Stress can be a major trigger for OCD symptoms and it is important for those affected to try and manage their lifestyle as much as possible to avoid it

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - OCD

OCD is a common mental health disorder that can affect all types of people - young, old, male or female. It manifests itself in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, which over time can engulf the person suffering and stop them living a normal and happy life. OCD can be treated but it is unlikely that symptoms will reduce without professional help.

OCD often begins with obsessive thoughts, such as ‘I’ve left my oven on and the house will burn down’, which then leads to compulsive behaviours to counter these fears e.g. checking the oven is off multiple times before leaving the house. These obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours become a vicious circle, with one spurring the other on until the person affected is exhausted by worry and their day to day life begins to suffer.

What are the signs of OCD?

Common OCD signs are the recurring obsessive thoughts that cause worry, discomfort and sometimes disgust to the person experiencing them. These could include:

  • Excessive need for cleanliness and fear of germs
  • Fear of touching others in case of contamination
  • Worrying that you are going to harm another person or being
  • Extreme focus on religion or religious ideals
  • Feeling the need for excessive order and symmetry

There are many other thoughts experienced by those suffering from OCD and these can be very personal to the person thinking them. Not everyone will experience thoughts and compulsions, but it is common for them to go hand in hand. Once the thoughts begin to take over, compulsive behaviours are created to manage the anxiety felt, and can include;

  • Repeating certain mantras or words
  • Excessive checking on certain appliances or locks
  • Checking in constantly with loved ones
  • Hoarding items such as old newspapers and used packaging
  • Performing tapping or touching rituals
  • Extreme cleaning or ordering of items

Thought and behaviour patterns can begin quite subtly, but increase in regularity and urgency as the OCD develops over time. Stress can be a major trigger for OCD symptoms and it is important for those affected to try and manage their lifestyle as much as possible to avoid such triggers - treatments such as CBT can help with this.

Causes of OCD

As with many mental health illnesses, there has not been a specific reason identified as to why a person may suffer with OCD. However, studies have shown that those with extremely high levels of perfectionism and feelings of responsibility can be at a higher risk and also those who have experienced anxiety, depression or have a family history of mental illness.

Children who have experienced trauma at a young age may develop compulsive behaviours to help manage their anxiety, and those who have witnessed a parent struggling with the illness will be at higher risk of developing it themselves due to learned behaviour patterns.

There are theories that OCD sufferers may have lower serotonin levels or higher levels of activity in their brain, but there is no concrete evidence to prove that this causes the OCD and could be a side-effect of the disorder itself.

Different types of OCD

There are a range of mental disorders which present similarities to OCD, and are often referred to as habit disorders. These disorders can also be helped with an OCD treatment plan.

  • Trichotillomania - the habit of pulling out hair, most commonly eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Body dysmorphic disorder - this illness causes people to see their body and appearance differently to those on the outside. Grooming rituals may be excessive and compulsive.
  • Excoriation - This skin pricking disorder causes excessive picking and harm to skin, causing lesions and pain to the person.

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