Are Your 'Little Ways' Really OCD In Disguise?
Are you OTT with OCD?
Are you having to check your make-up 20 or more times a day to make sure it's fine? And are you arranging everything at your workstation 'just so'? Maybe you feel a bit ‘out of sorts’ until it's sorted? Or maybe you're thinking of that new boyfriend 150 times a day - and think that's part of being in love? It might be, but it also might signal the beginnings of obsessive-compulsive disorder - OCD.
OCD is a fear and anxiety-based disorder where you can’t resist your obsessions and compulsions. These are two different things that feed into each other. An obsession is an intrusive and repetitive thought. Let's say you constantly "obsess" about something like touching dirty surfaces because of germs. It's a constant thinking about such things that are an obsession.
A compulsion is an actual behaviour or a set of behaviours. You might feel compelled to repeatedly wash your hands because you want to get rid of the germs you fear. As you can see obsessive thinking is naturally hand-in-hand with the compulsive behaviour. You act (the compulsive behaviour) on the you're thinking (the obsession). Someone with OCD gets very anxious if they can't carry out their compulsive behaviour because in some sense they feel "relief" from having done it. With the germ example you'd feel relief if you'd washed your hands to get rid of the germs.
How Many People Have It?
Roughly 3-4% of the population has what can be described as full-blown OCD. This can be so distressing that it needs to depression and interferes with a sufferer’s life. There are also health implications that some compulsive behaviours. Recently I met a Chloe, 26, whose repeated, vigorous hand-washing led to terrible eczema. In other cases I've seen people have made themselves ill by taking huge levels of vitamins convinced they’ll get terribly ill if they don't.
Are You At Risk Of Developing OCD?
Take my quick quiz to see if you're at risk of developing OCD. Answer these simple questions honestly:
1/ Are you ever late, do you keep people waiting, or miss appointments because of rituals like having to check your door is locked, say, six times. Or that the gas is off, or that your make-up’s "perfect", or anything like that?
2/ Do you feel constant anxiety, or even fear, about doing things "correctly" or that you haven't done something correctly that you feel you must do?
3/ Has anyone ever commented on things like your "little ways", or that you do things unnecessarily (like checking through your bag repeatedly that you have everything you need when you're trying to leave for work)?
4/ Do you feel trapped by thoughts that you keep going over and over in your head - they spin on and never seem to stop?
5/ Do you feel temporary relief from worry and anxiety if you do something that you believe you really need to do - like rearranging something on your desk a set number of times until it’s “just right"?
6/ Do you frequently feel panicked if something prevents you from doing a routine/ritual that you believe is necessary - like washing your hands a set number of times?
1-2 Yes Answers: some risk of OCD
At this point any repetitive thoughts you might have or worry you have about doing something "just right", maybe manageable. But pretty much any Yes answer to the above questions signals the potential for developing OCD. Things may seem fine in your life right now but check out the advice below.
3-4 Yes Answers: OCD heading out of control
You definitely need to examine your behaviour and the way you think about things. This is because you risk these things taking over your life. Full-blown OCD can develop insidiously - without you being aware that it's taking over your life. See the advice below.
5-6 Yes Answers: full-blown OCD
Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviours might well have taken over your life. Definitely use the advice below.
Six Step OCD Solution:
Step 1 - Explore:
Time to sort out where your OCD or OCD-type thinking and behaviour comes from. Did one of your parents have OCD and you learnt that life is full of anxiety and you need to control it? Or maybe you experienced a trauma and OCD has become your way of “coping” with the after-effects. Possibly you only start feeling and acting this way when stress mounts? This type of understanding empowers you to take action.
Step 2 - Monitor:
It's helpful to start monitoring your thoughts and behaviour with an OCD diary for one week. Keep it simple, say, mark a ‘tick’ for each obsessive thought you have and a ‘cross’ for each compulsive behaviour. Then make a brief note of any trigger setting off the thought/behaviour, e.g., your boss criticised you so you feel compelled to tidy your desk even though it's tidy.
Step 3 - Note your patterns:
After a week check your diary for an emerging pattern. Can you see what sets off obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviour? For instance, do you rush around and get stressed when getting ready for work? Those stressed feelings leave you fretful so you re-check locks a couple times just to "make sure" you haven't forgotten to lock your door? On a dedicated piece of paper make a note of your main OCD triggers (e.g., morning routine before work), and your obsessions/compulsive responses. Underneath this list your relevant goals, e.g., to stop re-checking locks each morning.
Step 4 – Acceptance:
Now you have some goals written down but before you start working towards them it's time to "reframe" your thinking. Accept that OCD is NOT a “coping” strategy. So far you've seen it as your coping mechanism, maybe even your saviour! But the reality is, it's the opposite and OCD prevents you from learning positive coping strategies. Headline your piece of paper from Step 3 with the fact: "My OCD or OCD-type behaviours are not coping strategies!" Hold this thought.
Step 5 – Get support:
You've worked out how you respond to stress and things like that. You know what your goals are. Now it’s time to enlist loved ones in your action plan. Their support’s vital in resisting your OCD. It takes courage but be honest and explain 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 – Time for action:
There are a few steps to taking action. * Select one goal to begin with. For example, if you wash your hands three times when 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, practice deep breathing to relax your body. * Also keep talking with a loved one about your feelings of fear and how you're trying to relax and fight these off. Tell them out loud how you’re feeling resisting that fifth hand-washing. * Now praise yourself that you’ve coped despite not carrying out your compulsive behaviour. * Keep accepting that setting goals and good communication are positive coping strategies.
Now you can continue to monitor your goals and how you're feeling. Everyone is different and let's say you had half-a-dozen key rituals to tackle - one at a time - building your coping-confidence. Keep on discussing these things with friends and family and don't be afraid to report "failures". They're not failures if you learn from them and the next time around you resist your obsessions and compulsions. Don't become secretive about OCD thoughts and behaviours that you fail to resist. Good luck!
For additional help:
www.ocdaction.org.uk - 0845-390-6232
Published on MSN.co.uk