Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
OCD signs and symptoms: Obsessive thoughts
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others.
- Fear of causing harm to 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.
OCD signs and symptoms: Compulsive behaviors
Common compulsive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder (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.
Only trained therapists can diagnose OCD.
Therapists will look for three things:
- The person has obsessions.
- He or she does compulsive behaviors.
- The obsessions and compulsions take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values, such as working, going to school, or spending time with friends.
The medications used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder are the same drugs used to treat most anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy is another important aspect of treatment and generally recommended in conjunction with medication use.
The medications used to treat OCD generally include Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Luvox and Anafranil. These psychiatric medicines can control compulsions and obsessive thoughts. They work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain, which is generally low in sufferers of OCD.
Four Steps for Conquering Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, offers the following four steps for dealing with OCD:
- RELABEL – Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the result of OCD. For example, train yourself to say, "I don't think or feel that my hands are dirty. I'm having an obsession that my hands are dirty." Or, "I don't feel that I have the need to wash my hands. I'm having a compulsive urge to perform the compulsion of washing my hands."
- REATTRIBUTE – Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is caused by OCD; it is probably related to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Tell yourself, "It's not me—it’s my OCD," to remind you that OCD thoughts and urges are not meaningful, but are false messages from the brain.
- REFOCUS – Work around the OCD thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, at least for a few minutes. Do another behavior. Say to yourself, "I'm experiencing a symptom of OCD. I need to do another behavior."
- REVALUE – Do not take the OCD thought at face value. It is not significant in itself. Tell yourself, "That's just my stupid obsession. It has no meaning. That's just my brain. There's no need to pay attention to it." Remember: You can't make the thought go away, but neither do you need to pay attention to it. You can learn to go on to the next behavior.
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