What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD is a common anxiety disorder in which a person has obsessive thoughts and feel they have to engage in compulsive activities to manage these thoughts and neutralise their anxiety, even if they find the compulsions upsetting. An obsession is a persistent, unwanted thought, image or urge that is very difficult or impossible to block out, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour (which could also be mental) that someone feels they have to carry out to calm the obsessive thoughts.                                    

The typical cycle of OCD is as follows:

  • Obsessions – where an unwanted thought, image or urge repeatedly enters your mind
  • Anxiety – the obsession provokes intense anxiety and distress
  • Compulsion – repetitive behaviours or mental acts are performed to bring about relief to the distress or anxiety
  • Temporary relief – the compulsive behaviour only brings about temporary relief but the anxiety and obsession soon return

Obsessions and compulsions vary between individuals, but some common obsessions include fear of contamination, harming yourself or others, or obsessions of perfection. Sometimes obsessions and compulsions are related, so someone with a fear of contamination might be compelled to repeatedly wash their hands, but compulsions can also be totally unrelated, such as tapping a foot repeatedly.

The severity of OCD symptoms can vary greatly. For some people, symptoms can come and go, whereas other sufferers are unable to carry out everyday activities because their compulsions are so time-consuming, or for fear of being triggered.

If you feel that the above applies to you, therapy can greatly improve your day to day functioning and quality of life by helping you to understand your condition and teaching you effective coping strategies.

Which therapies might help?

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy involving graded exposure and response prevention, a therapy which focuses on experiencing the obsessive thoughts without trying to ‘neutralise’ them with compulsive behaviour.
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