD
Lifestyle changes are particularly important for helping patients with OCD cope. For best results, avoid alcohol and nicotine, as they can make anxiety symptoms worse in the long term. While smoking cigarettes might seem relaxing, the truth is that nicotine is a stimulant, and smoking can affect your mental health.
Sleep is crucial for individuals with OCD. Because it’s harder to cope with worrisome thoughts when you’re exhausted, you should aim to get eight hours of sleep each night. Sleep is also crucial for those with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
OCD sufferers may also experience a reduction in symptoms by taking nutritional supplements. A type of antioxidant that comes from the amino acid cysteine, N-AC affects glutamate levels in the brain. Various studies have revealed that a N-AC glutamate imbalance may be a contributing factor for OCD.