WHAT IS IT?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
Sometimes your obsessions and compulsions are manageable, and at other times they may make your day-to-day life really difficult. They may be more severe when you are stressed about other things, like life changes, health, money, work or relationships.
Although many people experience minor obsessions and compulsions, these don't significantly interfere with daily life or are short-lived. If you experience OCD, it's likely that your obsessions and compulsions will have a big impact on how you live your life.
Disruption to your day-to-day life. Repeating compulsions can take up a lot of time, and you might avoid certain situations that trigger your OCD. This can mean that you're not able to go to work, see family and friends, eat out or even go outside. Obsessive thoughts can make it hard to concentrate and leave you feeling exhausted.
Impact on your relationships. You may feel that you have to hide your OCD from people close to you – or your doubts and anxieties about a relationship may make it too difficult to continue.
Feeling ashamed or lonely. You may feel ashamed of your obsessive thoughts, or worry that they can't be treated. You might want to hide this part of you from other people and find it hard to be around people or to go outside. This can make you feel isolated and lonely.
Feeling anxious. You may find that your obsessions and compulsions are making you feel anxious and stressed. For example, some people feel that they have to carry out their compulsions so frequently that they have little control over them.
"One of the most difficult things about OCD is how people perceive it. Intrusive thoughts and compulsions take a greater toll, yet people don't seem to understand that."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON SYMPTOMS?
If you have OCD, you'll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
"It's not about being tidy, it's about having no control over your negative thoughts. It's about being afraid not doing things a certain way will cause harm."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TYPES OF TREATMENT?
There are some effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the impact it has on your life.
The main treatments are:
psychological therapy – usually cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without "putting them right" through compulsions
medicine – usually a type of antidepressant medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain
CBT will usually have an effect quite quickly. It can take several months before you notice the effects of treatment with SSRIs, but most people will eventually benefit.
If these treatments do not help, you may be offered an alternative SSRI or be given a combination of an SSRI and CBT.
Some people may be referred to a specialist mental health service for further treatment.
WHAT CAN HELP?
'Self-help' tips don't solve the issue. However, they can help you/others feel more in control when experiencing strong emotions.
If you find that 'self-help' isn't enough, consider reaching out to a counsellor or your GP for help managing overwhelming emotions.
Keeping track of your triggers can help you anticipate your urges. And by anticipating your compulsive urges before they arise, you can help to ease them.
The more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. By repeatedly exposing yourself to your OCD triggers, you can learn to resist the urge to complete your compulsive rituals. This is known as exposure and response prevention (ERP
You can overcome disturbing, obsessive thoughts by learning to tolerate them through exposure and response prevention exercises. It’s also important to remind yourself that just because you have an unpleasant thought, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Your thoughts are just thoughts. Even unwanted, intrusive, or violent thoughts are normal—it’s only the importance you attach to them that turns them into damaging obsessions.
Stay connected to family and friends. Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation will aggravate your OCD symptoms. It’s important to invest in relating to family and friends. Talking face-to-face about your worries and urges can make them feel less real and less threatening.
Join an OCD support group. You’re not alone in your struggle with OCD, and participating in a support group can be an effective reminder of that. OCD support groups enable you to both share your own experiences and learn from others who are facing the same problems.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment that helps to control OCD symptoms by refocusing your mind when obsessive thoughts and compulsions arise.
Get enough sleep. Not only can anxiety and worry cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety disorders such as OCD.
Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol temporarily reduces anxiety and worry, but it actually causes anxiety symptoms as it wears off. Similarly, while it may seem that cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety and OCD symptoms
Celebrate victories. Learning how to live with OCD takes time. Like any other goal, you’ll have successes and setbacks. Yes, it's important to work on your OCD, but it's just as important to step back and cheer the big and small progress you make along the way.