OCD Obsessive Thoughts

OCD: Symptoms of Obsessive Thoughts

OCD is a severe and distressing anxiety disorder that’s thought to impact approximately 1.2% of U.S. adults. Slightly more women than men are diagnosed with OCD, with most experiencing the first onset of symptoms as children or adolescents. The average age of onset for symptoms is about 19 years old. For people with OCD, obsessive thoughts, rumination, and tension throughout the body are par for the course. OCD symptoms are as unique as the people who struggle with the disorder. While this condition is chronic, there are many treatment options available for OCD.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

OCD is a mental health disorder with two distinct features. People with this condition will struggle with symptoms that manifest as both obsessions and compulsions. For some people with OCD, they may only struggle with one or other, although most patients exhibit signs of both features of the disorder. Also, many people with OCD are unable to realize that their obsessions or compulsions aren’t rooted in reality. Others may recognize that their symptoms do not have a logical basis. 

However, using logic and reason when it comes to dealing with OCD symptoms isn’t possible. People with this disorder are unable to control their thoughts and the feelings associated with them. Unfortunately, OCD can take up significant chunks of a person’s time, and severely interfere with their ability to establish healthy routines.

Obsessions in OCD

Obsessions in OCD refer to recurrent, intrusive thoughts, desires, or images that result in anxiety or feelings of disgust. People who struggle with OCD are unable to control these thoughts or urges, and the themes of these obsessions are often rooted in motifs of harm, contamination, or forbidden desires. The thoughts are intrusive and impossible for people to get rid of without engaging in compulsion or ritual. Some of the most common obsessions include the following themes:

  • Fears of contamination, germs, or uncleanliness
  • Obsession with needing things to be symmetrical or orderly
  • Scary thoughts about being harmed or harming others
  • Unwanted images that are religious, aggressive, or sexual

Obsessions can be challenging to understand for those who have no experience with OCD. Some examples of common obsessions include the following: 

  • Fear of germs from touching handles
  • Continuous doubts that a door has been locked or oven turned off
  • Tension and anxiety when objects aren’t placed in the correct order
  • Uncomfortable, intrusive images of harming another person
  • Avoidance of places and situations that will trigger obsessions
  • Unpleasant pictures playing on repeat in the mind
  • Intrusive thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately

Because people with OCD can’t control these obsessions with logic and willpower alone, they will create rituals or compulsions to alleviate their distress. Unfortunately, this creates an endless loop that is impossible for someone with OCD to get out of. They may conduct a ritual, only to get temporary relief. Soon enough, the obsession comes back, and they will have to start the ritual over again.

Compulsions in OCD

A compulsion in OCD occurs when someone with the disorder feels irrationally driven to perform a specific action to alleviate obsessive thoughts and images. A compulsion could be a physical or mental activity, and the goal of completing a compulsion or ritual is to reduce or prevent anxiety in OCD. Some people will perform OCD rituals to prevent unfortunate events from occurring. People who engage in compulsions do not get enjoyment out of them, but they do this to get temporary relief from obsessions and the distressing emotions they conjure. 

A patient with OCD might create rules to follow or rituals they must perform to control anxious feelings when obsessive thoughts occur. Compulsions are rarely rooted in reality or related to the issue they are trying to alleviate, and are often excessive in proportion to the obsession. Usually, a compulsion will have a theme like an obsession, such as counting, checking, orderliness, and cleanliness. These rituals or mental compulsions follow strict routines. Deviating from the routine results in extreme anxiety and tension. Some examples of compulsions include:

  • Repeated hand washing that damages the skin
  • Continuously checking a locked door
  • Counting in specific orders and patterns
  • Repeating a mantra, word, or phrase either out loud or silently
  • Arranging objects to face a certain direction

Compulsions can take up a lot of time and severely disrupt a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. Someone may repeatedly arrange their bedroom items before they can fall asleep, or walk through a doorway a certain way several times before heading to work. Without outside intervention for OCD, people with OCD will experience a limited quality of life.

Does OCD lead to rumination?

Rumination is a core feature of the disorder. Rumination happens in all clinical subtypes of OCD and is one of the most disruptive elements of the disease. When someone with OCD ruminates, they will continually analyze, worry about, or try to understand an obsession or theme about their obsessions. Without treatment, rumination only further enhances the distress and anxiety inherent in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Therapeutic methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can alleviate these symptoms and give people with OCD the tools they need to stop these habits and cope with stress in healthy ways.

How is OCD typically treated?

Mental health disorders like OCD generally respond well to a combination of therapy and medication. In most instances, SSRIs are used to treat OCD. SSRIs effectively target neurotransmitters in the brain that are thought to play a role in anxiety symptoms. While medications can alleviate anxiety and give someone with OCD a little breathing room, therapy aims at doing deep, emotional work and preventing relapses and triggers. With therapy, people who struggle with OCD symptoms can learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress and eliminate harmful habits. 

While medications are useful for many people with OCD and anxiety, some people will not find adequate relief from medications. In these instances, deep brain stimulation techniques are worth exploring. TMS treatment for OCD has shown promise for alleviating stubborn mental health symptoms that don’t respond to medication. If you or a loved one with OCD hasn’t found relief with medication, contact Pulse TMS. Representatives are standing by to answer your questions about non-invasive TMS treatment.