Increasing Awareness Of OCD: Part I – What Is OCD?

Misti Nicholson, PsyD

What is OCD?

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is a neurobiological condition that affects an estimated 1 in 100 children and 1 in 40 adults across the United States. OCD causes unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that often lead to repetitive behaviors, routines or rituals (compulsions) that are performed in an effort to ease anxiety.

OCD, unfortunately, is often portrayed as something laughable, particularly in the media. Fueling misconceptions about OCD, symptoms are often exaggerated in television shows and movies. Terms like “obsession” and “obsessed” have become a part of people’s every day vocabulary. People often talk about “being obsessed” with their favorite television show, the latest radio hit, or an enjoyable hobby. The casual use of these terms diminish the struggle of those suffering from OCD and do not accurately depict the debilitating nature of OCD.

Everyone has had concerning thoughts about health, safety, a loved ones’ wellness, and so on. For someone with OCD, obsessions are frequent, intense and accompanied by severe anxiety, doubt, disgust or the feeling that things need to be “made right.” Some common obsessions include the following:

  • worry about germs
  • worry about illness and/or disease
  • concern regarding environmental contaminants or household chemicals
  • concern regarding bodily fluids
  • concern regarding sexual orientation
  • unwanted sexual thoughts
  • fear of losing control
  • worry about causing harm to oneself or others
  • fear of stealing
  • fear of insulting others
  • worry about offending God
  • excessive concern about morality or doing the right thing
  • concern about things being even or balanced
  • strong need to know or remember things
  • fear of being responsible for something catastrophic

These thoughts are consuming and get in the way of important daily tasks. In an effort to counteract these negative thoughts or reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions, people with OCD often develop compulsions and/or rituals. These repetitive behaviors are often very time consuming, and can be disruptive and even embarrassing. Some common compulsions include:

  • excessive hand washing or showering
  • excessive cleaning
  • checking that one didn’t cause harm to oneself or others
  • checking locks or appliances
  • checking that a mistake was not made
  • counting while performing tasks
  • repeating activities or movements
  • rereading and/or rewriting
  • praying
  • “undoing” a bad thought or word with a good thought or word
  • mental reviewing of events
  • confessing
  • asking questions repetitively in an effort to gain reassurance
  • ordering and/or arranging
  • avoiding certain situations

People with OCD are typically aware that compulsions are ineffective; however, until they develop better coping strategies they rely on compulsions and rituals for temporary relief. This unfortunately creates a vicious cycle as the temporary relief compulsions can bring only reinforces the obsession and OCD tends to gradually worsen over time.

OCD is diagnosed when obsessions and compulsions are time consuming, cause significant distress and interfere with important areas of life (i.e., school, work, relationships, social activities, and daily routines). If you or someone you care about has OCD, you are not alone. October 9–15, 2016 is International OCD Awareness Week. The goal of OCD Awareness Week is promoting awareness and understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder so that more people get timely, effective treatment. Stay tuned this week as we discuss who is affected by OCD, the most current recommended treatments, support for families, and more.

For more information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD Treatment at Austin Anxiety and Behavioral Health Services please call (512) 246-7225 or email us at [email protected]. We are currently accepting new patients at our Round Rock and Austin therapy offices.

If you have any additional questions please contact us at 512-246-7225. If you are ready to get started, please visit our client portal.