OCD and me: Navigating life with a mental health condition

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can make daily living difficult and drastically impact it.

OCD is a mental health condition marked by recurrent and bothersome thoughts, pictures, or impulses (obsessions) that compel people to engage in repetitive actions or acts of the mind to calm their anxiety or avoid injury [1]. OCD symptoms can include excessive cleaning or hand washing, constantly verifying locks, devices, or switches, counting, arranging, or organizing things and engaging in mental routines like repeating words or phrases.

Living with OCD can be upsetting, time-consuming and disruptive to daily tasks like work, school, or social interactions. Due to their discomfort talking about their symptoms, people with OCD may find it hard to ask for help.

OCD: What you need to know

The mental health condition known as OCD is characterized by a pattern of unwelcome, bothersome and persistent thoughts, ideas, or impulses (obsessions) that produce worry and suffering. This can also include repetitive behavioral or mental acts (compulsions) intended to ease the anxiety or avoid injury [2].

OCD sufferers may feel forced to carry out particular behaviors or mental rituals in order to lessen the anguish brought on by their obsessions. For instance, a person with OCD can have a crippling fear of contamination – washing their hands endlessly until they are sore – or they might constantly check and double-check the locks on their doors to ensure that they are secure.

OCD is a chronic disorder that impacts 1-2% of the general population and can have a severe adverse effect on an individual’s quality of life [3]. This includes employment, education and interpersonal connections. However, many OCD sufferers can control their symptoms and have happy lives with the proper care, which includes counselling and medication.

OCD and me: Navigating life with a mental health condition

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

OCD is characterized by recurrent and intense thoughts, ideas, or urges (also known as obsessions) and repetitive physical or mental acts (also known as compulsions) that are intended to ease anxiety or avoid injury. 

Obsessions and compulsions are the two primary categories of OCD symptoms. Here are a few typical signs of OCD:

Obsessions

These are distressing or anxious ideas, visuals, or impulses that are obtrusive, undesired and persistent. Some common obsessions are:

  • Uncertainty about one’s behavior or thoughts
  • Fear of viruses or pollution
  • Need for symmetry, precision, or organization
  • Fear of hurting oneself or other people
  • Undesirable sexual or violent ideas or pictures

Compulsions

To reduce the distress brought on by their obsessions, people engage in repetitive actions or mental processes. Common compulsive behaviors include:

  • Arranging or classifying items in a particular way
  • Overbearing cleaning or washing
  • Counting, saying words aloud, or engaging in mental exercises
  • Repeatedly inspecting switches, appliances, or locks
  • Acquiring or hoarding things
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Individuals with OCD may additionally engage in avoidance activities or have additional symptoms, such as:

  • When unable to engage in compulsive activities or mental acts, one may experience distress, anxiety, or guilt.
  • Unwelcome and invasive obsessive ideas or pictures
  • The avoidance of situations that set off obsessions or compulsions, which may disrupt everyday activities, the job, or connections.
  • A strong desire for harmony, precision, or order in one’s environment
  • Compromised functioning in society or work, such as trouble concentrating, finishing projects, or making judgments
  • Monotonous, tedious, excessive, or upsetting mental or behavioral actions

It is crucial to remember that not every individual with OCD suffers both obsessions and compulsions; in fact, some persons with OCD might have only one or the other without the other.

Risk factors of OCD

OCD may be more likely to develop if a number of risk factors are present. These are a few typical risk factors:

  • Genetics: OCD tends to run in families, therefore there may be a hereditary component to the disorder. The probability of acquiring OCD is increased if a first-degree relative already has the condition.
  • Environment and experiences: Some people may develop OCD as a result of catastrophic or difficult life circumstances including violence, disease, or a big loss.
  • Cognitive factors: OCD may be more likely to develop in those with specific cognitive qualities, such as a propensity for perfectionism or inflexible thought processes.
  • Brain chemistry: Dopamine and serotonin are two neurotransmitters that may play a role in the emergence of OCD. The likelihood of developing the illness can be increased by imbalances in certain neurotransmitters.
  • Other mental health conditions: Having additional mental health issues like depression or anxiety may raise the likelihood of acquiring OCD.

Having a certain risk factor is not necessary for someone to develop OCD. Despite the fact that many people with risk factors do not get OCD, some people with identified risk factors may develop the condition [4]. If you are concerned about OCD or its risk factors, it is imperative that you get expert advice from a mental health professional.

