Habits you’ve had for years have suddenly become noticeable to others, and not in a good way. You clean your house too often, are paranoid about personal hygiene, and have begun spending hours each day on things that are clearly compulsive. You may have OCD, but there are coping mechanisms.
WHAT IS OCD?
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.”
OCD can happen to anyone, but slightly more women than men get it. The average age of symptom onset is around 19 years of age.
No one has uncovered a definitive cause for OCD. It may be related to chemicals in the brain which transport messages between nerve cells. One of these chemicals, serotonin, is designed to keep people from continually repeating the same behaviors. OCD could be caused by not having enough serotonin, and some people function better if they use medicine that boosts the quantity of serotonin in their brain. OCD may be inheritable and runs in families.
OCD & THE BRAIN
Variations in the brain and instances of OCD are inextricably linked. Recent studies show that “the brain responds too much to errors, and too little to stop signals, abnormalities that researchers had suspected to play a crucial role in OCD, but that had not been conclusively shown due to small numbers of participants in the individual studies,” says Luke Norman, Ph.D., lead study author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the U-M Department of Psychiatry.
OCD COPING TECHNIQUES
If you’re considering treatment for OCD symptoms, there are many self-help strategies you can try either independently of professional help or at the same time.
- Be prepared for sneak attacks. OCD symptoms can come out of the blue without warning, so expecting the unexpected is a good first defense.
- Risk is inevitable. There are risks to facing OCD, just as there are other facets in your life.
- Set aside your need for reassurance from yourself and others, as this is merely a self-perpetuating symptom of OCD that can lead to others.
- Greet your OCD as a separate identity, perhaps even giving it a name. This allows you to wrestle it from the shadows and not be ashamed.
- Try journaling. Some people who experience OCD keep a handwritten journal where they list a situation, the issue driving their symptoms, a possible solution, and the actual resolution.
- Remember, there is more to OCD than black-and-white absolutes. Your battle with OCD is a long process, and setbacks happen occasionally – but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Acknowledge, and move on.
- Don’t push off the struggle on someone else. Dealing with OCD symptoms is your responsibility and realizing that and getting on with it is a sign of strength – not resignation.
- Physically and mentally refocus your attention. When OCD symptoms appear, try exercising, signing a song, spelling your name, saying the alphabet backward, or naming/listing everything you see.
There are many other coping mechanisms to try. Some may work, some may not.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR PROVIDER
People who suffer from OCD symptoms and commit to seeing a doctor need to be prepared with questions:
- What’s causing my OCD?
- Can you recommend a treatment that works?
- Who can offer better care, a psychiatrist or psychologist?
- Does this mean I have other mental health issues, like depression?
- How can I deal with my compulsions?
- I’ve heard certain medications may help. Is that true?
- Is treatment a life-long proposition?
- Can you recommend self-help techniques?
HOW TO DIAGNOSE & TREAT OCD
If you believe you’re suffering from OCD, you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. Someone with experience diagnosing and treating OCD is your best bet, which often narrows the list of possibilities down to a mental healthcare specialist. A diagnosis may first involve a physical exam and then a psychiatric evaluation.
A final OCD diagnosis is based on your symptoms, and by comparing them to OCD criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
With diagnosis confirmed, your healthcare provider will recommend a treatment protocol, which may include psychotherapy, self-help, or medicine, including ketamine.
If you think you suffer from OCD and the symptoms have begun controlling a large portion of daily life, it’s time to seek professional care. To learn more about the innovative treatment options out there that may help you find relief, contact us today.