OCD Should Come With A Health Warning!
Here's help for your obsessive and compulsive behaviour
Do you get an overwhelming urge to check you've locked the front door properly or to repeatedly scrub away “germs”? On occasion everyone worries about such things. But when they become obsessions and you feel compelled to act, that's obsessive-compulsive disorder - OCD.
Roughly 3-4% of the population has full-blown OCD. It causes emotional distress including depression, interfering with a sufferer’s life but also there are health implications. Recently I met a woman whose repeated, vigorous hand-washing led to terrible eczema. Other cases include people making themselves ill by taking huge levels of vitamins convinced they’ll get some terrible disease if they don't and compulsive use of cleaning fluids setting off asthma.
What is OCD? It’s a fear-based disorder where the person can’t resist their obsessions and compulsions. An obsession is an intrusive and repetitive thought. The content varies from worrying about something (like contracting germs) to fearing you'll do something “bad” (e.g. collapse in public).
A compulsion is repetitive behaviour you feel compelled to do to ward-off obsessive thoughts. So, for example, if you wash your hands five times (the compulsive behaviour) your obsessions (the thoughts) about germs are banished. If an OCD sufferer can’t do their ritual or behaviour it causes them distress and even their obsessions alone are disturbing.
Here Are Seven Steps To Solve Your OCD:
Step 1 - Explore where your OCD comes from being fuelled by fear/anxiety. Perhaps your parent had OCD and you learnt life’s frightening and you “control” the fear with certain behaviours. Or you experienced a trauma and OCD became your way of “coping” in the aftermath. Maybe it’s the way you react when demands mount at work/home. Understanding gives you more power and a springboard for action.
Step 2 - Keep an OCD diary for one week. Make it simple - mark a ‘tick’ for each obsessive thought and a ‘cross’ for each compulsive behaviour. Briefly note any trigger that sets off the thought/behaviour.
Step 3 - Examine your diary for patterns. Can you determine what sets you off? For example, is it stress when getting ready for work that leaves you fretful so you re-check locks? On a separate sheet write down your main OCD triggers (e.g., morning routine before work), your obsessions/compulsive responses, and relevant goals, e.g., to stop re-checking locks.
Step 4 - Before implementing strategies reframe your thinking. Accept that OCD is NOT a “coping” strategy. You may have seen it as your coping mechanism, your saviour even! But it's the opposite, preventing you from learning positive coping strategies. Headline your piece of paper from Step 3 with the fact "My OCD is not a coping strategy!" Hold this thought.
Step 5 - Now it’s time to enlist loved ones in your action plan. Their support’s vital in resisting your OCD. Explain clearly to them what you've identified through your diary and how you’re planning to change this. Tell them you need support in resisting OCD.
Step 6 - Taking action requires a number of elements. * Select your first goal. For example, if you wash your hands five times whenever you touch food the goal is to resist and wash four times in the first instance, then three times, etc. * As you resist the urge to wash again, use deep breathing to relax your body. * Also use continual communication with a loved one about your feelings of fear. Report to them out loud how you’re feeling resisting that fifth hand-washing. * Now affirm to yourself that you’ve coped despite not carrying out your compulsive behaviour. * Give yourself loads of praise for your resistance and acknowledge that setting goals and good communication are positive coping strategies.
Step 7 - Continue to monitor your goals and stress levels. For example, you might’ve had half-a-dozen key rituals to tackle - one at a time - building your coping-confidence. Keep an open dialogue with loved ones about your successes and your failures. Don't become secretive about OCD thoughts and behaviours that you fail to resist. Carry on being open-minded to implementing real coping strategies like talking about difficulties and looking for solutions to the stresses we all face.
For additional help:
The OCD centre - 0845-226-3110
Published in The Express Newspaper