‘Severity varies’

OCD can range greatly in severity from person to person. Others may experience more severe symptoms that have an impact on their daily functioning and quality of life. Some people may experience moderate symptoms that only influence some aspects of their lives.

The frequency, intensity and length of the obsessions and compulsions, as well as their effect on the person’s life, are frequently used to determine the severity of OCD. Some elements that may have an impact on OCD severity are as follows:

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions: Individuals with OCD may also have anxiety or depression as well, which may affect how severe their symptoms are.
  • Type of obsessions and compulsions: Some obsessions and compulsions – such as those involving injury or contamination – may be more upsetting and bothersome than others.
  • Level of insight: Individuals with OCD may have varied degrees of understanding of their disorder, which can have an impact on their willingness to receive medical attention and participate in therapy.
  • Response to treatment: The degree to which a person responds to therapy or medication for their OCD can also influence how severe their condition is.

No matter how severe the OCD, consulting a mental health expert is necessary for efficient symptom control and therapy. With the right care, many OCD sufferers are able to control their symptoms and lead happy lives.

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Navigating life with OCD

Even though coping with OCD might be difficult, it is doable with the right treatment and assistance. Here are some suggestions for coping with OCD:

Learning the basics of OCD

Do your best to educate yourself on OCD, its symptoms and the treatments that are available. This can help you understand what you’ve gone through more clearly and identify methods for improved symptom control.

Seeking professional help

Since OCD is a treatable mental health condition, it is imperative to get professional help from a mental health expert, like a counsellor or psychiatrist. They are able to provide an accurate diagnosis, develop a treatment plan and provide assistance and encouragement throughout the course of treatment.

Developing coping strategies

Find the triggers that aggravate your symptoms and devise coping mechanisms to control them. As an illustration, exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) involves gradually exposing yourself to the feared object while restraining yourself from engaging in compulsions.

Practicing self-care

To manage OCD, one must practice self-care. Spend time engaging in stress-relieving activities like yoga, deep breathing, or meditation. Get enough rest, maintain a balanced diet and engage in regular exercise.

OCD and me: Navigating life with a mental health condition

Building a support network

Make connections with people who can relate to what you’re experiencing. This can entail attending a support group or asking family and friends for help.

Staying focused on your goals

It might be difficult to manage OCD, but it’s crucial to remain committed to your objectives and keep a positive mindset. Celebrate little successes and keep holding out hope for a recovery.

Recovery is feasible with the correct therapy, assistance and taking care of oneself. Just keep in mind that living life with OCD is an ongoing process. It’s crucial to get expert assistance and create coping mechanisms that are effective for you. You can adjust to living with OCD successfully with time and perseverance.

From here on…

Having OCD does not mean that you cannot live a fulfilling life. While OCD can be challenging and may require management, many people with OCD can live happy and successful lives.

Seek professional assistance from a mental health specialist if you are struggling with OCD. Therapy, medication, or a combination of the two may be used as a form of treatment. In order to effectively treat OCD, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches patients new coping mechanisms for their obsessions and compulsions while gradually lessening how disruptive they are to daily life [5].

You can live life to the fullest despite having OCD by using a variety of methods and lifestyle adjustments along with professional assistance. Self-care techniques, such as getting adequate sleep, eating a good diet and exercising frequently, can, for instance, help people feel less stressed and anxious.

It could also be helpful to create a support system by getting in touch with people who can relate to what you’re going through. OCD can be challenging, but with the right support, care and treatment, it is possible to manage the symptoms and live a happy life.

Additionally, it’s critical to keep your eyes on your objectives and retain an optimistic mindset. Celebrate little progress and keep holding out for the possibility of recovery. You can learn to control your symptoms and lead a full life despite having OCD with time and perseverance.

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[1] https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032210-104533
[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41572-019-0102-3
[3] https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.153.6.783#
[4] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/psychological-medicine/article/abs/risk-factors-prospectively-associated-with-adult-obsessivecompulsive-symptom-dimensions-and-obsessivecompulsive-disorder/F78647FE0D631C505F487BF8866E6CF7
[5] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/070674370605100702 

Photograph: YuriArcursPeopleimages/Envato
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