Most people tend to underestimate the seriousness of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They make jokes about it, thinking that anything they do frequently, typically pleasurable things, makes them ‘obsessed’. However, OCD is nothing to joke about. In fact, it’s a life-altering mental condition. Don’t assume an obsession is the same thing. OCD can cause anxiety and generally make things difficult not only for the people who have it, but also for their families and friends. Because of the wide variety among OCD’s presentation, it is important that a professional make an official diagnosis to verify or rule out OCD.
Who is Affected
Fortunately, OCD only affects about 2% of the population; generally, the onset of symptoms is pretty clear early in life. By adulthood, most cases of OCD have already developed. However, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of people who will reference OCD as something they have, most likely unaware of what it really means to have OCD. It’s more than just not liking messy situations, and more than having a habit one likes to do. For a person who actually suffers from OCD, it’s not about personal preferences or desires, but actual compulsions- things that people absolutely MUST do.
What OCD Actually Is
OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). This might be one reason why otherwise healthy people claim that they have OCD: anxiety is something that is very common. However, it is only when it is constant, chronic, and extreme, like in cases of OCD and other disorders, that it becomes a serious problem. Generally, OCD prevents as extreme anxiety associated with specific triggers that in turn require the victim to take a particular action or perform a specific ritual so that the anxiety will abate. These compulsions can take on many different forms.
The unrelenting emotional overload brought on by OCD can be complicated. While what follows are some of the more common signs of OCD, a specific individual’s OCD may manifest in only some of these ways, or maybe none of them. It’s also possible that a person might exhibit one or two of these behaviors and *not* have OCD, hence the need for a professional evaluation, which may uncover a different anxiety disorder or something else. Do you or someone you know possibly have OCD, instead of just an obsession or strong desire? Here are some common signs to look for.
For a person with OCD, certain things must be performed in a very specific way; sometimes this means at a specific time of day, every day, or under specific circumstances. It may even require a specific series of actions to be repeated exactly a certain number of times. As you might expect, this can significantly interfere with one’s life. Unfortunately, the alternative is almost impossible. When people do not cave to their urges, they instead are overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and stress, which may quite literally render them paralyzed, unable to proceed with even day to day events their lives.
As mentioned earlier, there is a belief that the stress brought on by episodes of OCD will abate if certain conditions are met. Generally, it may have something to do with thoughts or feelings of safety and security, like locking and unlocking a door, shutting windows, or making sure the stove is off. While these are certainly good habits to have, OCD is relentless in that it causes the victim to constantly check these things far more often than actually necessary. In fact, performing such rituals don’t provide peace of mind, but they instead end up ‘validating’ the victim’s fears.
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One of the ways OCD can make life hard not just for the victims, but those in their lives, is the way it destroys confidence. A person with OCD may have incredible difficulty putting faith in others, particularly when it comes to matters directly pertaining to the victim. Regardless of what they are told, they may continue to wonder ‘what if’… and imagine the most horrible scenarios, regardless of how remote or unlikely, or how many times evidence to the contrary is presented. As with the fear and anxiety itself, the doubt is at an extreme, pretty much inconsolable level.
Because OCD tends to attach fear and anxiety to a specific behavior, sometimes it is possible to identify when the attacks first begin. Other certain other disorders, the trigger for a person’s OCD is generally obvious; a particular action or pattern of behavior suddenly has anxiety associated with a specific ritual, and failure to comply can have disastrous results. This could be thought of as a telltale sign of OCD or another disorder if such negative thoughts tend to hang around or recur, given that normal people may have these thoughts on occasion, but be able to move past them.
The role of anxiety comes up again and again, as does the magnitude. While many people experience anxiety every day, OCD goes beyond that. People with OCD aren’t simply anxious about speaking in public, or standing up for themselves, or locking up at night to feel secure. Most of these things can make people uncomfortable, but they can manage to push through. For OCD victims, the triggers can derail their thoughts and take over their behaviors throughout the day. When it comes to stress, a person with OCD isn’t just bothered or inconvenienced by it- they are all but crippled.
While OCD is definitely life-changing, there are things that can help. Medical resources include antidepressants, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). For example, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) can be very helpful. By seeking to introduce OCD triggers and prevent the ritual responses, ERP serves to weaken, and even eliminate the bond between the fear and the ritual fabricated to ‘cure’ it. Otherwise, strong social support from friends and family can play a role in helping people with OCD feel better about themselves, and give their all to treatment sessions.Related: 8 Frightening Symptoms of Stress That Affect Our Brains
Again, OCD is nothing to make light of. It makes life difficult for the person who has it, interfering with education, jobs, and even social and romantic relationships. The rituals and thoughts can make it difficult to function, and it’s easy to brush such things off from an outside perspective. Fortunately, however, OCD is receiving more and more attention, and as a result, there are treatments that can make living with OCD easier, if not resolving it entirely. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of OCD, seek a professional evaluation immediately, and make your life yours again.