OCD Rituals

OCD Rituals: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a chronic and intense form of anxiety where patients engage in rituals to calm their fears and worries. Unfortunately, these rituals are extremely disruptive and distressing to those who have this mental illness, and untreated OCD will severely impact a person’s quality of life. While performing an OCD ritual may alleviate a person’s worries in the short-term, long-term, these rituals eat up a person’s time, disrupt their day-to-day functions, and don’t get the root of the disorder to offer sustainable relief.

What is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder. People with this condition will experience a range of recurring and intrusive thoughts, ideas, and obsessions. These urges are strong enough to drive an OCD sufferer to do something repetitively to alleviate painful emotions and unwanted thoughts. Repetitive actions in OCD are referred to as the “compulsion” part of the disease. Repetitive behaviors often take the form of continuous, ritualistic hand washing or checking things repeatedly, such as a locked door. Obsessions and compulsions will significantly impact a person’s quality of life and their relationships, too. They may experience various consequences related to these rituals, like being late to work or missing school. Despite the consequences, people with OCD are unable to stop. 

What OCD is Not

A lot of people who do not have anxiety or OCD will have repetitive thoughts or engage in repetitive behaviors. In people who do not have OCD, these thoughts and actions don’t interfere with their daily functioning. These behaviors enrich their life by giving them structure or making things easier on them. For example, a person without OCD may have a certain way they unload and reload a dishwasher. They may not like deviating from this pattern because it would make their task less efficient. 

But in people with OCD, they can’t deviate from the behavior without experiencing a range of distressing thoughts, feelings, and symptoms. Their thoughts are persistent, no matter what. Some people with OCD may understand that their obsessions aren’t rooted in reality, while others may have poor insight into their condition and believe their obsessions to be real. Even if a person with OCD understands their obsessions aren’t true, they still won’t be able to stop compulsive rituals related to the obsession.

How is OCD diagnosed?

OCD is listed as a diagnosable mental health condition in the current DSM-V. For an official diagnosis of OCD the following criteria must be met:

  • Obsessions and compulsions take up more than an hour of time each day
  • Symptoms cause major distress
  • Symptoms impair work and relationships

Current statistics have found that approximately 1.2% of U.S. adults have OCD, and women are more likely to have the condition than men. Usually, the symptoms of OCD start during either childhood or adolescence. The average age of onset for OCD symptoms is 19 years of age.

What are OCD rituals?

For readers to fully understand OCD rituals, they must first grasp the “O” in OCD – obsessions. OCD rituals are rooted in the obsessions of the disease, which are recurrent, persistent thoughts and images that result in anxiety, repulsion, or both. 

While many people with OCD understand that these obsessions aren’t aligned with reality, they will not be able to stop these thoughts with logic alone. A person with OCD can’t suppress these thoughts and images with sheer willpower or logical reasoning. Instead, people with OCD learn to cope in other ways by creating rituals or compulsions to alleviate their distress. In most cases of OCD, obsessions have themes of contamination, the desire for symmetry, danger, or forbidden desires.

OCD compulsions, or rituals, are distressing and repetitive actions or mental exercises that people with OCD perform to alleviate feelings of disgust or anxiety. The point of these rituals can also be to prevent a dangerous or harmful situation. For people with severe cases of OCD, these rituals may take up an entire day or night. These patients are unable to fulfill their usual duties and create a regular routine for their day. They may lose sleep if their rituals take place at night. People with OCD may be caught in a vicious cycle or an endless loop. While the rituals may offer temporary relief from obsessions, the obsessions quickly return and the routine starts over again.

What are some examples of OCD rituals?

For some patients with OCD, obsessive thoughts may manifest as muscle tension or pressure throughout the body. Performing a ritual can alleviate not only distressing emotions but also physical discomfort as well. Some of the most common examples of OCD rituals include:

  • Walking a certain way
  • Performing a repetitive activity, such as locking, unlocking, and relocking a door
  • Repeating precise movements like sitting up and down, blinking, or walking through a doorway a certain way
  • Touching items a specific way in a particular order or a certain number of times

What is the treatment for OCD rituals?

A majority of patients will find relief from OCD symptoms with a combination of therapy and medication. SSRIs, which are often used to treat depression and anxiety, can be useful for OCD as well. These medications may help reduce anxious feelings and obsessions. Therapy can teach OCD patients coping skills for stress, which can be a significant trigger for symptoms. An experienced therapist can guide OCD patients on how to reverse certain repetitive habits and rituals.

Almost half of all users of SSRIs won’t find adequate relief from medications alone. Deep brain stimulation techniques like TMS treatment may be worth exploring for this subset of OCD patients. TMS can stimulate certain areas of the brain thought to play a role in anxiety symptoms. With TMS, patients do not have to deal with anesthesia, IV lines, or other invasive procedures. The treatment is highly targeted, reducing the incidences of side effects. Patients who undergo TMS can return to work or school shortly after a session.

Are you or a loved one struggling with distressing OCD symptoms? TMS treatment may be able to help. Contact Pulse TMS today to see if you’re a candidate for non-invasive TMS treatment for OCD.