How to treat OCD, as well as symptoms and causes

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One of the most common and enduring misconceptions about OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is that it’s simply about cleaning or counting.

In reality, the condition affects people in myriad ways – although it can include those things – to the point it may take many people a long time to be officially diagnosed.

It can also be a mental illness with people find shameful, leading them to hold off on seeking help, or not disclose the extent of their problems when they.

This then can lead to isolation, but it’s vital that if you think you have OCD that you get the necessary treatment. Here’s a rundown of signs you might have it, as well as how to treat it.

OCD symptoms

OCD is characterised by obsessions and compulsions, but these manifest in different ways.

Obsessions typically come in the form of urges or thoughts that make you feel anxious or cause you discomfort, while compulsions can include (but are not limited to) the following):

  • Checking (for example, making sure over and over that taps or switches are off at night)
  • Cleaning
  • Washing the body
  • Repetitive acts (such as tapping a certain point a number of times)
  • Repetitive sayings (saying or thinking the same word over and over)
  • Ordering items in the home or at work
  • Hoarding
  • Collecting items
  • Counting items

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Sometimes compulsions are observable to others, and sometimes they remain under the surface. In most cases, though they exist as a way for the person to feel some sort of relief from their obsessions, with their mind telling them that the compulsion will ‘make things better’ if they perform it in the right way.

A small number of people also find that they experience something called Pure O, which is the obsessions without the outward compulsions (although the specifics of this are debated). Others experience things such as false memories, too.

OCD causes

There is no known cause for OCD, although it’s thought that it’s a combination of genetics, chemicals in the brain, and whether someone has had any traumatic events.

Those who are already anxious – as well as those with neat and methodical personalities – are also more likely to develop OCD.

OCD treatment

According to Shane FitzGerald, of the London OCD Clinic, the best treatment for OCD is a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication.

He told ‘Although people with mild to moderate OCD can often get great results with CBT alone, people with very severe OCD might struggle to get the maximum benefits without also utilising medication.

‘It is also important to note that not all therapies are equal in treating OCD, with CBT being seen as the gold standard psychological therapy for this complex problem. Research shows that.other forms of therapy are unlikely to be of significant benefit’.

Essentially, your treatment will be determined by your health professionals (and will be worked out for you based on your specific symptoms) but it will more often than not have a two-pronged approach.

For many, the hardest part of receiving treatment is seeing it, with Shane saying, ‘Quite often clients admit to having never told anyone else the real details of their OCD, making it a particularly lonely and isolating condition’.

Going to an experienced therapist (starting with your GP if you need guidance or a diagnosis) will help you reduce this feeling of loneliness and manage your symptoms.

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OCD techniques to use at home

Although Shane recommends seeking professional help first and foremost, he does assert that there are a few things you can do at home to help OCD.

Challenge avoidance

Although Shane states that this might be particularly difficult without an expert, he says you can make a start by doing this: ‘Make a list of activities that you might find challenging. Give these activities a mark out of 10 for difficulty, and then move up through the list trying to gently push yourself as much as you can…

‘With intrusive thought OCD the tasks might involve listening to certain challenging messages on a loop tape or writing down certain things that make us feel uncomfortable. This process is called Exposure and Response Prevention, the most important treatment comment for any type of OCD’.

Practice mindfulness

Meditation at a similar time each day can be a good thing to do to help, but it’s important not to use this as an avoidance tactic.

Be careful with substances

Shane says, ‘Recreational drugs and binge drinking are usually a bad combination with OCD or any anxiety disorder as the hangovers will usually provide a significant spike in symptoms for a couple of days. Drinking excessive amount of caffeine such as multiple coffees can also exaggerate symptoms in some people’.


As with many mental health problems, taking regular exercise can alleviate symptoms.

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