Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.
Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas, but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away.
For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive rituals and behaviors often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.
Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:
- Washers are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.
- Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.
- Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.
- Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.
- Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others
- Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
- Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
- Fear of losing or not having things you might need
- Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”
- Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky
Common compulsive behaviors in OCD include:
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches
- Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe
- Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
- Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning
- Ordering or arranging things “just so”
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
- Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers
If you have OCD, there are many ways you can help yourself. One of the most powerful strategies is to eliminate the compulsive behaviors and rituals that keep your obsessions going. It might seem smart to avoid the situations that trigger your obsessive thoughts, but the more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. Instead, expose yourself to your OCD triggers, then try to resist or delay the urge to complete your relief-seeking compulsive ritual. If resistance gets to be too hard, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on your ritual. Each time you expose yourself to your trigger, your anxiety should lessen and you’ll start to realize that you have more control (and less to fear) than you think.
When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.
- You could exercise, jog, walk, listen to music, read, surf the web, play a video game, make a phone call, or knit. The important thing is to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes, in order to delay your response to the obsessive thought or compulsion.
- At the end of the delaying period, reassess the urge. In many cases, the urge will no longer be quite as intense. Try delaying for a longer period. The longer you can delay the urge, the more it will likely change. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/obssessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.htm