Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is more than your friend who has to always keep their house clean or who has to have a meticulous appearance. People who are living with OCD struggle with what is called obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions refer to intrusive thoughts and compulsions refer to behaviors that they think will keep them safe but do just the opposite. According to Ginger Caudell, LPC, clinical director of Garrett Counseling, living with OCD is like “being trapped between two worlds.” Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be scary.
OCD & Covid-19
Life as we know it drastically changed in March 2020. At this time, we learned of a virus called the Coronavirus aka COVID-19. This virus has had such an impact on where we go, what activities we engage in and has caused many to fear for their own safety and well-being. Here we are two years later, the pandemic has calmed down but many still feel a threat of their safety.
Some individuals are trying to make themselves feel safe by practicing behaviors that do anything but keep them safe. For example, some people might wear a mask to the store to keep themselves safe but might take the mask off while they are in the store. Others might have a fear that they caused the pandemic to happen and if they think the wrong thing, they might cause others to contract COVID-19.
According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2003, 1.2% of adults are living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. And in 2008, OCD was labeled the fifth most debilitating mental health condition by the World Health Organization. We can only imagine that these numbers have increased since COVID-19.
Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
In 2018, Lily Bailey, a model, and writer from the United Kingdom, wrote a book called Because We Are Bad: OCD and A Girl Lost in Thought sharing her personal experience of living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In the memoir, she shares her childhood experience of developing a second personality for herself. Bailey shared “I became we” to help manifest compulsions that drove every minute of every day of her young life.
According to Raines, Vidaurri et al (2017) people with OCD experience symptoms in four different areas:
- Contamination obsessions/washing compulsions
- Responsibility for harm obsessions/checking compulsions
- Unacceptable thoughts (sexual, religious or violent in nature)/neutralizing or reassurance seeking compulsions
- Symmetry, completeness or ordering obsessions/arranging compulsions.
People with contamination fear that they are dirty and have to constantly wash their hands as a result. People with pathological doubt often second guess themselves and have to recheck their actions. People with intrusive thoughts often think that they are bad or did something that will cause them to not be accepted by society or experience horrible consequences. People who struggle with symmetry have an issue with things being out of plan or misaligned. In the case of Lily Bailey, she developed a second personality as a way of dealing with the unacceptable thoughts that she was having in her mind.
The OCD action, an England based organization established to support individuals living with OCD, has created a simple screener OCD test that you can use to see if you are personally experiencing symptoms of OCD. Some sample questions that this screener asks include:
- Do you excessively worry about things like fires, car accidents, or your house getting flooded?
- Do you check things like oven knobs, door locks, and car brakes over and over again within a short period of time?
- Do you get caught up in making sure things are in their proper order? (Cataloging books, rearranging drawers, lining up silverware, etc.)
- Do you feel a need to “confess” or seek reassurance on something you said or did?
What Causes OCD?
There is no clear cause of OCD. However, the OCD Action identifies some possible conditions which could make a person at risk for developing OCD. These include
- Family of origin
- Lack of emotional regulation
- Negative core beliefs
- Personal experiences
- Societal values
If a person is born in a family with people who have experienced OCD or anxiety-based struggle, the person is at risk for developing OCD. If a person has a difficult time regulating their emotions, they are at-risk for developing OCD. Originally, the condition could be a way of coping but as time goes on, it develops into a maladaptive behavior that the person is not able to get rid of. A person might also think things about themselves that can make them at-risk for developing intrusive thoughts. A person might experience stress or significant trauma and they can develop OCD tendencies as a result of this. Lastly, the values that a person subscribes to can also make them at-risk for developing OCD.
Coping With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
There are several ways to cope with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Here are just a few examples:
- Take some deep breaths. Learning to create a safe space within your body is a great way to help with OCD. Take some time, breathe in and breathe out. Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest and feel your chest rising and falling.
- Do the opposite of what you feel. If you are concerned that you did not wash your hands, resist the urge to wash them. If you are concerned that you missed a phone call, resist the urge to call the person. This might be uncomfortable to do but resisting the urges to do the thing that you think you are to do can help to decrease your level of anxiety.
- Take on a new hobby. Is there something that you would like to learn to do? It could be taking a sewing class, learning how to swim or journaling. Developing a new hobby can help you to use your thoughts in a productive way.
- Get plenty of sleep. Living with compulsions and obsessions is very tiresome. It is important that you are receiving adequate sleep. Make adjustments to your sleep schedule so that you are receiving adequate sleep at night. Interruptions in your sleep can make managing anxiety really difficult and getting adequate sleep can help with this.
- Schedule a time to worry. Simply schedule a time that you will choose to worry. Give yourself time for this. And after that amount of time, choose not to give into obsessions or compulsions. Schedule this time daily.
Help Is Available
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy are two modalities that have been proven to treat symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps a person to challenge thoughts and move towards having thoughts that can lead to a more productive way of thinking. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy provides skills on how to regulate emotions, be in the present and process thoughts as well. All of these techniques are helpful to support a person who is living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Up to this point, you have been brave in trying to cope with your obsessions and compulsions. Maybe you want additional support or not really sure if you are dealing with this condition but still want support to address this. Garrett Counseling has trained counselors who can help you work through your obsessions and compulsions. Please take the first step to get the help that you need with addressing your symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Contact us at (256) 239-5662 or online!
This article was written by LaTasha Toney, a telehealth mental health professional at Garrett Counseling. Learn more about LaTasha here.
Read more from LaTasha:
- How Can I Reconcile and Reconnect After an Argument With My Partner?
- What Does Depression Look Like?
- How Can I Manage My Anger?
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