Hundreds of years ago, people believed that those affected by OCD (or obsessive compulsive disorder) were possessed by the devil. Now though, the condition is well known and many celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz have publicly admitted to be suffering from it. The Hollywood magnum opus starring Di Caprio and directed by Martin Scorsese Aviator, based on Hollywood film producer and aviator Howard Hughes’ also dealt with the subject. It’s a little known fact that even Steve Jobs was obsessive about keeping things clean, and also so obsessed with perfection that he just couldn’t buy furniture; he simply didn’t like anything! His universal demand for flawless design certainly reflected some symptoms of OCD (though he was never diagnosed) which brings us to the question:
What exactly is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviours one feels compelled to perform. The thoughts are intrusive in nature, unpleasant and distressing which causes uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry. The repetitive behaviours are aimed at reducing the associated anxiety.
Also read: OCD: All you need to know
How do you know if you have OCD or not?
Even though, a lot of people have obsessive thoughts and perform compulsive behaviour, not all of them have OCD. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviours lead to extreme distress, take up a lot of time; interfere with daily life and affects relationships. While many people who do not suffer from OCD may perform actions often associated with OCD (such as ensuring the angles at which the curtains are drawn or ensuring correct punctuation marks all the time), the distinction with clinically significant OCD lies in the fact that the person who suffers from OCD must perform these actions; otherwise they will experience significant psychological distress.
A standard test to examine the severity of your OCD is the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive test.
Also read: Diagnosis and treatment of OCD
What are some ways to treat or control OCD?
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour 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 behaviour. Say to yourself, ‘I’m experiencing a symptom of OCD. I need to do something else.’
- 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 behaviour.
Along with this, one can also try group or family therapy. Unfortunately, till now there is no permanent cure for OCD. One must continue to take medication for it or practice therapy to keep themselves in control. Otherwise, the symptoms may resurface again.
Read in more detail: Four steps to deal with OCD and prognosis