How To Understand And Navigate Living With OCD Disorder

Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW

Published 06/27/2022

Are you trapped in your perfectionist fixations, or perhaps you find yourself hung up on repeated thoughts and behaviors? You may be experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD.

While OCD is mainly known for its orderliness and excessive attention to detail, this disorder is much more complex than that simple generalization. OCD illnesses can range from slight inconveniences to debilitating compulsions that interfere with daily life. This article will help readers navigate the many symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatments, and understandings of OCD.

OCD Definition

OCD is a mental health disorder that can urge both compulsions and obsessions. OCD is short for obsessive-compulsive disorder. As the OCD name sounds relatively self-explanatory, there is much more to navigate and understand this complicated mental health disorder.

OCD is defined as engaging in continuous unwanted behavior. Such unwanted behavior is often an attempt to disengage with the intrusive thoughts, uninvited urges, and recurring images that trigger anxiety.

The Obsessions And Compulsions Of OCD

Obsessions 

Obsession of OCD is what the individual experiences in their mind. The obsessions of OCD are what can drive an individual into this disorder. Obsession is usually powered by fears that the individual experiences from OCD.

According to the International OCD Foundation, obsessions are constant thoughts, impulses, or images that frequently come to mind. These constant thoughts, impulses, or images are unwanted and cause great distress to the individual experiencing OCD. Obsessions can start small and eventually become consuming and disruptive to their lifestyle.

Types of Obsessions

  • Contamination: The fears of contamination can refer to germs, unhealthy chemicals, bodily fluids, and/or dirt. This anxiety over contamination usually relates to health and excessive worry about potential hazards.
  • Organization: Worries over organizational issues often lead to becoming a perfectionist. These feelings result from the fear of losing things. Over organization can produce the control and exactness the individual is seeking. Obsession with organizing can also be from the fear of forgetting important information or memories of loved ones.
  • Aggressive urges: Anxiety over aggressive urges often comes from fear of losing control.
  • Taboos: Fears of societal taboos are often sexually driven. People who experience these obsessions are often harassed by their own forbidden or overly sexual thoughts and/or impulses.
  • Religious: Religious obsessions impose excessive worry over right vs. wrong. These obsessions can conflict with an individual’s day-to-day life by worrying about morality or offending God.

These obsessions may lead to an individual becoming plagued by intrusive thoughts. These thoughts can range from bothersome to incapacitating. It’s important to note that your thoughts are not necessarily a reflection of who you are. Thoughts that you have no control over that simply pop into your head do not make you a bad person, and they do not define who you are. When these thoughts are plaguing you, take them at face value because that’s all they are: thoughts. You cannot control which thoughts come into your head, but you can deprive them of attention until they dissipate.

Compulsions

The subsequent piece of OCD is the compulsive reaction. While obsessions are all in the person experiencing OCD, the compulsions are what create the observable OCD behavior.

Compulsions of OCD are the repetitive actions that an individual with OCD uses to contract, neutralize, or offset the mental obsessions they are experiencing. Though this is only a temporary solution, it does the trick for the time being and allows them to escape the mental discomfort.

Understanding compulsive behavior is all about stepping back and considering the perspective. For example, it is expected for a person to fold and organize the same clothes three hours a day repeatedly if they work at a clothing store. But if someone stacks and re-stacks their shirts for hours on end, that could be considered a compulsion. While this compulsive behavior can relieve some experienced anxiety, the obsessions will soon return, causing an incessant cycle.

What Is OCD Behavior?

Symptoms of OCD are the compulsive behaviors that stem from obsessions. The compulsions of OCD exist to balance out the obsessions. By acting on compulsions, individuals can mitigate the fears tied to the impacting obsessions. Here is a list of some common compulsions from OCD.

  • Excessive Cleaning
    • Washing hands over and over again in a particular way.
    • Repeatedly wiping countertops, household items, or furniture, whether used or not.
    • Frequent showering and bathing multiple times a day.

