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Obsessive Compulsive
Anxiety Disorders >> Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors And Disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief. DEFINING OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER
What is an obsessive-compulsive disorder? Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted, disturbing thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors that a person feels driven to perform (compulsions). Like a needle getting stuck on an old LP, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or action that it just can’t let go. People with OCD often say the symptoms feel like a case of mental hiccups that won’t go away.

The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation reports that 1 in 50 adults in the United States currently experiences OCD, and twice as many have experienced it at some point in their lives. Symptoms of OCD occur in people of all ages and may change in severity over time. Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, but a minority have obsessions alone (about 20 percent) or compulsions alone (about 10 percent). Compulsions generally accompany obsessions as a result of the brain’s attempt to dismiss or neutralize the obsessions.

What are obsessions? Obsessions are involuntary, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in a person’s mind. The person does not want to have these ideas, finds them disturbing and intrusive, and usually recognizes that they don’t really make sense. They commonly crop up when someone is trying to focus on an intentional thought or activity.

People with OCD may worry excessively about dirt and germs and be obsessed with the idea that they are contaminated or may contaminate others. Or they may have obsessive fears of having inadvertently harmed someone else (perhaps while pulling the car out of the driveway), even though they usually know this is not realistic. Obsessions are accompanied by uncomfortable feelings, such as fear, disgust, doubt, or a sensation that things have to be done in a particular way.

Some common obsessions include:
  • Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt
  • Fear of causing harm to oneself 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

What are compulsions? A compulsion is a repetitive behavior – a ritual – that a person feels driven to do and cannot seem to stop doing. Compulsions represent an attempt to manage an obsession by doing something to resolve it. For example, if someone is obsessed with being contaminated, that person might develop elaborate hand-washing rituals. If an obsessive worry is whether or not the door was locked, then a compulsive response might be to check the lock a certain number of times before leaving the house or going to bed.

The ritual is meant to bring relief from the anxiety caused by the obsession, though the ritual itself can cause anxiety if it becomes too demanding or time-consuming. Even if the ritual eases the discomfort caused by the obsession, it will probably return, and the person with OCD feels compelled to repeat the behaviors over and over again.

Some common compulsions include:
  • excessive double-checking
  • counting
  • hand washing
  • cleaning
  • ordering/arranging
  • touching
  • praying
  • hoarding

What are the signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder? Most people, from time to time, go back and double-check that the iron is unplugged or the door is locked before leaving the house. That’s normal, but when someone worries constantly that the door is unlocked and makes a ritual out of checking the lock 40 times before being able to get in the car, that’s an indication that the person’s thoughts and behaviors have risen to the degree of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The adult with OCD recognizes his or her repetitive thoughts and behaviors as irrational but feels unable to break free from them.

OCD may be diagnosed when compulsive behaviors take up excessive time (an hour or more a day), begin to interfere with your normal activities, or cause great anxiety because they’re so demanding.

While the onset of obsessive compulsive disorder usually occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, younger children can manifest symptoms of OCD by showing the same behaviors adults with OCD exhibit.

It’s often misdiagnosed in youngsters and adults as another condition such as autism or is overlooked because it occurs with other disorders, such as depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders or Tourette’s syndrome. In addition, OCD is often underdiagnosed because people with OCD may feel embarrassed by their thoughts and behaviors and try (often successfully) to hide the signature behaviors of their condition or because they lack access to effective health care. On average, people with OCD see three to four doctors and spend over nine years seeking treatment before they receive a correct diagnosis. Studies have also found that it takes an average of seventeen years from the time OCD begins for people to obtain appropriate treatment.

What treatment is available for OCD? OCD is not usually curable, but it is highly treatable, in that effective treatment can greatly reduce the occurrence of obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals. A combination of behavior therapy and medication seems to offer the best long-term improvement.

Exposure Treatment and Response Prevention
A type of behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention is generally the first line of treatment for OCD. In this treatment, you are repeatedly exposed to the source of your obsession. Then you are prevented from engaging in whatever compulsive ritual you use to reduce the anxiety brought about by your obsession. For example, if you are a compulsive hand washer, you might be asked to touch the door handle in a public restroom and then be prevented from washing up. As you sit with the anxiety, the urge to wash your hands will gradually begin to go away on its own. In this way, you learn that you don’t need the ritual to get rid of your anxiety.

