Obsessive compulsive disorder, is an often misunderstood and debilitating anxiety disorder involving two distinct components: obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions performed to alleviate these obsessive thoughts.
The obsessive component is characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts or mental images that often override all else in a person’s life, creating anxiety and sometimes terror. These thoughts and images may be about leaving the oven on and the house burning down, all the germs in the environment and getting sick, or just a simple fear of losing something important. The thoughts and images are difficult to interrupt and the sufferer understands their irrationality, all of which exacerbates the difficulty of the experience.
People with OCD tend to use compulsions, or repetitive, persistent behaviors, to try and quell the onslaught of upsetting thoughts or mental images. There may be a feeling that if one is afraid of germs, an action can be performed to remove the threat, such as constantly washing one’s hands. Some use “counting” or “tapping” as a method of lessening the anxiety. Sufferers know that these compulsive rituals are irrational just like the obsessive thoughts, but can’t stop the excessive urges. They may feel completely out of control.
OCD can rob its sufferers of the ability to live a normal life, unfettered by obsessions and compulsions. At its worst, just getting out of the house can be a two-hour process involving checking locks, checking appliances, and checking that they have everything they need. These behaviors can seem abnormal to friends or co-workers. Children with OCD can be labeled as “weird” or “different” and may isolate themselves because interactions with others are too painful as they are made fun of or teased.
Fortunately, therapy can help OCD sufferers. Dr. Piper Walsh helps clients with OCD with a cognitive- behavioral course of counseling designed to heighten awareness of the obsessive thinking and compulsions and encourage patients to challenge their normal patterns and reactions. She also assists by helping her clients help themselves – proper diet, healthy exercise, good sleep hygiene and relaxation are key to helping those with OCD to regain over their lives.