Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder alluding to an individual who experiences severe or debilitating anxiety, manifesting in the form of obsessive thoughts and attempting resolution in the form of compulsive thoughts/behaviors. You can read more about understanding OCD much more, here.
Obsessions can be thoughts, impulses or visual images that a person finds hard to control. The strong discomfort created by the unwanted obsessive thoughts is usually mitigated by compulsions. Compulsions maybe both mental (like counting) or behaviors (like switching a light on and off). People with OCD know that they have a problem and are most often intent on getting rid of it.
Here are some tips from a clinical psychologist that can guide you through the process of recovery. You might choose to help yourself or get help from professionals. Regardless, if you or someone you know has OCD, these tips can help you get started on the road to recovery, and also make sense of your experience.
LEARN ABOUT IT
We always fear experiences we don’t know much about. Educating ourselves from credible sources and mental health practitioners is the first, and unavoidable step towards combating OCD. If you’re concerned about the diagnosis – either you’re wondering whether it is in fact OCD, or if you want to confirm a previous diagnosis – seek a professional opinion (or two).
Become cognizant of your experience. Focus on what, when and how (why, of possible). What’s bothering you, what helps, what doesn’t, what aggravates. And also, who helps, who doesn’t. And how all of it affects you.
TALK ABOUT IT
It’s very comforting to share anxieties and fears. Both the people who have it, and those around them (caregivers, friends, colleagues), share in the anxiety brought about by a mental illness. If possible, talk to each other openly about the concerns, and try and accept the point of view that the other brings.
Also, giving words to our anxieties is a great way of facing the problems. In using words, our subconscious finds a way to give us verbal clues to what’s going on inside, whether by using interesting metaphors, or reminding you of significant but lost memories.
Both, the people with OCD, and those around, must try and get help. Of course psychotherapy and drug therapy are options for ‘treatment’ of OCD, but those around them can also get counseling to adjust to the specific needs of those they love, and to talk about their personal struggles in being with a person with OCD.
DON’T OVER-REACT / PANIC, BUT DON’T IGNORE EITHER
After the first three steps, this step will automatically feel easier. Reacting strongly or harshly has proven to be unhelpful and in fact increases feelings of anxiety. This would increase the obsessive thoughts, and contribute towards maintaining the O-C cycle. Ignoring does the same thing. Both reacting and ignoring are after all actions that acknowledge the thoughts actively, and act as unwanted reinforcement.
If you’re the person around someone with OCD, your panic or blatant ignorance of their ‘symptoms’ will only serve to increase their anxiety and will end up being counter-productive. It also reflects distress or a lack of acceptance in you, which is also definitely something to overcome.
Accept, acknowledge and let the thoughts come! Take the compulsive behaviors (and the thoughts) in your stride, as a part of the life you are living in that moment. Accept your condition. Accept how hard it is to deal with and overcome. Accept how hard it is to be with someone with OCD. Accept it like you accept a part of your body that you don’t like very much, but live with everyday anyway.
ACCEPT, DON’T BLAME
Accepting that someone has OCD doesn’t mean they’re causing their condition. This obviously means that they’re not intentionally indulging in the Os or the Cs. Self or Other blame can only hurt the process of healing.
BUILD A ROUTINE
Try and work out a routine that is comfortable and accommodating. Help yourself or the person with OCD mentally plan ahead: an upcoming activity, a meeting or any possibly stressful situation. This can also be helpful in contributing towards the feeling of being more in control or being able to manage life better.
Especially for the person with OCD, If you are trying to get better without professional help, try and expand your boundary of possibilities everyday. Don’t push yourself to extremes, but try and gently nudge yourself to try something towards health every so often.
AVOID ABRUPT CHANGES
These can be very discomforting and can easily throw the person into a spiral of anxiety. Try and avoid these, and try and plan in advance for any foreseeable changes. However, abrupt changes do occur, and it’s best to talk about them and get some help making sense of them so that they don’t take away from all the progress you or those you love might be making.
BE PATIENT, BE ABNORMAL
Everyone wants to be normal as fast as possible. The problem here is that it won’t go away faster if you simply will it to. An unyielding demand for ‘normalcy’ often compels us to judge all deviances quite strongly. This judgement further affects our feelings towards ourselves (or for those suffering around us). Those feelings in turn serve to not only sustain but strengthen the negative cycle of thoughts. And these cycles lie at the base of the trouble – and we’re back to square one.
While people with OCD are not causing their condition, they can certainly take responsibility for themselves, and should be helped to do so by everyone around them! By following most of these tips, you are essentially taking responsibility for a better health for yourself or for someone you love.
Healing is always found in relationships – the one with ourselves or those with others.
When we suffer, our relationship with our self and others changes. They often get threatened and overwhelming. But the truth is that when we’re in pain or anxiety, we need these relationships to be stronger and more unconditional than ever before.
SOME WORDS OF CAUTION
- It is commonplace to have other clinical symptoms and features to co-exist with symptoms of OCD. For instance, depressiveness or even clinical depression (yes, there is a difference!) often co-exists with the obsessions and compulsions a person faces. At such times, it might be quite important to help a person overcome these secondary level disturbances so that they can have more time and energy to focus on the core problem.
- Research has shown a likely genetic component to OCD, depression and anxiety, as well as a neurotransmitter imbalance in the brain. This is good news. Using these clues, we can attempt to chemically ease the anxiety or depression and use this as a push to get better. Medication in any form should be taken strictly under the guidance of a licensed psychiatrist or mental health professional.
- The actual process is much harder and not as straightforward as it might sound. There has to be a skillful back and forth between choosing what needs to be the focus of resolution at different points and a slowing or speeding up of process as required.
- These tips are not a substitute for professional help and guidance for a clinical condition. However, these have been proven to be useful if followed diligently, and certainly effective if used in conjunction with other forms of therapy.
- On a final note, we cannot simply focus on therapy as the only source of professional help. The need and importance of pharmacological (medicine based) treatment needs to be kept in mind, as well as alternate forms of help. This could include exercise, yoga, naturopathies and joining support groups.
OCD can be eradicated or managed successfully! Try our tips and tricks, and some of your own. Combine these with relevant professional help and see what works best for you. Psychological problems are unique – they have these common names but they emanate from our unique circumstances, genes and experiences. So there is an equally unique combination out there for you. We just have to look around a little!
Clinical expertise for this article has been provided by Shama Shah.
Shama is a Clinical Psychologist currently based and working in Rajkot, Gujarat. Having been an alumna of the St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and a post graduate from the Mumbai University, her training involved an extensive exposure to the OPDs at the Government hospitals in Mumbai. Trained in the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) for the past 7 years, her work includes psycho-diagnostic assessments as well as therapeutic interventions. In an alternative life plan she would have been a writer. She currently uses her professional understanding and her love for writing to try and create more awareness about mental health.