Exposure treatment and response prevention is carefully planned out and controlled, with your therapist at your side to provide support. You will begin with a situation that provokes only a low level of anxiety. Once you’ve been exposed to this situation and have waited out the anxiety without engaging in your compulsion, you will move on to a more challenging situation. Continuing with the previous example, you might progress from touching the bathroom door handle to touching the toilet flush lever or even the toilet seat itself. With each successful exposure and response prevention, you’ll feel a greater sense of control over your obsessions and compulsions. Studies show that exposure and response prevention can actually “retrain” the brain to function differently, permanently reducing the occurrence of OCD symptoms. This type of behavioral therapy can even extinguish compulsive behaviors entirely.

Cognitive Therapy
A cognitive component is often combined with the behavioral approach of exposure and response prevention. Cognitive therapy targets the OCD sufferer’s catastrophic thoughts and exaggerated sense of responsibility. According to OCD Action, “Cognitive therapy suggests that OCD results when an individual misinterprets intrusive thoughts or urges as a sign that not only will harm occur, but that they may be responsible for it through what they do or what they fail to do.” Therefore, a central task of therapy is to address these irrational thoughts and challenge them.

What self-help tips can help me cope with OCD? If you have OCD, you can help yourself in many ways. Educating yourself about the disorder is a vital first step. It’s also important to practice the cognitive-behavioral techniques you’ve learned from therapy on your own. Renowned OCD researcher Jeffrey Schwartz emphasizes the importance of self-treatment on a day-to-day basis.

Self-Help Strategies for OCD
Educate yourself Learn everything you can about OCD. Read books on the disorder and talk to your therapist and doctor. The more you know, the better able you will be to manage your symptoms. You can find many books about OCD at local or online bookstores.
Practice the skills you’ve learned in therapy Using the skills you’ve learned in therapy, actively work toward eliminating your obsessions and compulsive behaviors. This is a challenge that requires commitment and daily practice.
Stay connected to family and friends Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation can aggravate your OCD. It’s important to have a network of family and friends you can turn to for help and support. Involving others in your treatment can help guard against setbacks and keep you motivated.
Practice relaxation techniques Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other stress relief techniques may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety brought on by OCD. A form of meditation known as mindfulness may be particularly helpful to OCD sufferers. Read Helpguide's Stress Relief: Yoga, Meditation, and Other Relaxation Techniques to learn more.
Join a support group You’re not alone in your struggle with OCD, and participating in a support group is an effective reminder of that. In a support group, you can share your experience and learn from others who are going through the same thing you are. Visit Search for a Support Group to locate OCD support groups in your area.

How can I help a friend or family member with OCD? If your friend or family member has OCD, your most important job is to educate yourself about the disorder. Learn everything you can about the disorder and make sure your loved one has access to information about it as well. Share what you’ve learned with your friend or family member and let them know there is help available. Simply knowing the condition is treatable may provide enough motivation to get them into a therapist’s office.

The way you react to your loved one’s OCD symptoms also has a big impact. Negative comments or criticism can make OCD worse, while a calm, supportive environment can help improve the outcome of treatment. There’s no point in scolding someone with OCD or telling the person to stop performing rituals. They can’t comply, and the pressure to stop will only make the behaviors worse. The best way to help a loved one cope with OCD is to be as kind and patient as possible. Praise any successful attempt to resist OCD, and focus attention on positive elements in the person’s life.

The Mayo Clinic suggests the following tips if you live with someone with OCD:
  • Bring relevant books, tapes and other literature into your home. Encourage your loved one to read or listen to these presentations about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Often, your loved one already knows his or her behavior is irrational.
  • Be patient about the pace of progress. The severity of obsessive-compulsive disorder varies, as do recovery times.
  • Praise small successes. At first, decreasing hand washing time by 10 minutes a day may seem insignificant to some, but it may be a giant first step for a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Refuse to participate in the person's rituals. Explain that doing so would only make the condition worse.
  • Don't become a baby sitter. Your loved one needs to know you trust him or her to be left alone at times — to not always be under your watchful eye.
Ellen Jaffe-Gill, M.A. created this article with contributions from Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last modified on 10/16/06.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/. C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

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SOURCE: www.helpguide.org

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