  • Repeating Tasks 
    • Doing repetitive tapping, blinking, or tics.
    • Rewriting or rereading the same sentences over and over again.
  • Checking 
    • Confirming that you did not leave something on/off throughout the day.
    • Touching parts of your own body to confirm it is intact.
  • Compulsive Mindsets 
    • Counting while doing something and ending on your preferred number.
    • Steering oneself out of situations that might trigger certain obsessions.

OCD Risk Factors

Risk factors are circumstances that can increase the chances of developing a mental disorder. People without these listed risk factors can still find themselves with OCD, but their chances are less likely.

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy or Postpartum Period
  • Family history of OCD
  • Experience with trauma

Treatment 

Though there is no one straightforward cure for OCD, there are plenty of options to help reduce symptoms and alleviate core difficulties. Individuals can pave a path to recovery by following some, or all, of the treatment options listed below. Unlike magic pills, these rehabilitation treatments require time, patience, and in some cases, a lifestyle adjustment.

Exercise

Exercise allows those struggling with OCD to shift their mindset to physical activity. Not only does physical activity help refresh the mind, but it also helps distracts from creeping obsessions and compulsions that continuously bog down OCD patients.

Physical exercise also releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, known as endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that the brain releases that promote feelings of euphoria.

A study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease portrays how exercise can reduce OCD symptoms. This particular experience records the heightened recovery of aerobic exercise patients as an intervention to their OCD.

Relaxation

Taking deep breaths and finding time for relaxing activities can make a huge difference. Engagements like yoga, mediation, and breath practice can help reset the body.

In yoga and mediation, the goal is to push distracting and nagging thoughts away. This kind of rehabilitation can open doors to new perspectives by bringing in rationale to the invasive obsessions.

In 2014 the Cambridge University Press published a study outlining how kundalini yoga meditation can effectively treat OCD. This study demonstrates the power of relaxation and mindfulness and how it can naturally dismiss unwanted thoughts.

Therapy 

For true rehabilitation and recovery, individuals experiencing OCD should seek professional help. Cognitive behavior therapy is the most productive course of action for patients with OCD. Connecting with a cognitive-behavioral therapist can guide individuals with OCD to alternative thought patterns. While those experiencing OCD are trapped in their thinking pattern, a licensed therapist can help navigate the mind to a healthier place.

Therapy is where patients can address the anxieties they are feeling and dismiss their haunting obsessions. Since the relationship between patient and therapist is so valuable, patients must seek a licensed professional they feel comfortable opening up to. When finding the right therapist, it is important to consider their experience with other OCD patients. Ideally, patients and therapists will have long-lasting relationships that the patient can rely on.

All of these listed treatments can support those curious about OCD. As for official treatment, endorsed recovery plans must originate from a licensed professional. This article’s only purpose is to provide education and guidance in the right direction. True rehabilitation happens once an OCD patient is connected with a professional cognitive-behavioral therapist.

Diagnosing OCD

Medical professionals often require an in-person visit to properly diagnose OCD. This method can work very well, but it can also be perceived as a roadblock for those who cannot make it into an appointment. Luckily, online mental health diagnosis options are becoming exceedingly available and popular.

To get better at identifying OCD symptoms, take this online OCD diagnostic test. While this test is not meant to replace an OCD diagnosis from licensed specialists, it can help direct individuals on a healthy path to professional help.

Seeking The Necessary Help

Whether you experience mild anxiety or OCD that impedes your day-to-day lifestyle, therapy can help. There is no disadvantage to speaking with a therapist about your worries, and you can better yourself.

A study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research determined cognitive-behavioral therapy as an effective way to rehabilitate OCD patients. This research on cognitive-behavioral therapy as a treatment for OCD acknowledges the successful processes applied in this therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy dives deep to untangle emotional distress and heal those experiencing obsessions and compulsions.

Find a therapist that best fits you or a loved one, and finally get the help needed. The specialist has the answers. They just need you to ask for help.