OCD – Beyond Unreasonable Doubt And Ritual

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There is nothing wrong if you believe that wearing your favorite lucky dress on the day of your job interview will give you the confidence that you need to make a good impression. The same is true when your mother always checks the flat iron or oven before leaving for work. Many of us have little superstitions and rituals that help us to become productive and produce positive results. However, when these ‘rituals’ are taken to extremes and begin to affect normal daily function, it becomes a problem.

When you start feeling that something will really go wrong simply because you are not wearing your favorite lucky shirt; and that you feel you have to wear it to prevent something from going wrong — you may already be obsessed with that shirt. When your mother has to return home even if she’s already outside the door just to check if the flat iron was unplugged when she already did that three times before — she, too, could be suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

OCD is a mental health condition that creates a strong sense of uncertainty, doubt, anxiety, or fear in a person’s mind and triggers rituals like re-checking and re-doing. Although sometimes, everyone may feel anxious, fearful, or worried, these normal emotions and reactions help people protect themselves, stay safe, and solve problems. These feelings usually don’t last long and don’t come too often. In the case of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, these feelings are taken to extremes as if the brain does not recognize what’s dangerous from what’s not. There is a constant and lingering stream of fear, doubt or anxiety in the person’s mind, instead of keeping normal worry under control.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts, known as obsessions, and repetitive behaviors, also called compulsions or ‘rituals’. People with OCD are pre-occupied with persistent thoughts that bring fear or worry about something that might happen. These negative thoughts and images are usually hard to shake off. They have strong urges to perform these rituals or repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning with the hope of preventing or getting rid of obsessive negative thoughts. The obsessions and compulsions are sometimes related to each other. A person who worries (obsession) about germs and about getting sick could have the urges (compulsions) to wash hands or clean things often and repeatedly. They are too cautious to touch anything due to fear of germs.

There are times when the compulsions or the ‘rituals’ doesn’t have anything to do with the obsessions or fear. For example, if things on the desk are not arranged properly, something bad will happen to a loved one. the oddity of the rituals and fear are so obvious that many people try to keep their OCD to themselves. When people with OCD perform a compulsion or ‘ritual’, they feel a sense of relief. Unfortunately, performing these so-called ‘rituals’ only provides temporary relief, but significantly increases the anxiety or the obsession. Resisting compulsion can be extremely difficult.

Although doctors and scientists still don’t know the real cause of OCD, recent research has shown that OCD is related to levels of a normal chemical in the brain called serotonin. When the proper flow of serotonin is blocked, the brain’s “alarm system” overreacts and misinterprets information. Instead of the brain filtering out these unnecessary thoughts, the mind dwells on them and irrational fear and doubt is experienced by the person.

There is a strong evidence that OCD can be hereditary. Most people with OCD have one or more family members having anxiety disorders influenced by the brain’s serotonin levels. For this reason, scientists have come to believe that the tendency or predisposition for a person to develop the serotonin imbalance that causes OCD can be inherited through a person’s genes. However, having the genetic tendency doesn’t mean people will develop OCD right away. It only means that chances are greater that they might.

An imbalance of serotonin levels can also result in other types of anxiety or depression. Like any other illness, having OCD is not a person’s fault. The good news is, it can be treated with the help from a Psychologist or Psychiatrist. There is nothing to be embarrassed about getting therapy treatments and counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

A type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offers specific methods, called exposure and ritual (or response) prevention that helps people to learn to use the power of their own behavior to change their thoughts and feelings for the better. CBT actually helps “reset” the brain’s mechanisms that trigger obsessions and compulsions. It may seem hard to stop doing rituals at first but eventually,people will begin to feel safe and stronger about dealing with their obsessions and compulsions.

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