Busting Myths And Finding Truths About OCD

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear a coworker say something to the effect of “I took two showers today” or “I like to set up my pencils in size order, I’m so OCD!” While these comments are generally meant in jest, the fact of the matter is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), affects roughly 1 out of 100 people in the U.S., with 50% of those cases being classified as severe. What we need to realize is that while some mild cases may come close to what many see as OCD, it is also a condition with the chance to debilitate people’s lifestyles. Understanding what it does and treating it requires clearing up quite a few misconceptions—some of which have become standard, sadly.

What Is OCD Really?

Part of the reason why OCD often gets misdiagnosed or misunderstood so much is the fact that we tend to over associate it with cleanliness. To be clear, being overly clean is a personality trait rather than disorder—it is the source of your behavior that determines OCD. OCD is a serious mental illness, where the various behaviors a person exhibits are done in an attempt to stave off high levels of anxiety and emotional distress. Fear of germs or uncleanliness can be a cause, but other potential obsessions in people with OCD include:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Fear of committing a sin
  • Fear of harming themselves or others
  • Fear of a loved one dying
  • Fear of certain numbers, colors, words, etc.
  • Fear of becoming a sexual predator

People with OCD then perform rituals to try and mitigate their anxiety. Examples include:

  • Counting
  • Repeating certain movements
  • Hand-washing
  • Praying
  • Cleaning excessively
  • Ordering or arranging things in the “right” way
  • Hoarding
  • Tapping or touching objects

This leads to one of the biggest truths that we need to understand about OCD: that it can occur in a variety of ways, unique to each sufferer. In fact, over the course of a lifetime, they may even change. In addition, it’s not always easy to determine if someone has compulsions or not. Many hide or suppress their symptoms in public. In addition, there is a unique type of OCD, pure obsessional OCD, where the compulsions are performed nearly entirely inside the head of a patient. Outward symptoms of this may include constant asking for reassurance that one is not doing anything “wrong” or “bad.”

Another thing to note is that the cause of OCD is not simple as being “stressed” as some would say. Simply relaxing is unlikely to stop the compulsions, but stress can exacerbate symptoms. The true approach to treating OCD is a bit more involved.

Working With Your OCD

Not all the myths regarding OCD are necessarily negative, though. For example, for all the talk we hear about OCD, few people seem to mention that there are options to help people deal with this condition. What’s important to realize is that as we mentioned earlier, OCD is a disease where regions of the brain are not functioning properly. As a result, we need to make sure that we employ the same type of tactics you would use for other mental illnesses.

As a start, several medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, siblings of popular brands like Prozac and Zoloft, are often used, changing some of the chemical levels in the brain to help reduce symptoms. However, similar to other mental illnesses, a multi-pronged approach is often the way to go. OCD counseling is an important complement to many other treatments. Many OCD counseling regimens are similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on certain negative behaviors and creating approached to help limit them.

It’s important to understand that OCD does not have a formal cure. What this doesn’t mean is that there aren’t options to help you live with it and have a happy life. To do so, though, you need to figure out if you truly have the condition, and the severity. Chances are, if you don’t like having that dirty dish in your sink, but can bring yourself to leave it for later, OCD isn’t an issue.


Image courtesy of [akeeris] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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