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"It’s important to get a handle on your OCD before it spirals out of control. Self-awareness and patience are key in this process."

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a mental health disorder defined by a cycle of obsessive thoughts, compulsions, and rituals, and affects about 1 in every 100 people.

  • Obsessions include unwanted and intrusive thoughts and images that trigger anxiety and distress. 
  • Compulsions are the behaviours and rituals that people with OCD perform in hopes of decreasing their anxiety and purging negative thoughts, feelings, and images.

Most people will experience some level of anxiety, stress, or unwanted thoughts at one time or another. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have OCD! Obsessive-compulsive disorder is diagnosed by a medical professional, though an online OCD test can give you a better idea of whether or not you might have this condition. If your obsessive thoughts and compulsions consume most of your time, interfere with daily activities, and impact your overall mood and personality, it may be a sign that you have OCD and that it’s time for treatment.

The Link Between OCD and Depression

Intrusive negative thoughts, increased stress and anxiety, as well as isolation in the hope of avoiding certain triggers, can all lead to depression. For many people with OCD, the thoughts, feelings, and images they experience are intense, troubling, and sometimes violent. 

In an attempt to avoid embarrassment or doing harm to oneself or others, some OCD sufferers become increasingly isolated from the outside world. Avoiding public places and social gatherings is common, and can quickly develop into depression. The inability to control OCD related thoughts and urges can cause frustration, low self-esteem, and even suicidal thoughts in some people.

Common Types of OCD

There are many different types of obsessive-compulsive disorder, each with their own intrusive thoughts, feelings, and compulsions. While some types of OCD overlap, these are the most common categories and their related symptoms.

1. Harm OCD

This type of OCD is characterized by either the fear of harming yourself or others, or obsessive worrying that harm will befall your loved ones. People who fear hurting themselves or others often report negative thoughts that are both violent and sexual in nature. Some people with harm OCD avoid social settings out of fear they might act out inappropriately. This can lead to loneliness, isolation, and depression, or worsen current depression symptoms.

For those consumed with worry over their loved ones being hurt, injured, or killed, compulsions like checking door locks, avoiding situations they deem “dangerous”, and taking extreme safety precautions are all common and may impact daily life negatively.

2. Contamination OCD

If you associate OCD with someone compulsively washing their hands, cleaning, or exhibiting an extreme fear of germs, you’re thinking of contamination OCD. This type of OCD manifests as extreme worrying over getting sick or infected by illness or germs. Many people habitually wash their hands, clean their personal spaces, and avoid physical contact with others. Contamination OCD sometimes involves the fear of spreading germs as well, which can lead to isolation, damaged personal relationships, and poor work performance.

3. Order and Symmetry OCD

Another common form of OCD, order and symmetry OCD involves the overwhelming need for things to be perfect or “just right”. People suffering from this form of OCD are often obsessed with having objects perfectly aligned, visually symmetrical, and balanced. They may even spend hours ordering, arranging, and aligning items in rows or categories like size, shape, and colour. Repetitively touching and tapping surfaces and objects are also common. Some people with order and symmetry OCD become fixated with numbers. For example, they need to touch a certain object an even number of times or avoid “unlucky” numbers like 13.

Tips for Living with OCD

Are you tired of letting your obsessions and compulsions rule your life? As with any mental disorder, living with OCD involves a mix of self-help techniques and medical intervention. Your best defense against OCD is a strong offense. Here are a few tips that you can implement today to start taking control of your OCD and your life.

Understand Your Diagnosis

Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about the type of OCD you have. Understanding more about the triggers, thoughts, and compulsions that drive your condition will help guide your self-help strategies. Knowing the warning signs is also crucial for early detection and treatment. 

It’s also important to recognize your triggers and get comfortable with your anxiety. Try keeping a journal, documenting each time you experience obsessive thoughts or feelings. Reflect on these notes later and determine which thoughts and feelings were reasonable and which ones were unrealistic or unfounded. By challenging negative thoughts, you can work to replace them with more positive and productive ones.

Exercise

Exercise and physical activity offer a variety of health benefits – both physically and mentally. Studies show that getting sufficient exercise every day can not only help ease OCD symptoms but improve your overall mood, boost energy levels, and ward off depression. Get outside and get active for at least 30-minutes each day. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful for treating OCD and reducing both anxiety and depression.

Make Small Changes

You can’t eliminate all of your obsessive thoughts and tendencies overnight. Change takes time and it’s best to start small and progressively work your way up. Not only is this a great way to build your confidence, but it also helps your body and mind slowly adjust to these changes.

For example, if you normally wash your hands 10 times a day, try only washing them 9. Once you achieve this for a week straight, move down to just 8 times a day. Similarly, try to delay indulging in your compulsions whenever possible. For example, if you normally wash your hands right after touching someone, wait 3 minutes or 5 minutes. By delaying your compulsions, your anxiety levels will slowly come down and, over time, you may no longer feel compelled to act on these obsessive thoughts.

Take Control of Your Life and Mental Health

Like depression, OCD can be a crippling disorder. Unwanted negative thoughts and feelings can crowd your mind and make it impossible to fulfill your daily responsibilities. You may also notice increased isolation and loneliness or worsening depression symptoms. It’s important to get a handle on your OCD before it spirals out of control.

Self-awareness and patience are key in this process. Don’t try to make too many changes, too soon. Start small and ask for help. Psychotherapy, online treatment programs, and even medications can be useful for treating and recovering from OCD and depression.  Accessing such services early is key to giving yourself the best chance to recover and to lead a healthy, happy life.


Guest Author:

Dr. Katherine Hall is a Sleep Psychologist who specializes in treating insomnia. She holds degrees with specializations in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. With over 13 years of clinical experience working in the public and private sector, Katherine is dedicated to improving sleep health.

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