Life is full of challenges. Every single day, we encounter them and we try to conquer them each time. But there are times that these obstacles get the best of us. No matter how much we fight, we fail to resolve them. Extreme stress gets us. As a result, we experience the terrifying attacks of panic. Fear, palpitations, shortness of breath and intense sweating are just some of the symptoms we have to initially bear. But when we leave them at that, they may further develop into an anxiety disorder. The most common anxiety condition that can happen to us is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder set apart among other mental health conditions by the presence of intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors. Their actions seem to illustrate paranoia and psychosis.
Intrusive thoughts, or the obsession part, are involuntary and uncontrollable thoughts, impulses or images that race through the mind over and over. As much as these patients wish that they would not have them, these thoughts keep coming anyway. They are both disconcerting and upsetting.
On the contrary, ritualistic behaviors, or the compulsion part, are actions people are compelled to do over and over again. They perform these ridiculous tasks just to appease their obsessions or impulses. But these actions only provide short-term relief, and not doing them will only increase anxiety. Examples of these behaviors include frequent hand washing, repeated checking, counting and cleaning, and hoarding.
People suffering from this disorder often recognize how irrational and illogical their obsessions and compulsions are. But they are powerless to stop them. Moreover, not all people who have obsessive thoughts or who manifest compulsive behavior have OCD. To qualify, these thoughts and behavior must be exceedingly distressing that it interferes with a person’s daily life and relationships.
What are the risk factors?
- Age.People at risk are said to be those in the late adolescent age. This includes those people between ages 15 to 19.
- Genetics.A family member diagnosed with OCD increases one’s chances of developing the disorder. A 25% risk is involved when a blood relative has it. For those whose identical twin suffers from this, a 70% risk is involved; while 50% for those with a fraternal twin.
- Postpartum.The fluctuation of hormone levels during pregnancy may worsen existing OCD symptoms in women, a study reports. With the arrival of the baby, disturbing thoughts and excessive worrying brought by the new responsibility of rearing a child surfaces. Symptoms may present themselves 4 to 6 weeks after the birthing experience.
- Life Events. Traumatic experiences which happened early on life can lead to the development of this disorder. Those who have been physically and sexually abused are highly at risk.
What are the common obsessions and compulsions?
- Excessive fear of contamination. People disturbed by the presence of germs often resort to constant washing, scrubbing or sanitizing of their hands. These people often have raw fingers and palms.
- Repeated checking of things. Afraid to leave things that can cause danger, these checkers repeatedly check if the doors are locked, the stove is turned off, and the lights switched off.
- Extreme arranging and organizing. People obsessed with order or symmetry will find themselves constantly aligning and balancing things in view.
- Hoarding things. Things with no apparent value are compulsively hoard, afraid that something bad may happen if these things are thrown away.
What therapies can be used?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy most effective in the treatment of OCD. In here, patients are encouraged to focus on their exaggerated thoughts and are taught healthy ways of combating these impulses without resorting to their ritualistic behavior. In addition, they are repeatedly exposed to their obsessions but are refrained from performing compulsions. Through this method, patients learn to have some control over their anxieties.
Pharmacologic therapy is also used in combination with CBT. Medications such as anti-depressants are prescribed to help relieve some of the symptoms while core issues are being addressed by psychotherapy.
What can family do to help?
To help loved ones suffering from this type of anxiety disorder, the family must educate themselves. Education can strongly help the family better understand and cope with the difficulties and challenges that the disorder entails.
Patience must also be shown. Obsessions and compulsions can take time and family members must be a little bit understanding. However, they must not reinforce the ritualistic behavior. They must support the patient and praise any of their attempts at resisting their disorder.
Stress is always inevitable. It is there from the moment we open our eyes until the second we close them. But this does not mean that there is nothing we can do to correct and manage them. There are plenty of ways. We just have to enforce better coping mechanisms and improve the quality of our lifestyle.
About the Author
Ryan Rivera offers free informational materials on anxiety disorders at. Most of these materials are based on his experience as an anxiety survivor.