What is OCD Like?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that affects over 2 million adults in the United States. Living with OCD can be difficult, but there are a variety of treatments available that can help people manage their symptoms. If someone in your life struggles with OCD, it’s important to understand the disorder and learn how you can help a loved one cope.
What is OCD?
OCD is a mental health condition that causes people to experience involuntary, intrusive thoughts over situations that cause them distress or anxiety. These thoughts are known as obsessions. People with OCD can be obsessed with almost anything, but some common things include cleanliness, contamination, constantly checking things, and the need for symmetry.
To cope with their obsessions, people with OCD adopt a series of behaviors—called compulsions—that they need to perform in order to cope with their stressful thoughts. For some people, OCD compulsions are physical gestures or actions, and for others, they’re mentally-driven behaviors. Some common compulsions include washing or cleaning, rearranging things, and repetitive counting.
For example, someone with OCD might repeatedly check that their doors are locked before leaving their house. People who deal with germ-related obsessions might wash their hands for 15 minutes after using a public restroom. For people who find comfort in patterns, they might struggle to shop in a grocery store where items are unorganized, or face different directions.
Mental health professionals aren’t certain about what causes OCD. However, it’s likely due to a combination of brain function, genetics, and environmental factors. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood that a person will get OCD, including family history, past traumatic experiences, and if they suffer from any other mental health disorders.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
OCD can affect anyone, at any age, although the disorder is most often diagnosed in adolescence. OCD symptoms typically start as a teenager, and gradually become more severe as the person gets older. While most people have both obsessions and compulsions, some people experience one or the other. Some common symptoms of OCD obsessions include:
- Having unwanted thoughts
- Thinking about harming yourself or others
- Wanting things to be uniform and symmetrical
- Intense fear of germs or contamination
- Avoiding triggering situations, like touching door handles
- Doubting that you’ve done things, like locking a door or turning off the stove
In most cases, people living with OCD are aware that their fears are irrational. However, trying to avoid their obsessions and stop their compulsions generally makes their anxiety worse. Here are some of the common symptoms of OCD compulsions:
- Aggressively washing hands
- Repeatedly checking that doors and windows are locked
- Repeating certain words
- Arranging items in a specific way
In children specifically, OCD is often misdiagnosed as ADHD, so it’s important to recognize the key differences. In kids with ADHD, any environment that is disorganized or cluttered tends to cause them distress and anxiety. However, a child with ADHD usually won’t use compulsions—like excessive cleaning or organizing—as a way to cope. Additionally, kids with ADHD tend to be hyperactive and forgetful, which are not common symptoms of OCD.
What It’s Like to Live with OCD
Living with OCD can be incredibly difficult, especially for people who suffer from severe OCD. The symptoms of OCD can interfere with daily life, and make ordinary activities extremely challenging. Despite the fact that millions of Americans live with OCD, it’s common for people to feel alone, isolated, and embarrassed about their condition.
Many mental health professionals note that OCD has a “snowball effect.” It starts with a random, irrational thought that eventually becomes extreme fear and anxiety, which can only be relieved through a compulsion. People with OCD can’t control these unwanted thoughts, and yet they realize that their anxieties are mostly irrational. As a result, many people with OCD report feeling controlled by their thoughts.
Being in new situations or places can also be difficult for people with OCD. Simply walking into a messy store, or a cluttered office can trigger their anxiety out of the blue. But telling other people about their condition isn’t easy. People with OCD often feel judged because of their condition, which makes them apprehensive to open up.
How to Help a Loved One with OCD
If someone you’re close to is living with OCD, then you know just how difficult it can be. People with OCD often struggle to maintain relationships with the people that matter most in their life. However, there are a variety of ways you can help a loved one cope with their condition.
- Be supportive
Instead of saying to someone, “Why don’t you just stop?” or commenting on their behaviors, try to be supportive and show positivity. Chances are, a person with OCD knows that their obsessions are irrational, and if they could stop their compulsions, they would. Understand their triggers and do your best to keep them out of situations that could cause anxiety.
- Don’t participate in rituals
If you live with someone who has OCD, it’s important to not engage in their rituals. You might offer to check that the oven is off or the front door is locked, and assume that you’re being helpful. However, participating in someone else’s OCD rituals can actually make them worse and more persistent.
- Encourage them to get treatment
If your loved one isn’t already getting treatment for their OCD, gently encourage them to do so. The symptoms of OCD can be managed with a variety of different treatments, including talk therapy and medication. Seeking professional help will allow your loved one to live a happier, healthier life.
Getting Treatment for OCD
There are a number of different treatments available for people living with OCD. Depending on the severity of the disorder, a mental health professional can prescribe an antidepressant to help control symptoms. Some commonly prescribed medications for OCD include:
Psychotherapy is also used to treat OCD, usually in combination with medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of talk therapy, which helps people with OCD identify the underlying causes of their triggers and anxiety.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is also becoming a popular treatment for OCD, especially for people who haven’t had success with other therapies. TMS involves using electromagnetic waves to stimulate the brain, which changes the flow of information between neurotransmitters and neural pathways to alleviate obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety.
Studies show that most people who undergo TMS for OCD see an improvement in function and a reduction in their negative symptoms after about four weeks. To learn more about the TMS services we offer at Pulse, contact us at 310-878-4346, or send us a message.