It’s normal, on occasion, to go back and double-check that the iron is unplugged or your car is locked. But if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so excessive they interfere with your daily life. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to shake them. But help is available. With treatment and self-help strategies, you can break free of the unwanted thoughts and irrational urges and take back control of your life.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessions and compulsions are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas, but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.
are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away.
For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive rituals and behaviors often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.
Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviors does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviors cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:
Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others
Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
Fear of losing or not having things you might need
Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”
Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky
Common compulsive behaviors in OCD include:
Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches.
Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe
Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety
Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning
Ordering or arranging things “just so”
Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear
Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food containers
Your lifestyle plays a big role in how you feel; it can help you manage your anxiety and function better.
Exercise regularly: Exercise is natural and can be a highly effective anti anxiety treatment. It can help control OCD symptoms by strengthening your nervous system helping you to refocus your mind when obsessive thoughts and compulsions arise. For maximum benefit, try to get 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity on most days. Ten minutes several times a day can be as effective as one longer period especially if you pay mindful attention to the movement process.
Stay connected to family and friends: Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation will aggravate your OCD symptoms. It’s important to invest in relating to family and friends. Talking face-to-face about your worries and urges can make them feel less real and less threatening.
Get enough sleep: Not only can anxiety and worry cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety disorders such as OCD.
Practice relaxation techniques: Stress can trigger symptoms or make them worse. Mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can help lower your overall stress and tension levels and help you manage your urges. For best results, practice regularly.
Recognize the role trauma may play in your OCD: In some people, OCD symptoms such as compulsive washing or hoarding are ways of coping with trauma. If you have post-traumatic OCD, cognitive approaches may not be effective until underlying traumatic issues are resolved.