New Delhi: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life. Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a thought or action. For example, the person may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash hands until the skin peels off. The person doesn’t derive any pleasure from performing these repetitive behaviours and anxiety is generated by the obsessive thoughts. OCD consists of obsessions and compulsions.
OCD is seen in 2-3 per cent adult population and 1 per cent in children and adolescents. Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in the patients’ mind. They don’t want to have these ideas but they can’t stop them. These obsessive thoughts are disturbing and distracting. Compulsions are behaviours or rituals that the patient feels driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away. For example, if the patient is afraid of contamination, he might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessions come back stronger and the compulsions often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.
Signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder
Scientists have classified the many symptoms of OCD into four major categories:
- Washers: Repeated thoughts of dirt and contamination followed by repeated washing and cleaning
- Doubters, Checkers and Counters: Repeated illogical doubts followed by repeated checking and counting
- Arrangers: Repeated thoughts of symmetry and things being just right followed by repeatedly arranging things
- Sinners: Repeated thoughts of sinning or taboo thoughts or sacrilegious thoughts or forbidden actions and in response repeated compulsive ritualistic behaviours
Causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder
The exact causes are not fully known. However, research suggests a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition. A stressful childhood environment or an emotionally traumatic event might trigger a psychotic episode. The main theory is the severe decrease of the neurochemical serotonin in certain parts of the brain.
Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder
OCD is typically treated with medications, psychological counselling, family counselling to understand the illness and motivate family members to help.
No matter how overwhelming your OCD symptoms may seem, there are many ways in which you can help yourself. Some of the most powerful strategies are to eliminate the compulsions that keep your obsessions going. Here are some tips that can help you cope with OCD:
- Relabel – don’t avoid your fears. Try to resist or delay the relief seeking compulsions. When the OCD thought arises, try to relabel it as just an OCD thought.
- Reattribute – tell yourself it’s not me it’s my OCD.
- Refocus – shift your attention and do something else when the OCD thought comes such as exercise, listening to music, reading, playing a video game, etc.
- Revalue – do not believe your OCD thought. Tell yourself it has no meaning.
- Write down your OCD thoughts and worries.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid addictions.
- Practice relaxation techniques like yoga and deep breathing.
- Reach out for support – meet your nearest psychiatrist, counsellor or mental health professional.
Disclaimer: The author, Dr Shaunak Ajinkya, Consultant Psychiatrist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, is a guest contributor and a part of our medical expert panel. Views expressed are personal)