Anxiety is a natural reaction of the psyche in a situation of uncertainty, and even outwardly imperturbable people are tormented by disturbing thoughts from time to time. To unload the brain, it launches its own campaign to combat anxiety: the subconscious mind invents small rituals, the implementation of which allows you to switch. When such a defense mechanism fails, experts talk about signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – in this case, anxiety becomes a constant companion of life, and “saving” actions turn into an endless elimination of the threat.
A classic example of obsessive-compulsive disorder is often referred to as an obsession with cleanliness, including hands, which seem to collect the most surrounding dirt. The intrusive thought that bacteria and viruses will enter the body, lead to infection or an incurable disease, instills in a person horror, pushing many times a day to diligently wash their hands and treat them with antibacterial gel. However, hypochondria does not necessarily indicate OCD – it can be either a symptom or an independent form of anxiety. In OCD, obsessive thoughts do not always revolve around potential illnesses – sometimes they are associated with the fear of harming yourself or others, with unwanted and frightening sexual images, with the desire to perform tasks perfectly, and other obsessions.
How the disorder is treated
Experts still cannot clearly explain why OCD develops. There are many hypotheses on this subject, but none of them has yet rigorous proofs. The genetic factor is certainly taken into account: the likelihood of inheriting OCD from immediate family members can range from 7 to 15%. Sometimes the reason is seen in a decrease in the level of serotonin, the “hormone of happiness”, but this theory has not received enough confirmation.
Since OCD is commonly viewed as a neurosis, it is treated appropriately, often with CBT. It allows you to determine the causes of anxiety, to understand where the internal conflict originated, followed by obsessions and compulsions. Having dealt with the source of OCD, the therapist helps the person to see the irrationality of fears and their contradiction to reality and life experience. For this, the exposure (immersion) technique can be used, in which the state of anxiety is artificially increased to the limit, and the patient is not allowed to perform his usual compulsions. Having reached a peak, anxiety dies down in an unexpected way.
True, psychotherapy is a long and difficult way to treat obsessions. More often than not, in the case of OCD, antidepressants are prescribed – they inhibit arousal and make anxiety recede. But this method does not work as well as we would like. In most cases, the patient still has to perform rituals, albeit to a lesser extent. Besides, there is no guarantee that anxiety will not escalate again over time. In this case, psychotherapy and antidepressants are not mutually exclusive. The options may be different: you can combine sessions with a specialist with taking antidepressants, or first use psychotherapy, and then consolidate the effect with drugs.
How to provide support correctly
If people share their experiences, with an untrained listener, many obsessions may seem wild and inadequate. Such reflections in obsessive-compulsive disorder are nothing more than exaggerated images that the anxious imagination paints. But the other person’s violent reactions, especially accusations of insanity and reproaches, can hurt the person with OCD and further increase anxiety. If you notice that a loved one is showing signs of upset, it is important to understand that it is not his fault and provide the right support, avoiding blame.
Who is at risk
According to research, the obsessive-compulsive disorder affects up to 3% of the population. The disease overtakes men and women with the same frequency. But the age at which OCD first makes itself felt can be different: usually, symptoms occur in adults, but, according to some reports, up to 4% of children and adolescents face the disorder; elderly people are no exception.
Often, the disease occurs and develops in those who live with other medical conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder. A tendency toward perfectionism, which is also known for its negative side, can also be a background for the development of OCD. By itself, the obsessive-compulsive disorder does not develop into a more serious illness and does not lead to loss of mind, despite the fears of many patients. However, it also happens that OCD is not a diagnosis, but a symptom within a very different kind of disease. But only a doctor can determine the difference in this case: self-diagnosis will lead to nothing but nervous breakdowns and new disturbing thoughts.